Books of the Week: NOLA and a Novel

One entire strand of my life at the moment could be summed up by the phrase ‘NOLA and a novel’, but that’s a post for another time…

In the meantime, here are a couple of the books I read last week. I read three in total, but the third has its own separate post coming tomorrow, because it was sent to me by the publisher for review. The books in today’s posts were bought directly (Nine Lives) and loaned to me by a friend (Less). 

Nine Lives by Dan Baum

I didn’t fully read the description of Nine Lives before I bought it, so I didn’t realise it was based on fact until I read the blurb just before opening the front cover.

Dan Baum spent a long time researching New Orleans’ history and folklore, and talking to nine people whose lives are entwined with the life of the city. The book describes their lives and is split into short sections, each one focusing on a different person. At first this feels a bit disjointed and confusing, but gradually the reader settles into the story and comes to recognise each character for who they are.

It provides a fascinating look into a very special place through the eyes of a diverse cross-section of its residents, from Native American carnival kings to rich white men to black men taking the lead in their communities, via a transgender person gradually coming to terms with their true identity.

I found Nine Lives heavy-going at times. It wasn’t always easy to read, especially towards the beginning when I was still trying to keep all the people straight in my head. The writing style could have been faster paced, and the book probably could have shaved about 10% without losing much from the storylines. But on the whole, I enjoyed it and thought it provided an interesting glimpse beneath the surface of a fascinating city.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

My friend came over for dinner and handed me this book. “I remember saying I’d lend this to you,” she said, “but I can’t remember why.”

I couldn’t remember why either, and once I’d finished it I was still none the wiser, but I did quite enjoy it.

Arthur Less is a troubled man. His most recent ex is getting married, and Less has just realised how much he doesn’t want that to happen. In order to avoid the wedding, he decides to take on every opportunity he’s offered and ends up on an impromptu trip to Europe. Going from event to event, speaking about the writers he’s associated with and never about his own writing, Less contemplates the unfairness of life, the despair of love, and why he’s never been appreciated as a writer.

Greer writes with wry humour, for reasons that are outlined within the story: who, after all, wants to read an entire novel based on a middle-aged, middle-class white man whining about his life? Nonetheless I felt the book would have benefited from being a bit darker. I enjoyed it in a flippant, read-on-the-beach kind of way (it being February in London, the beaches were not forthcoming, however), but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to other people. Perhaps if you like a certain wry style, the sort of humour that can laugh at its own problems, you might enjoy it at least as much as I did; but there’s not a lot of meaty, gritty dark stuff in it; and that is the stuff this grown-up teen goth lives for.

What have you read recently? What would you recommend?


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