Category: fiction


THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (First published 1992)

 Donna Tartt’s remarkable debut novel begins boldly with a chilling description of the murder of Edmund ‘Bunny’ Corcoran.

We immediately how this young man dies and who kills him. What we don’t know is why he was murdered and what the consequences of this act will be, Book I takes us through the events leading to the crime while Book II deals with the fall out from the killing.

Despite Tartt’s dramatic prologue, I confess there were times initially when I found her claustrophobic narrative style hard going. However, she more than rewards perseverance and once the story kicks in at the beginning of Book II, I was well and truly hooked. Continue reading

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown, 2013)

After her two previous bestsellers, Donna Tartt is in the enviable position of being able to call all the shots with any publisher.

She is like an esteemed movie director who knows her work is never going to be subjected to unwanted cuts.

Moreover, she has established herself a writer who works slowly and meticulously, preferring quality to quantity.

A book every decade is her current rate of production and she expresses no desire to change this. She says she’ll be content if her life work consists of five big novels.

Constant rewriting and self editing are among the reasons why she is not more prolific. In a recent BBC interview, Tartt describes how she decided to scrub 8 months work after realising she had taken the plot down a wrong track.

You can well imagine why, after labouring for so long, she would resist any further editing suggestions. However, I can’t help feeling that this degree of total control is a double-edged sword. The Goldfinch is a novel that cries out for some bold editing and in my view it is at least 200 pages too long. Continue reading

STILL ALICE  directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (USA, 2014)

This moving and sobering film is based on a bestseller by Lisa Genova. Her novel was initially self published after being rejected by numerous publishers who believed that readers would not be interested in such a depressing subject. Just goes to show what they know!

The movie vindicates Genova’s decision to choose a woman with an early onset of Alzheimer’s as a means showing the devastating effect of dementia on an active, otherwise healthy, individual’s life. This is a film about living with the disease rather than dying from it.

Catherine Shoard, writing in The Guardian, gets it spectacularly wrong when she says that the film “perpetuates the notion that dementia is more tragic when it affects the intellectual”. It does nothing of the kind.

The fact that Alice is a respected university professor of linguistics in no way suggests that the loss of communication would be any less devastating in a less prestigious job, as a film critic for example! Continue reading

BIRD CLOUD – A MEMOIR OF PLACE by Annie Proulx (Scribner, 2011)

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Annie-ProulxPlace is a major part of Annie Proulx’s writing and life. Everything begins with the landscape.

However, as a  feature in The Guardian notes, she is scornful of the adage that you should write what you know. She has said: “All it produces is tiresome middle-class novels of people who I think are writing about things they know, but you wish to God they didn’t”.

Proulx is a late learner and was a thrice divorced 53 year-old woman when she wrote her first collection of short stories (Heart Songs). Five years later came her Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Shipping News. The film version of her short story Brokeback Mountain introduced her to an even wider audience.

My collection of Annie Proulx's books.

My collection of Annie Proulx’s books.

I am a big fan of her fiction and have made a point of buying any book of hers I see but this one turned out to be a big disappointment.

It is the account of an ambitious but ultimately misguided building project. The profits from her belated literary success was ploughed into what he hoped would be her dream home built on wild prairie land near a dramatic cliff in 640 acres of Wyoming, the least populous of the United States. Continue reading

SPEED READING PYNCHON

INHERENT VICE by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press, 2009)

Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is a countercultural spoof of the hard-boiled Chandleresque crime genre full of shaggy dog tales of private dick and dope fiend Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello on the trail of kidnapping related murders and other related misdemeanours.

Red herrings and false trails abound and I quickly tired of trying to find any twisted logic to proceedings.

This trippy novel is no ringing endorsement of drug use but large parts of it seem to have been written while under the influence of some substance or other. Continue reading

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