Saturday, May 28, 2005

Confessions of an obscure and experimental reader

Since Brighton’s new library opened, I’ve been picking up novels on a whim. I hoped I’d discover a new writer or be surprised by an old one. And I have. The surprise came with Paul Auster’s Oracle Night and the discovery with Nick Tosches’ In the Hand of Dante.

But what prompts the whim? With Auster it was a review saying this was perhaps his best novel (which I'm prepared to accept). With Tosches it was the impression from the blurb that it was about more than a gangster caper following the discovery of a handwritten manuscript of the Commedia. It is. Much more. Since then I’ve tried a few more:

David Foster Wallace – Oblivion
Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore
Andrew Sean Greer – The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Elliot PerlmanSeven Types of Ambiguity
John McGahern – That They May Face the Rising Sun
Enrique Vila-Matas – Bartleby & Co

Yet only the last of these was finished. I found the others unremarkable and uncompelling, putting each aside soon after setting out: in the first case, the form and content was tiresome, in the third, downright embarrassing.

And today, when I saw a pristine copy of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, I thought: OK, give it a chance. So I settled down to read the first chapter.

What can I say? Rather than repeating what I’ve written so many times before about form and narrative voice, I’ll just say that, from what I read (admittedly very little, but I don't recall reading a favourite novel that wasn't favourite right from the start) Case Histories is a prime example of what I intend to call freeform journalism. If you think this is literature (let alone "a great book"), you’re welcome to it.

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