17Nov

Stuff I’ve Read

If anyone particularly cares!

I took a break from the genre this last month. I’ll often dip into the mainstream lit fic territory to see what’s going on. So, on a recommendation, I read Ian McEwan’s novella On Chesil Beach on the plane in a neat, concise sitting, with some wine—a recommended combination. I put off reading this since it became one of those vaguely fashionable books to read last year (which, I know, is no reason not to read something). Very simply, it’s about a couple’s wedding night set, with perhaps much intent, in 1962. It’s a very intense and brief blast of a work, a sensitive investigation not so much of sexuality, although it certainly is; but more a book about moments. And what ifs. Surprisingly powerful—and exactly the right length. Good review here.

Ann Enright’s The Gathering was less impressive. Following the history of a Irish family after a death, it explores the tentative fabric of family life. This should have been a novella—and if the editor had gone to town on it, then it could have ended up being a very profound work. As a result, it was diluted with self-indulgent meanderings.

As a result of such word wastage, I’m about to open up Brian K Vaughan’s graphic novel, Pride of Baghdad, following a pride of escaped lions during the Iraq war. And then it’s fully back into the genre with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

*Update* I’ve just finished Pride of Baghdad and it’s a superbly rendered piece. A wonderful allegory on freedom and the Iraq war, and perhaps done best using animals than humans. Good write up here:

What he wanted to do, Vaughan explains, was ‘to tell a story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians’. But telling a realistic story about the suffering of Iraqi civilians would not, of itself, hit home sufficiently hard: ‘It’s weird. You can threaten and kill a baby in a movie, but put a dog in jeopardy and people will walk out. You make a more immediate connection to a giraffe than a person. It sounds psychotic, that you can feel more for an animal than a human.’

Interesting stuff.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

3 comments

  1. I read On Chesil Beach last year, having really enjoyed The Cement Garden (great film too, by the way), and found Saturday to be so-so. As with his other stuff, McEwan can write brilliantly; but, like some of his other stuff, it feels so cold, so detached… clinical, almost lifeless. It worked well in Saturday and Cement Garden precisely because it was meant to feel alienating, but here I found it utterly inappropriate for the subject matter.

  2. Surely that’s the point, and a very British condition? In On Chesil Beach, the outward show is coldness, detachment, but the reality is something very different.

    It IS an alien experience for the couple in the book, and I found it all the more tragic because of all the hope the book starts with. I think McEwan’s writing is especially brilliant because he can appear so cold, but when you look a little deeper, it’s not the case at all.

  3. Agreed on the Britishness, and the detachment. I think it needed to be cold for it to work, and for it to remain unbiased to either one of the couple—so that it was simply their predicament and the event that was the tragedy, and not an individual quality. Which is a rambling way of saying, it was more about their actions rather than their personalities.