Saturday, 8 January 2011

The importance of a varied diet

Like many people, I tend to read the same kind of books most of the time: literary fiction (most of it, I’ll be honest, written by white, middle-aged men like me), with the occasional crime novel to cleanse the palate. But, as with food, I do believe that it’s important to vary your diet from time to time, and right now I’m reading something different. I’m about halfway through The Dark Volume by GW Dahlquist, and I’m loving it.

The Dark Volume is the sequel to The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters, which I came across a couple of years ago when Penguin had the brilliant idea of publishing it in weekly instalments: I paid a ‘subscription’ and a chapter arrived in the post each week for 10 weeks. It was a brilliant idea because The Glass Books… is the kind of adventure that would once have been described as ‘rollicking’, and with each chapter ending in a cliffhanger, it lent itself perfectly to serialisation.

If you had to ascribe a genre to Dahlquist’s books, I suppose it would be fantasy. They’re set in a time and place that resemble Victorian England, where a sinister cabal is plotting to acquire wealth and power using a diabolical invention. Three disparate characters team up to try to foil them: an unworldly but resourceful heiress, an honourable German doctor and a ruthless freelance assassin. The books basically consist of a series of chases, with the heroes finding themselves in one perilous situation after another.

If it all sounds rather silly – well, it is, but it’s skilfully written and utterly absorbing. (I was reading it on a train this afternoon and almost missed my stop.) When I’ve finished, I’ll doubtless go back to my Hornbys and McEwans, but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying my change of diet.