Thursday, January 08, 2015

Two novels, and some

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.


  1. So glad you enjoyed The Children Act. I also agree with you about Life After Life even though it did not please and satisfy me as much as her other novels. I would be interested to know how you got on with The Luminaries: I love the concept behind the novel, what a great idea, but could not get on with reading it, got bored and did not finish.

  2. You talk here about a book I much enjoyed enjoyed, Life after Life, despite the limitations of the various endings, and have made a mental note to seek out A God in Ruins when it is published in May. I have just downloaded The Children Act to my Kindle and will start it when I've finished Philomena by Martin Sixsmith - very compelling read.

  3. Eirene, I've only just started The Luminaries, and as yet have not got into the writing. It certainly does not flow as easily from the start as the other two did.

    Margaret, I have not read Philomena, but enjoyed the film.

  4. As usual, your reading list inspires me. A book of 365 365-word stories, what an amazing idea!