Thursday, March 9, 2023

The Stranger Times - C. K. McDonnell

 I found my glasses, they were right behind their case - I had looked in it, but apparently not near it. I really do need to make that appointment. Otherwise, it's been a hectic couple of weeks, full on at work as we get ready for a stock count and a quick visit to see family in Scotland. I returned with treasure - images of which I'll share in due course.

In terms of reading, I've mostly been knitting and listening to audiobooks. This has been a combination of Georgette Heyer who I know so well I can listen, relisten, and not worry if I miss bits - but cannot reasonably keep writing about here, and a couple of C. K. McDonnell books which are outside of my normal reading, but which I've enjoyed enormously. 

I'm on and off with audible, it took me a while to discover how it best worked for me. I like it for funny books and books I know well and am comforted by but have found it unsatisfactory for new literary fiction. The biggest issue is probably how uneven narration can be, one of the Heyer's I listened to recently was fairly bad, but Brendan McDonald did The Stranger Times, and This Charming Man, proud. 

I suspect I probably enjoyed listening to The Stranger Times more than I would have enjoyed reading it, just as I enjoyed the Terry Pratchett audiobooks I listened to last year more than the books I re-read. It's plot that makes me read; much as I enjoy the jokes I'm easily distracted from them. We had a little rush on C. K. McDonnell at work and the titles along with the Manchester setting appealed to me. A colleague who had read him encouraged me and now I'm a fan. 

The Stranger Times is a newspaper that reports the supernatural, at first under the assumption that it's all nonsense, albeit nonsense that some people believe. Increasingly odd things are happening though and eventually, the staff is forced to accept that some of it might be true. Which is a lot to take on board. 

There's a decent ensemble cast of characters and the focus on them changes a little between the two books I've listened to so far. This bodes well for future books in the series, as does McDonnell's obvious affection for his creations - they're easy to like and stay the right side of parody. I have an affection for Manchester too, based mostly on the kindness of some random people on a bus there who not only made sure I found my stop but accompanied me to the street I was looking for once I'd got off at it. 

I'd been at a Bowmore whisky training and tasting session for the day, I absolutely wasn't drunk, but in a pre-smartphone world it wasn't so easy to navigate strange cities and I was definitely in a mellow enough state to forget instructions. My next visit to Manchester involved meeting an unexpected fisherman from Shetland in a pub. Months later he bumped into my father in a local shop and really put the wind up him*. McDonnell's Manchester, supernatural entities aside, sounds a lot like the city as I've seen it. 

I currently have 1 audible credit remaining and a little bit of a dilemma as to how to use it. The weather says go for something cosy, but I'm also thinking it's a great way to explore genre's I might not normally spend much time on. I wondered about Samantha Shannon's Priory of the Orange Tree which is too long to appeal as a novel, but would probably see me through the next jumper I want to knit - but the reviews all make the same complaint about terrible narration. Is this the time to start on a Jodi Taylor?

*Dad swears he doesn't remember this, but he called me, deeply suspicious, to ask what the hell I'd been up to. I'd been playing pool, badly, in the Peveril of the Peak pub when I recognised the accent of the next person who wanted the table. 

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