You’d think I’d just hit “publish” on a list of superlatives, but as much as I love John Banville’s The Book of Evidence, I understand why some call it bleak or meandering. More than with other books, I’m aware of how my personal preferences color my opinion here. The Book of Evidence is precisely the kind of book I could never write and it leaves me awestruck. read more
I’ve put off this review for a variety of reasons. 2016 has been bumpy, but it has provided time for reading if not for reviewing.
From the back cover:
The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” They are spoken by Iris Chase Griffen, sole surviving descendent of a once rich and influential Ontario family, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story improvised by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.
I’m adding Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish to my queue (for next year, not this year). The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a show of real skill, but I suspect Flanagan’s other works are better. Narrow Road took 12 years to complete. Something I see in my own writing, and have seen in other works, is that a story curdles when you take too long to finish: the side plots become muddy and focus is lost. The portion of this book built on the war and POW camp earns a 5 of 5. The other half, well… we’ll get to that. read more
Historical fiction is a messy business: too much history and it’s dry; too much fiction and readers assume you don’t know your history. Few authors juggle fact and fiction more deftly than Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall, but she made a mistake in her choice of copy editor. Whether or not a reader can overlook this flaw is determined by how interested they are in the story. Much has been written about Henry VIII and his many wives, but Mantel takes one of Henry’s advisers (Thomas Cromwell) as the book’s center and keeps Henry largely offstage. By doing so, she spares herself the difficulty of writing him and the book feels more authentic for it. If there is information that Cromwell is not privy to, the reader isn’t either. Any prior historical knowledge goes a long way. read more