May 12th, 2009

reading

I Blame Julian Barnes




Flaubert’s Parrot was published in 1984. I should say straight away that I like this clever book rather a lot, yet I feel it’s had a malign influence on publishing. It’s the title. Barnes’ book is ‘about’ Flaubert (and a lot of other things); it’s neither straight narrative nor an imaginative reconstruction of Flaubert’s thoughts and actions. It works. Unfortunately, the publishing world went overboard for history masquerading as fiction: Longitude, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, Galileo’s Daughter: yawn, yawn, yawn.

I’ve just read Justine Picardie’s Daphne, a multi-layered set of narratives including Daphne du Maurier’s alleged thoughts (they coil and writhe, apparently, or possibly writhe and coil) and paranoia. I found this rather disturbing. Just out is The Children’s Book by A S Byatt, which, I read, has characters ‘based on’ Edith Nesbit, Eric Gill et al. Both books must have required a great deal of research and my question is this: ‘You are novelists; why don’t you invent your own characters?’

The books I most enjoyed last year, apart from re-reads and thrillers, included these: A Very Long Engagement, Sebastien Japrisot; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer; Sputnik Caledonia, Andrew Crumey; What Was Lost, Catherine O’Flynn; Star Gazing, Linda Gillard. Each in its own way excited or charmed me by its originality and by the author’s imaginative powers. I think I’ll read another good thriller. Robert Goddard would fit the bill.