Before Christmas I had some feedback from an agent regarding my last book, which has resulted in my setting aside the new book I was working on and instead commencing a mega-redraft. Since January, I have been adhering to a fairly strict schedule: lots of writing (which hasn’t included much blogging – mea culpa), healthy food, early nights, and a book at bedtime. Given the fact that I read about a hundred pages in an hour, that has meant that I’ve read over fifteen books this year. I’m not going to review them all (I have a rule about reviewing books I don’t like) but here are three I loved.
All That Is by James Salter
Salter has been termed ‘the forgotten hero of American letters’ by the Guardian; certainly I had never heard of him or his considerable reputation before I picked up All That Is, published in 2013 and his first book for thirty-five years. It’s the life story of Philip Bowman: his experiences as a naval officer in World War Two, his career as a book editor in New York, and his various love affairs. Salter’s writing style is beautiful, spare and clean, masterfully describing supporting characters in one perfectly observed paragraph, his dialogue simple leaving the reader to infer the nuances. I am now a Salter convert and have also read his 1975 novel Light Years. Here’s a wee video of Mr. Salter discussing his life and work.
Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland
I love Coupland’s work and Worst. Person. Ever is thankfully a return to form for Coupland after the misstep of Player One. It’s narrated by Raymond Gunt, a loathsome misanthropic cameraman who is hired to work on a Survivor-style reality show on an obscure island in the Pacific. Gunt is a reprehensible person, with no manners, no consideration, no human feeling for anyone. Coupland has huge fun with this character, you can almost see him in his study rubbing his hands with glee as he comes up with new perversions and new depravity for Gunt. It’s a blackly funny character study with some of Coupland’s best writing.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This book was published in 2007 to huge acclaim, and went onto win the Pulitzer, but it wasn’t until three friends of mine recommended it to me separately over a three month period that I finally read it. It deserves all the love and plaudits it received. Set in New Jersey, the story of Oscar is intertwined with those of his sister and mother, and other members of their Dominican family. The narrator’s style is peppered with Spanish phrases and a uniquely descriptive voice, and poor Oscar is one of the most heart-warming characters I’ve read in recent times. I raced through this one in a night.