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
BIRD CLOUD – A MEMOIR OF PLACE by Annie Proulx (Scribner, 2011)
Place 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.
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
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
THE WAVES by Virginia Woolf (First published by The Hogarth Press, 1931)
In her 1928 essay Women & Fiction, Virginia Woolf wrote that she hoped a time would come when novels would “cease to become a dumping ground for personal emotions” and in her diaries at around the same time she expressed the desire to be rid of “the appalling narrative business of the realists : getting us from lunch to dinner”.
These quotes show how Woolf had at this point become totally bored by the relatively conventional structure of popular fiction. She believed that the linear plotlines of contemporary novels were irreversibly flawed in that they bore little or no relation to how we actually conduct our daily lives.
Embracing the Modernist cause, she developed more of an interest in the darker psychology traits of her characters which led to her becoming less and less concerned with describing their actions, interactions and appearance.
This was evident in her masterpieces Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To The Lighthouse (1927) but The Waves represents her most fully realised attempt to deconstruct the novel. It has no recognisable story and the voices of six characters in search of a plot morph into each other in such a way that it’s hard to tell them apart. Continue reading