On Reading: Unbroken Bliss

How rare is it to go on a reading jag and pick winning reads, zero brain candy, one right after the other? In my experience, fairly rare. And yet, when the stars align …
Like most people, I choose to read the books of writers I know and love. If Russell Banks published a grocery list, I’d read it. So, the winning reading jag started with Lost Memory of Skin.
To quote George Stroumboulopoulos, “He’s done it again.” What Banks has done is take a character who, if measured against all our social mores and taboos, is unsympathetic, reprehensible even – a convicted sex offender, and makes him human. In the process, Banks compels readers to reflect on crime, punishment and the possibility of redemption.


In The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout also draws on and humanizes a complex and multilayered social issue: the social integration of immigrants perceived as being too different to ever become American. Misunderstandings, misperceptions and one very dumb prank provide a spark that ignites a long-buried but still-smouldering familial drama. A discovery for me, I will surely be adding Strout to my list of must-read-everything authors.
Like Banks, I can always count on Wayne Johnston to feed my head and my need for a good story. Johnstonsweetens the pot by adding rich historical detail. Reading Johnstonalways makes me want to pack my old kit bag and move to St. John’s Newfoundland.
Set in the beginning of the 20th, The World Elsewhere tells the story of a need-rotted friendship between two men, one who rejects his family’s seafaring legacy, the other cast out as a born loser by his very wealthy family.
If you love history and excruciatingly accurate detail, you will love Kate Atkinson’s most recent novel, Life after Life. Atkinson takes one life, one point in time then plays it, rewinds and plays it again, over and over and over. Sound dull? Trust me, after countless skilfully altered iterations (no, I didn’t count), I just wanted one more, one more, one more.
Herman Koch revisits the unhappy family and masterfully employs the unreliable narrative voice in his novel The Dinner. Like Atkinson, he opts for a challenging narrative device, setting the action within the severe constraints of a family dinner in a posh restaurant. Poverty and privilege strike up a disturbing counterpoint as the family teeters on the brink of moral disaster.
The summer has just begun but, thanks to these five novels, my long-term reading forecast is hot, hot, hot!

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the comment, Isabella. Frankly, The Dinner is astonishing. There’s something Handke-esque about Koch’s voice. I will definitely be reading more. What other Dutch writers would you recommend?

  2. Well, there are a few Dutch books that are worth reading :-O
    I would recommend The Discovery of Heaven by H. Mulisch or Abdelkader Benali’s Le Tant Attendu (Dutch-Moroccan, for a touch of multiculturalism). I’m not sure if there’s an English translation. Another good one is Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa.
    My old time favourite is this http://www.amazon.com/Character-Novel-Father-Ferdinand-Bordewijk/dp/1566632277/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367921158&sr=1-1&keywords=bordewijk

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