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A cure for all those books that betrayed you

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SLOUGH, ENGLAND:

Have you been stabbed in the back time and again by the glittering promises of a thriller assuring you a “read in one sitting” experience and “a shocking twist I couldn’t see coming!!!” only to be sucked into a mind-boggling alternate reality of characters who make moronic life choices and are as interesting as wet cardboard?

Then know this: you are not alone. Perhaps you, too, have been forced to suffer through The Catcher in the Rye. Well done for not setting it on fire. Or perhaps, like some of us, you have been emotionally manipulated by Jodi Picoult and hurled your copy of Handle With Care across the room after discovering that your young protagonist Willow, whose entire point was that she battled brittle bone disease all her life and won a lawsuit so that her parents could afford medical care, dies needlessly after skating across a frozen pond that wasn’t quite as frozen as either she or her parents would have liked to believe. Unfortunately for Willow, dying needlessly is something Jodi Picoult’s creations are prone to doing, and you need to look no further than My Sister’s Keeper if idiotic character deaths enthral you.

If this constant stream of fictional betrayal has blackened your soul, you need to bury the memory of the ghosts of books past and, without further ado, pick up these jewels instead.

The Strike series (Robert Galbraith)

Expertly crafted by Robert Galbraith, JK Rowling’s alter ego, the Strike novels are everything thriller blurbs wish they could be. Spanning seven books out of a planned series of ten, Cormoran Strike, Rowling’s near-penniless one-legged ex-army private detective, is based in London and introduced to us in The Cuckoo’s Calling where he investigates the apparent suicide of a troubled young model. With no set formula for each book, over the course of the series, Strike unravels the most unusual and fiendishly clever murders across London and beyond, and even picks up a cold case along the way in Troubled Blood (Book 5). Flawed though he may be, Strike at least manages to convey that he has the brains required for his profession. Unlike other detectives populating the world of thrillers, he does not have the muscle work of Bruce Lee, or the ludicrously out-of-reach IQ or Everest-sized ego of Sherlock Holmes. Nor does he have the physical appeal of a firefighter calendar model, not that this stops him from picking up women whenever he likes. “Women liked Strike,” observes Robin, the deeply unwanted secretary Strike is initially saddled with and later comes to rely on. However, it is not only women who like Strike, but also readers, because, like Harry Potter himself, he is so ordinary. Being a Strike fan is the natural extension of being a Harry Potter fan, and for those of you who devoured the Harry Potter books as they came out, the palpable excitement that comes with the anticipation of an upcoming Strike book is no different. Dropping in clues that will only become apparent during the inevitable reread, Rowling plots and weaves with consummate skill. With each book, you become heavily emotionally invested in the ever-growing bond between Strike and Robin, and the latest instalment The Running Grave will have female readers swooning over the final page in much the same way they swooned over Sirius Black nearly twenty years ago.

Tricky Business (Dave Barry)

If murders in London are far too tedious for you, you might enjoy mayhem in Florida in Dave Barry’s Tricky Business. The name Dave Barry will strike a chord in anyone with even a passing familiarity with Reader’s Digest issues from the late nineties and early 2000s, but if you do not belong to this esteemed subset, Tricky Business will set the world to rights. In Tricky Business, Barry understands what all aspiring writers could do well to learn: that the jackpot plot is a concoction of homicidal maniac drug dealers, a slew of Businessmen learning their ethics from the deepest of gutters, a struggling band with a hopelessly romantic lead singer in love with a cocktail waitress, a cocktail waitress with zero interest in musicians, a pair of bored elderly gamblers who will do anything to escape the tedium of their old-age home, a storm of the century, and a cruise ship on the high seas to throw them all together in. Some books solemnly swear to make you laugh out loud and elicit a mere disconcerted painful cringe. This is not one of them. Tricky Business will make you howl out loud, and you would do well to read it in private away from people who consider you a loon for laughing at a book. Do not attempt to read this if you are recovering from abdominal surgery unless you want to burst a stitch in unstoppable mirth. Go forth, have a peruse through the treasures of your local thelay wala, the literary equivalent of the cave of wonders, and mend your broken heart that those horrible other books have trampled on.

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