The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
This is the first time chapter numbering has made me laugh, and I feel a strange compulsion to be very precise about things.
What an amazing book. Purely from a technical point of view it strikes me as an incredible undertaking to maintain such an idiosyncratic voice throughout the story. Despite this the story flows with consummate ease. The lack of expressed emotion serves very well to amplify those instances where it is evident around the main character, and I couldn’t help but feel the sadness and frustration of such a difficult situation. It made me laugh in places, and then wonder whether I should feel guilty for laughing. It brought a lump to my throat in places too.
If you love stories read this book. If you love maths read this book. In fact, put this book on the maths syllabus for teaching probability as it gives an excellent illustration of why 50:50 isn’t necessarily 50:50. Long live the Monty Hall problem.
A work of genius.
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
Is it sadness that moves within me? I feel the displacement like an almost full bucket of water jolted. It slaps to and fro, washing up and clinging to my insides. It’s a cold feeling, the clutch of clammy, fretful fingers. As it subsides there’s the radiating warmth of anger, and it makes me wonder which has precedence. Is it the anger that causes the sadness to boil, or the cold sorrow which immolates the rage?
It’s Grass’s fault.
I could raise it up as a prayer; God, never give me cause to contain such sorrow, or such vitriol. How could one fail to be moved? He tricks me, lures me in with the farcical humour, then leaves me stranded in the wash of misery that follows. It’s too deep to wade, but he makes me try, and the effort stings me behind the eyes.
It never ceases to amaze me how something discovered in one book can than serendipitously turn up in the next one you read, no matter how random your choice of book may be. The last book I read, Possession by AS Byatt included reference to Ragnarok. It appears as a poem written by nineteenth century poet Randolph Ash, and is wholly fitting with his scientific fascination, and a world balanced on a rim between science and religion.
I move on to The Rapture by Liz Jensen, and lo and behold here is ragnarok again, mentioned between geologist, physicist and psychologist. Life, and reading, are indeed strange and wondrous!
The Rapture by Liz Jensen
The main two characters are not likeable people, something they both admit. It makes for an interesting change as readers usually like to identify with the ‘heroes’. What does it say about us if/when we do identify with them? In spite of this I found it an enjoyable read (although sometimes difficult, given the subject matter).
I think the thing that Liz Jensen does really well is mood. The language she uses fits her characters exceptionally well so that you are never in any doubt about what they are feeling about themselves and their situation. It allows you at least to invest in the characters even if you can’t like them. As I found with The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, Liz Jensen also has a keen sense of emotional torque, and every now and then you might just feel your stomach tighten involuntarily.
The book talks about faith and belief (which aren’t always the same thing) in subtle ways as well as obvious ones, and also looks at the ever present spectre of what is happening to our climate without whacking a carbon neutral sticker on your forehead.
It’s a good reason to go and look for other Liz Jensen books.
Possession by A S Byatt.
I found this book a bit of an undertaking at first. I really got into it at the first batch of letters though. At this point the characters from the past really came to life, and for me breathed life into the whole story. I think it’s the strength of these characters from the past that really impresses. Their language and interplay is expertly measured, where it could so easily be overdone and ring false.
It’s very intricate, and I don’t doubt would benefit from a second reading. This would be from a point of truly enjoying the depth of language. It’s not just a dream for the lexicon lover though. The thread of the story is easy to follow, and presents engaging mysteries as relationships unfold, both past and present.
The postscript is a gem, at once beautiful and deeply sad.