Things I’m Reading Thursday #6

And look! It actually IS Thursday! A triumph! Anyway… here’s what I’ve been reading this week.

Alan Massie, Surviving
A murky and complex tale of murder, addiction and the risks behind getting involved with strangers. Part murder mystery, part morality tale, part sequel (the book features Belinda, the heroine of one of Massie’s previous works, and is set in contemporary Rome, obviously a favourite setting of his), Surviving follows the fortunes of a group of dysfunctional ex-pats pulled together by their Alcoholics Anonymous group. The book is an interesting study into relationships built on nothing more than a shared addiction, and it raises questions about morality and trust at every turn. Unfortunately, however, I was kind of turned off by Massie’s characters. The book is excellently written and Rome is minutely and affectionately depicted (to the point where I now want to go and live there!), but the characters came across as unrealistic and fantastical — all of them troubled ex-alcoholics, but all of them living serene, job-free, rich and glamorous lives in Rome? Really? As a result I just couldn’t get a handle on the book and found myself increasingly irritated by the unfolding plot, rather than drawn in. A book I may return to (you know how sometimes you feel “I didn’t get this, but I might if I read it again”?), but not one I would recommend…

Rachel Cusk, The Bradshaw Variations
A bittersweet and slightly strange family saga, following the fortunes of three brothers and their families as they negotiate middle-age, marriage and parenthood (yeah, sounds like a terrible British sitcom, I know. Bear with me). Thomas, the novel’s protagonist, is delightfully frustrating and highly elusive – Cusk skilfully sketches his character in such a way that the reader is desperate to understand him but never seems able to. Does Thomas love his family at all? Is he actually gay? Why is he so detached from everything but his piano lessons? Cusk’s main intention seems to be to point out that even the most ordinary – indeed, even the most boring (as all the characters’ lives are by turn ordinary and just plain dull) – of people can be fascinating when only a small snippet of their personality is revealed. The characters in the novel are beautifully drawn, and the power-struggles between husbands and wives, mothers and daughters (Thomas’ bitchy mother-in-law is fabulously hateful) and brothers and sisters are brilliantly realised. However, the novel is essentially plotless and ultimately pointless as its dedication to depicting ‘real life’ means there can be no climax, no big reveal; so for all the Bradshaws, life just goes on. A beautiful and accomplished piece of literary fiction, and surprisingly gripping for a book where very little is challenged or resolved. The kind of book I sort of wish I could write — one that really sounds like real life, but manages not to be boring. Well done, Rachel Cusk!

I’ve also been reading/encountering a lot of Marty McConnell lately, but that’s for another post. What about you?

(Photo by Luis Montemayor)

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5 Responses to “Things I’m Reading Thursday #6”

  1. Col Says:

    I’m reading the Collected Poems of James Schuyler at the moment, and very much enjoying it.

  2. charlotte g Says:

    this week i haven’t been reading much outside of my, like, course set texts… so i’ve read a lot of eliza haywood (mostly just miss betsy thoughtless, which i still haven’t finished, but i think it’s buried me.

    i have to write an essay on “non-standard english” for monday so i have a lot of linguistics books about american dialects on my floor that i’m going to have to read. and in a dream world i would be reading jonathan safran foer’s eating animals, which i’ve read a few excerpts from and have found very affecting.

  3. David Says:

    I’ve been reading the latest copy of The Rialto, some brilliant poems in there that I keep going back to… I also read Kathleen Jamie’s collection Queen of Sheba. I love some of the poems in there, particularly the title poem, the portrait among bin bags and the shoe poem…. but on the whole i found it really underwhelming, which surprised me, as i very much like her newest book.

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