Thursday, May 24, 2012

April Reading: Remainder, Falling Man, Saturday, The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Remainder by Tom McCarthy (2006)
Due to the presence of a big fat essay deadline, much of my reading in April consisted of critical works on the relationship between history and fiction, which I won't bore you with. The four fiction books I managed to get through were for the final few weeks of MA classes, and were, in varying degrees, related to the somewhat dubious category of ‘post 9/11 fiction’.

McCarthy’s novel has the most tenuous link to that category. It’s so fresh and original that I almost forgot I was reading it for the course and actually (shhh) enjoyed it. The unnamed narrator has received £8.5 million of compensation for an accident involving ‘something falling from the sky,’ and he finds himself compelled to spend the money on increasingly bizarre re-enactments of events in his life and incidents he has seen in the news. It is strange and funny and unlike anything else I have read this year; which is probably why it failed to find a publisher in the UK until after a French publishing house took a chance on it (originality gets you about as far in the publishing world as it does in Hollywood – so speaks the newly cynical recipient of many, many lectures on the dismal state of British publishing). My only complaint is that I wasn’t quite convinced by the ending, but I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who fancies reading something wonderfully different.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo (2007)
Much more overtly related to the 9/11 theme, Falling Man opens with a man stumbling away from the collapsing towers, and goes on to explore the effects on him and his family. DeLillo’s prose is sharp and oddly discomfiting, in a way which fits his theme here more than ever. There is a description of a poker group that is among the best things I have read in a long time, and the characters of Keith and Lianne, the estranged and now tentatively reunited couple, are meticulously built up. However, the sections showing the terrorists’ point of view feel forced and unnecessary, and for me, they distracted from the power of the book.

Saturday by Ian McEwan (2005)
I read Saturday soon after it first came out and I didn’t like it much. I reread it this time, and I didn’t like it at all. The idea of the ridiculously privileged Henry Perowne as some kind of ‘everyman,’ representative of ‘the way we live,’ rang supremely false, and the long, long descriptions of him performing brain surgery seemed merely a self-indulgent way for McEwan to show off how much research he had done. The Mrs Dalloway-style set up, telling the story of one day in this man’s life, just made me sigh when I realised it was still only eleven o’clock in the morning.

I’d like to point out that I do normally rate McEwan’s writing, and there is an outside chance that my antagonism towards this book may be partly caused by my recent discovery that a quotation I have adored for about four years and had written out and attributed to McEwan, turns out to be from a Sebastian Faulks novel. I didn’t think I liked Sebastian Faulks.


And if you want to read a review from someone who liked the book even less than I did, check out John Banville's harsh but quite amusing take: http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/2005/05/banville_on_sat.html

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (2007)
The final novel for my MA course (classes have now ended and I am feeling bereft and adrift), Hamid’s book could be seen as a response to Western 9/11 fiction. It is narrated in the first person by a Pakistani man in a Lahore cafĂ©, who directly addresses a silent interlocutor, an American, with whom the narrator, Changez, is having tea. Changez relates the story of his relationship with America, where he studied and worked, and with an American woman, Erica (Am-Erica, geddit?) who herself has a tragic past. As Changez relates his gradual disillusionment with the West, the use of ‘you’ is uncomfortably and deliberately implicating. The gentle, polite tone with which Changez speaks may be too mannered for some tastes, but for me the voice worked, and I found this book a fascinating foil to the British and American perspectives. I didn’t quite get the ending, but I don’t think I was alone in that, so I don’t feel too stupid.


Now that I have a bit of time for 'fun' reading, tell me, what books have you enjoyed so far this year?