La Bête Humaine, by Émile Zola (17 April — 26 April)

So, after what seems like forever to me, I have finally finished La Bête Humaine. Hooray!

This book is all about the human beast, which is either the man who murders or the intangible thing which drives him to murder, or both, I’m not sure. But I agree with the quote in the introduction, from The Athenaeum, which says that the book should have been titled Murder. Because oh my goodness.

At first there is no murder to speak of; the book seems like a dry cataloguing of the events in the life of M. and Mme. Roubaud, he an assistant train station-master, she his young and pretty wife. But then a secret of her past is revealed and he decides that murder is the best way to make himself feel better about the whole thing. As one does, I guess. Meanwhile, we meet a young man called Jacques whose aunt is possibly being poisoned by her husband and who himself has a gnawing urge to kill women, though he has not yet. He just wants to, like, any time he sees a woman looking all sexy. Oh dear.

So the first murder happens, and we follow along as the authorities sort of try to figure out what has happened and the killer tries to hide his deed. And it works! Sort of. Except that other things happen and lives start falling apart and then suddenly everyone and his sister wants to kill someone else. Because everyone has a bit of the murderer in himself, whether by cold calculation or a fit of passion.

Although I nearly gave up the book within the first hundred pages, I’m glad I stuck around, as all of the plotting and planning of people all trying to kill each other left me very curious as to who would end up dead in the end. And I kept being surprised! Definitely a good book, but not for light reading at all.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: France)

Audiobook Round-up

I got back last night from a week-long camping trip in Alabama, which was awesome. Less awesome is all the internet catching-up I have to do!

Because of the twelve-hour drive, I decided to collect a bunch of audiobooks from the library’s fancy-pants online trove of such things. Scott loves them, but I’d never given them a real try. Now I have, and… well. I was right — I can’t focus on an audiobook to save my life. So. No ratings (or even decent reviews) for these until I read them proper, but here’s the list of things I listened to in the car last week.

Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits, by Dave Barry (22 March)
This is a 1988 collection of Barry’s columns, which shows in all his talk about Reagan as president! I like Barry, so I enjoyed listening to this hour-long book while I tried to stay awake (we left home at 6am!). Bonus points for having John Ritter as a narrator.

More of Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits, by Dave Barry (22 March)
I can’t seem to find this listed anywhere but fancy-pants online troves of audiobooks, so this is possibly audiobook-only. Unsure. Anyway, this is the 1996 collection of awesome columns. Still entertaining. Still narrated by John Ritter. Still capable of keeping me awake, if not listening properly.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (28 March — 29 March)
I knew the general idea going in, of course — Dorian Gray has a painting that ages while he stays young. That turns out to be a gross over-simplification of this novel, which deals with heavy themes of morality and ethics and deception. Gray likes his painting at the beginning, but as it ages and the bad things he’s done show up in it he comes to loathe it. And his loathing of it has him doing even more bad things that show up in it. And all the while he has an angel-friend telling him how good he is, and a devil-friend spouting off ridiculous (even to him) notions of how the world works. I definitely enjoyed this book, but I will have to go back and read it to pick up on the hour or two I missed of it!

(Support Your Local Library Challenge)