Please pick up the latest New Scientist (Issue 23 April) and turn to page 50! The first (wee, ickle) review I’ve written for NS, in print: hurrah and cheers.
That’s the writing part.
The reading part: Suffering a cold and subsequent sinus infection does one (and only one, as far as I can tell,) good thing: it forces me to stay in one place and read books. This is because I don’t have the energy to do anything else.
So, over the past week, I read Sue Guiney’s novel, A Clash of Innocents. I’m very lucky to know Sue, and so you may argue that this is biased, but I was really impressed. Her characterization is a strong point: Sue manages to use just a few, well-placed, details to give her characters great personality. The novel also enjoys revelling in a sweeping, painterly style to describe the textures and colours of its setting, Cambodia. I’m sure Sue’s skill as a poet comes into play here. Finally, I admire the restraint Sue exercises in telling a realistic story, which, while it engages with a great many vivid, gruesome, and difficult subjects, does not ever slide into melodrama.
I’ve been noticing (and I’m going to stereotype big time here,) a tendency for Americans to need really big, in-your-face drama, and I admit to the temptation to feel that my novel ‘needs’ to include a ‘blow-things-up’ moment. (Fortunately the Herschels did blow things up!) Some novels I’ve read since coming over here first made me think: hmm, nothing much happens. But I’ve learned that there can be an awful lot that happens in a subtle way. It doesn’t need to be Hollywood. (And in fact I’ve become increasingly sick of Hollywood movies, too, because of the in-your-face nature of the story-telling.)
So, to move on to the other novel I read whilst ill: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. Wow. Talk about the art of subtlety. Of having an awful lot go on while nothing much happens. Of having the action, the drama, take place mostly offstage, or ‘before,’ but having that affect the story enormously. And of setting, place, mood. Brr. Amazing. Housekeeping has immediately joined Tinkers (Paul Harding) at the top of my list of Favourite Books, or If I Could Write a Novel Like This I Might Never Feel the Need to Write Again.
So, I hope you are all healthy, dear readers – either way, go forth and read: The latest issue of New Scientist, A Clash of Innocents, Housekeeping, and Tinkers. Enjoy!