Recent reading

The Food I Love

A friend sent me Neil Perry's The Food I Love to make up for the accidental loss of Pierre Koffman's Memories Of Gascony. Koffman's book has contributed a couple of recipes to my standard repertoire (his gigot de quatre heures is regularly requested by family for special occasions), so its disappearance is deeply felt - but Perry is doing is best to stand in. Sometimes you pick up a cookbook, try a recipe, and it clicks. You want to try more, and you do. So far, everything I've tried - the fish in mad water, the seven hour lamb, the steamed then roast duck, has been excellent. I've even gone out and bought a digital oven thermometer on his say-so. Perry's a celeb chef in Australia - his Rockpool restaurant in Sydney is well worth a visit - and his cooking draws on the same sort of Italian inspiration that I find in Carluccio, Hazan and The River Café cookbooks.

Fifty Degrees Below

Kim Stanley Robinson's follow up to Forty Signs Of Rain is the middle of his global warming trilogy - sort of The Day After Tomorrow with intellectual pretensions. The world is in the grips of rapid climate change, the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation has shut down, and Washington is gripped by an icy winter. So what does our hero do? Take up residence in a tree house in a city park. Meanwhile a fleet of tankers jammed with salt are heading north to restart the THC. I'll read the third part, but only because Robinson writes well.


After a bit of a literary interlude, back to some SF. The sequel to Dan Simmons' massive Ilium, which wove the Iliad and The Tempest into science fiction, via a cast of Greek gods living on Mars interfering in the Trojan Wars. Same massive scale as the opener, and although it takes a while to pick up all the threads, Simmons manages to pull everything together at the end. It feels as though it was a struggle - the last few sections feel sort of limp and listless after the excitements of the Trojan War and the hero's affair with Helen of Troy.

Black Swan Green

David Mitchell's been getting a lot of attention in the last few years - Cloud Atlas was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker. He deserves it. I read his first three books - Ghostwritten, Number9Dream and CA - in the space of a few months. His latest, Black Swan Green, is very different to his first three, a coming-of-age story set in 1982. Through bullying, parental arguments and against the background of the Falklands war, 13 year old Jason Taylor stutters his way to inner strength. Mitchell writes beautifully, and I devoured this book in two evenings with a grin of pleasure on my face. The musical references are good - particularly enjoyed Olive's Salami by Elvis Costello and the Attractions...

Designated Targets: World War 2.2

Part Two of the Axis Of Time trilogy - an alternative history/SF series in which a fleet of 21st century warships and associated weapons turn up in the middle of WWII. Birmingham's first episode was good, and this one is just as much fun. Plenty of high (and low) tech action as the force from the future rewrites history.

The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana

Umberto Eco wrote the original (and much, much better) version of The Da Vinci Code (Foucault's Pendulum) and the best-selling The Name Of The Rose, both of which I enjoyed greatly. Queen Loana reads like an extended short story - an essay on memory and nostalgia, perhaps - which I'm sure resonates much more in Italy than in the anglophone world, as it deals with a man trying to recover his memory by reading the comics of his wartime youth. Eco writes well, as you might expect, and lards the text with all sorts of literary quotes and allusions - not to mention pictures from pre-war and wartime Italian comics, but ultimately the lack of overt plot and storyline makes the book feel insubstantial.