Vi­brant feats of fic­tion

Some of this year’s nov­els were a joy to read, writes Rose­mary Sorensen, al­though they may not ap­peal to all

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

IN a book­shop where the new re­leases were stacked up in large piles on the most ac­ces­si­ble ta­bles, I bumped into a friend who was treat­ing her­self to a cou­ple of books for her sum­mer read­ing. She had de­cided on one ti­tle al­ready and, when she told me what it was, I did a ter­ri­ble thing. winced. The look on my friend’s face — sur­prise, then un­cer­tainty, then a kind of set­tling ac­cep­tance — chastened me. A bet­ter per­son would have learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence and vowed never to in­ter­fere in any per­son’s choice of novel, even if that choice hap­pened to be a dodgy book much praised by its pub­lish­ers who had put wads of dough be­hind its pro­mo­tion.

But it was just so eas­ily done, turn­ing this smart and de­serv­ing reader away from a novel she had heard much about and to­wards ones less well pro­moted but in­fin­itely bet­ter, in my opin­ion, at least. And it would not have been at­tempted if it were not for my sin­cere, al­most patho­log­i­cal, de­sire to share my plea­sure. When a book makes you happy, you want noth­ing more than to see that hap­pi­ness mul­ti­ply.

The dan­ger is that you are rec­om­mend­ing not as­sured joy and plea­sure but po­ten­tial hap­pi­ness only. Your beloved book may be an­other’s pile of turgid rub­bish.

Even as I was looking earnestly into my friend’s open, trust­ing face, I was think­ing, what if she doesn’t like it? Maybe the over-praised wor­thy tome she had been go­ing to buy is what would have en­grossed and de­lighted her af­ter all.

At $ 30 and more a pop, buy­ing the right book is im­por­tant, but the fol­low­ing comes with a warn­ing: for ev­ery one of th­ese bril­liant, un­miss­able, sig­nif­i­cantly de­sir­able books, there are dozens out there you would per­haps love more. So, don’t blame me if you find any of th­ese to be duds.

The two my friend left the book­shop with were The White Tiger and

Amer­i­can Wife . The first won this year’s Man Booker Prize, which each year can be re­lied on to pro­vide at least an in­ter­est­ing if not a great read, one that puts you in the lovely loop of cul­tural dis­cus­sion that we sorely need in th­ese days of white noise so ubiq­ui­tous it of­ten seems to drown out any­thing of value.

The White Tiger is lively, a bit scary in what it re­veals about the con­tem­po­rary In­dian so­ci­ety its cen­tral anti-hero char­ac­ter in­hab­its and writ­ten with skill. Un­like, say, ( short-listed for the same prize for his A Frac­tion of the Whole ), Adiga knows writ­ing is not like Aus­tralian Idol : you don’t have to sing louder and with more false pas­sion than the rest to be deemed good.

Sit­ten­feld was lauded in th­ese pages re­cently. This is out­ra­geously bold writ­ing about mod­ern power ap­proached from an im­pos­si­bly se­duc­tive an­gle: the wife of the US pres­i­dent. Why did I not sug­gest to my friend

The Lieu­tenant or Breath , when both are per­haps even more a sure thing for a hun­gry reader? Prob­a­bly be­cause they are still in hard­back and there’s a ridicu­lous lin­ger­ing prej­u­dice some of us have against hard­backs as un­nec­es­sary pre­ten­sion. Those who have the op­po­site re­ac­tion and find hard­backs ir­re­sistible and pa­per­backs sec­ond best, will be re­warded with two nov­els that are tes­ta­ment to the fact some writ­ers just keep get­ting bet­ter, the longer they last. With any luck, some­one will counter my Scrooge-like prej­u­dice and my friend will find Grenville and Win­ton un­der the Christ­mas tree.

Less ob­vi­ous, and a good choice, there­fore, par­tic­u­larly if you’re seek­ing gifts for some­one you sus­pect will have gob­bled up Win­ton and Grenville al­ready: The Slap . If you’re spending sum­mer with small chil­dren within strik­ing dis­tance, you may want to keep this one for your­self.

Good choice: Chris­tos Tsi­olkas’s The Slap

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