Monday, 23 August 2010

The book nook

I finished David Nicholls' One Day the, er, other day. I raved about it on here last week, with 80 pages left to go. My feelings have changed somewhat. I don't want to ruin the book for you, because I really think you should read it, but the last pages certainly made me rethink my enthusiasm.

There's a traumatic event near the end, which is OK - arbitrary, but OK. But. But, but but. It means that the most sympathetic and convincing narrative voice is silenced, and the actions of the remaining characters are simply their (fairly predictable) responses - the book fizzles out with the loss and becomes an exercise in tying up loose ends. Emma's involvement is ended on a beautiful, economic sentence in the present tense - why not end it there and let the audience worry about the consequences? That's what readers like - that lovely sense, at the end of a great book, of wondering, feeling, hoping and caring about characters.

At the same time, a parallel narrative starts to appear, presenting an alternative past in which the protagonists got together as soon as they met, rather than becoming friends while leading diverse lives. I thought that this worked very well - but why start doing it in the last 8o pages? Why not do it from the start, in a much more sustained fashion. Bunging this in at the end just awakened me to the possibility that a much more interesting book had been smothered for no apparent reason.

So anyway - still a lovely book, but flawed. I only thought of it just now because I opened more parcels:
Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog. For some reason, I was convinced I'd already received this, but no. I love Atkinson's work - great narrative voices. Totally underrated.

Clifford Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures, because someone nicked my copy of this theory classic. As my so-called educationalist superiors are busy using Geertz to abandon the concept of humanist education, I thought I'd remind myself of what he actually had to say. It's his birthday today - born 1926.

Finally, The Autumn 2010 issue of New Welsh Review, the essential Welsh cultural and literary periodical.


Benjamin. said...

I like Kate Atkinson too, decided on Sam Eastland's Red Tsar rather than her latest novel that you mention due to her strange fixation of detailing things very simplicity. But then, that’s probably an indictment of my own style of writing hence a theatre company today has emailed me saying 'the panel was impressed by the high standard of your writing and your creativity. However, it was felt the story was overly complex with too many characters and themes'. Damn.

The Plashing Vole said...

The solution to that is to keep reading, keep writing, and strip out whatever is extraneous - being kind to your audience. Good luck.

Benjamin. said...

Indeed, I do try! It's the wealth of material that I forsee every time I even look outside of the window.

Reading Medieval poetry, just in case I'm granted permission for the IS and I must say 'Battle of Brunanburh' is wonderful.