Have you ever seen someone drink a can of beer in one hit and then crush the can? That would be an apt metaphor for the way I consumed Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, a wry and perceptive drama about a dysfunctional family which I couldn’t get enough of. I also tore through Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, although I felt increasingly alienated by the narrative voice and ultimately a little soiled by the reading experience.
Almost a decade ago my husband bought me a gift subscription to The Paris Review which he has faithfully renewed every year. I am not a huge fan of their short fiction—the editors seem to have a proclivity for stories which tend towards the sordid and/or perplexing—but their ‘Art of Fiction’ interviews are almost always insightful and thought-provoking. I tend to dip into the journal over a period of a few weeks and one of the things I love most about it is that the least promising-looking offerings turn out to be those which resonate most with me. This edition (Winter 2012) has been no exception: I particularly enjoyed a conversation between John Jeremiah Sullivan and Elif Batuman on false starts in writing, from the proceedings of the First Annual Norwegian-American Literary festival, as well as Tim Parks’ intriguing story ‘The Tangling Point.’
I think most writers enjoy novels about writers and true to form I found much to like in Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety which I read for one of my book clubs; a story about a lifelong friendship between two couples who meet through their jobs at the University of Wisconsin in the 1930s. I was particularly struck by the account of their first dinner party which involved a singalong (including songbooks) and square dancing, and I lamented to my husband on the dearth of such parties in the modern world.
For my other book club, I re-read Peter Heller’s stunning debut novel The Dog Stars, a post-apocalyptic meditation on the meaning of life with a strikingly original voice which somehow melds poetry with Hemingwayesque machismo.
As a teenager I kept a comprehensive record of all my reading and last year I returned to this habit. Noticing my own tendency to read very narrowly; primarily works by contemporary North American, mostly male, writers, I determined to begin reading more Australian fiction, especially by female writers. One such work was Amanda Curtin’s second novel Elemental. Though I am not usually drawn to historical fiction, I was captivated by this account of the life of a woman who was born into a poor fishing community on a remote coast of Scotland in the 1890s. In the quotidian rhythms of the herring-gutting girls Curtin rendered in extraordinary and fascinating detail a way of life now lost.
I have also been attempting to read more translated fiction. In my twenties I chewed through the works of Danish novelist Peter Hoeg and have returned several times over the years to Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow but hadn’t read a new work by Hoeg for a long time, until I stumbled across his 2007 novel The Quiet Girl at my local library. The Quiet Girl was a highly original thriller which was so intricately plotted that I journeyed through it in a state of perpetual bafflement. I hoped that all would become clear in the dramatic denouement but alas, this was not the case.
I had a crack at Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex when it was first released but lost interest partway through for reasons which I now can’t recall. I’ve since read and liked The Virgin Suicides, and was enraptured with The Marriage Plot and after stumbling across a copy of Middlesex at an op shop I decided to give it a second chance. It’s currently on my bedside table alongside Jennifer Egan’s debut The Invisible Circus, and Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys. But right now, ahead of my interview with Peter Docker at the Margaret River Readers and Writer’s Festival, priority number one is his debut Someone Else’s Country. If it is anywhere near as good as The Waterboys, I’m sure it will be very good indeed.
13 May 13 at 16:47
That’s an eclectic mix, Annabel (and thanks for venturing out into the unknown waters of historical fiction)! I love the image of reading as a one-gulp drink and crush of the can. :–)