I have finished Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy. Manning writes insightfully about her characters and the story put me convincingly in the experience of an expat in Europe at the start of World War II. The Pringles marry and move to Bulgaria, as Guy Pringle teaches English there for the English Legation -they are forced to leave Bucharest as the Nazis encroach on Eastern Europe. They escape to Athens, where they are only steps ahead of the Germans and by the end of the third volume, they are again fleeing, this time for the Middle East where Manning's next trilogy is set - The Levant Trilogy. The story is held together not only by history and politics, although those are An important part of it, but by the growth of the relationship of the Pringles. Harriet Pringle is very different from Guy, and she thrown into a marriage with a man she has known only a few weeks and immediately moves to a new country where she doesn't speak the language or know anyone besides her new husband. The story is as much one of Harriet's growing insight about herself as it is our experience of the war through naive eyes.
Reading the trilogy has made me interested in getting to know more of Manning's books - she is a descriptive and un-showy writer with human and historical insight and I found the events of these three novels almost mesmerizing. Reading them for two or three hours at a stretch never seemed an effort. If you haven't read anything by her, and I hadn't before these - I recommend her heartily.
Completion of the trilogy brings me one book closer to my meaningless goal of reading 50 books before the end of this year. I am quickly finishing Peter Abrahams' thriller Nerve Damage, my 42nd book of the year. His thrillers are generally pretty fast moving - one of the reasons one or two of them are ending up in this end of the year effort - but I am finding the plotting of this one a bit obvious and the idea of a man with a disease that will put an end to his ability to solve the mystery he has become a part of is an idea Abrahams already used in Oblivion, on which I thought he did a more convincing job.
41. Friends and Heroes - Olivia Manning
42. Nerve Damage - Peter Abrahams (almost finished!)
43. The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick
44. Tell me Everything - Sarah Salway
45. Experiment in Love - Hillary Mantel
46. The Stolen Child - Keith Donohue
47. The Last Town on Earth - Thomas Mullen
48. Lisrael - Garth Nix
49. Abhorsen - Garth Nix
50. Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks