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
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