Hello, friends. I just noticed that I completely forgot to blog last week. Apologies. I don’t know what to say except that I may have lost the entire week, while I was at it. Am I really a week older, with almost nothing to show for it? *headdesk*
It’s been a while since I talked about my recent reading. There’s been a lot of distraction, a little crafting, many bits of the New Yorker (one day, I’ll read every article in a given issue, but I don’t think it’ll be this year), and three astoundingly good books, in particular:
Ordinary Thunderstorms, by William Boyd
Ordinary Thunderstorms starts as a straight-up thriller of the best kind: bold, expansively imagined, and genuinely, well, thrilling. In the opening scenes, a rather bland young academic becomes a murder suspect and loses his identity through a chain of small but damning accidents. It is one of the most terrifying things I’ve read precisely because the protagonist Adam is, as his name suggests, such an Everyman.
The novel makes its way through different contemporary Londons, which I loved, and there’s a juicy corruption scandal at its heart. But an interesting thing happens along the way, which is that the pace of the thriller starts to meander and it doesn’t really matter, because the social world of the novel is so fully realized that you become fully engrossed in that, instead. It’s a thriller that becomes an examination of different lives, and which then refuses fully to resolve itself. I really enjoyed that perversity of genre.
I could pick at a few things here – Adam’s academic career is given unnecessary prominence, I think, because it offers a nice conceit for the title but there’s exactly one point in the plot at which it really seems relevant. Otherwise, Adam could have been a classicist or an economist or a linguist and it wouldn’t really matter. But overall, I enjoyed this immensely and am now obsessed with William Boyd’s work.
The Stranger’s Child, by Alan Hollinghurst
The Stranger’s Child is wonderful – a selective survey of the twentieth century through the lenses of poetry, biography, and gay culture. The novel is also an extended joke about literary detective-work: just as you think it’s going to turn into a gay Possession (by A.S. Byatt), it pivots again and stumps you. The Hollinghurst novels I’ve read until now (The Swimming-Pool Library; The Line of Beauty) have been set in exclusively – almost claustrophobically – male worlds, so it’s interesting to meet a major female character, Daphne, who’s well delineated, moderately sympathetic, and also completely infuriating.
Hollinghurst’s historical research is wonderfully detailed. I’d never wondered about the working lives of English bank tellers in the 1960s, but I can picture them now. This is also a novel about place, but unlike Ordinary Thunderstorms, it’s about the way time overlays places and things, and transforms them quite unrecognizably.
Any Human Heart, by William Boyd
After Ordinary Thunderstorms, I couldn’t wait to read another William Boyd novel. Then I remembered that my husband’s been after me to read Any Human Heart for years. I flicked through it idly several years ago but didn’t find it compelling then. Now, it’s entirely the reverse, and I’m haunted by Logan Mountstuart, its protagonist, in the best possible way.
Any Human Heart is a fictional diary and one of the best things it does is remain convincingly the voice of the same person, even while he ages from teenager to old man over the course of a century. There are jokes (like Zelig or Forrest Gump, Logan Mountstuart meets an absurd number of celebrities, including Hemingway, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and Picasso). There is heartbreak – oh, is there ever heartbreak. And there’s the entire twentieth century as a backdrop for this unbelievably rich and unpredictable life. I can’t say enough good things about it.
One of the funny things about this instalment of A Reader Reports is that all 3 books are by men – a reversal of my usual pattern. What are you reading right now? Do you tend to (unconsciously) favour male or female writers, or are you that rare thing, a balanced individual?