Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Faith in fiction revived

I was given Alexander McCall Smith's latest book, Trains and Lovers, to review a few days ago.  I'm a great AMS fan, but not of everything he's written. And unfortunately this book just doesn't cut the mustard. The review will be out in the Otago Daily Times soonish, so you can read what I thought then.

After that disappointment it was great, by happenstance, to pick up Anne Tyler's most recent novel, The Beginner's Goodbye at the Library yesterday. I finished it tonight. (It's just under 200 pages, but this was the hardcover version, making it easier to read.)

What a contrast! Where AMS writes a story that skims the surface, Tyler gives us characters with depth, and the humour is a delight too. The only book of Tyler's that I've read, I think, is The Accidental Tourist, which I really enjoyed. I have a funny feeling there was another one, but I can't remember anything about it, and am not even sure if I finished it. I also think it might have put me off reading any more of her books, which is a pity.

Tyler's story is about grief - the narrator's wife has died recently, and the book is essentially about him learning to move on again. It's a slow process, and the book could have been very gloomy. Instead, Tyler manages to write in such a way that we're fully involved with the narrator, and even though at times he's a bit of a prig, we still empathize with him, and not just because his wife has been killed in a rather odd accident.

There's a great deal of humour and warmth in the book, a delight in life even in the midst of a tragedy, and the very strange 'fact' that the narrator's wife suddenly starts appearing again after she's been dead for a year. Tyler can draw a character in a few words (AMS's characters, in his latest book, are scarcely drawn at all), and she can also keep on adding layers to characters we thought we'd got to grips with.

The story seems to meander, yet every step in the story is in its right place, and everything works together to form a pleasing whole. It's quite revived my faith in fiction!  :)
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