A Pompeian fresco from here
Although I derive much pleasure from biographies and other non-fiction books, there is something extra special about a much enjoyed novel. I have just completed two such titles.
The first, The Children Act by Ian McEwan is a novella, and has all the attractions of a short story in that the reader is plunged straight in through the wormhole into someone else's life - no great introductions and explanations, no drawing carefully in pencil before colouring in. The nuances we have to work out for ourselves, by trial and error - or - we are observers looking in at a lit window as our train pauses at the points, become so absorbed that we leave the confines of our carriage to follow the observed for a slice of their life.
After two disappointing encounters with McEwan's recent novels, this took me back to the deep pleasure I had usually derived from his work. He took me into someone else's life and illuminated a previously dark corner.
In a contrast to the spareness of the novella, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson was a densely woven cloth where each thread is a parallel alternative progress. A baby dies, lives then dies, lives a harsh life then dies, lives and has a fatal accident, lives and .... This sounds tedious, but I found it enthralling: I uncoupled my brain from thoughts of rational progress, and enjoyed the alternative manifestation of occurrence.
It was not completely satisfactory, however: at the end I felt that one of the alternatives was spurious, and even almost devalued another alternative which I found fascinating. I also felt that a natural end-point was reached, but then sullied by further alternatives only a few of which made a positive contribution. (I have found a blog post which explains my misgivings here.) But that was not enough to even scratch my overall enjoyment of the book, and I found myself immediately adding her next novel to my wish list.
Still on a roll, my next bedtime reading is to be The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Meantime I am also reading a short story between novels, and every day reading one 365 word short story by James Robertson from his 365 Stories. So far the idea and the execution are brilliant.