In 2012, Gillian Flynn published Gone Girl and kick-started our current craze for unreliable narrator stories. 2015 saw the release of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and the unreliable narrator novel was firmly ensconced.
Rarely have I witnessed two books compared to each other more than these.
Not only was The Girl on the Train trumpeted as “this year’s Gone Girl,” not only did every critic and reviewer on the planet compare the two, but just about everyone I knew picked a favorite and took a side in the which-is-better debate.
Most people I know like both but have a clear preference for one or the other, and there are more than a few who love one and hate the other.
For most, their preference seems to boil down to which narrator appealed to them best. It’s not a matter of which you like best, as neither narrator is intended to be likeable. But both are meant to be intriguing.
I’m convinced that character appeal isn’t all that’s going on here. I think focusing on which narrator appeals the most is circling around a deeper issue.
I’ve had conversations now with a few other people about this book and discovered that I’m in a minority in my opinion. Most people I know couldn’t stand it. Most didn’t finish it. Mostly, they found it too long, too wordy, too self-indulgent. The general reaction is that Moore desperately needed an editor to reel him in.
I get that. On some level, I feel this way, too. I spent quite a lot of the book convinced that he was over-indulgent and lacking writerly discipline.
However, as others have stated (and I quote Library Journal here), Jerusalem is “[m]ore a work of art than a novel.”
The greatest challenge about reviewing Jerusalem by Alan Moore is summarizing what it’s about. This isn’t a traditional novel and it doesn’t deliver a normal story. The plot is meandering, almost vestigial in some sections. Setting is paramount—language, tone, atmosphere, characters: all of these matter far more than mere plot.
I’ve come to think of this book as being akin to the Bayeux Tapestry—a sprawling and artistically audacious account of a place and its people. It’s a love letter to a neighborhood as only Moore can write it.
In general terms, it’s a quasi-fictional history of the Boroughs—the poverty-stricken Northampton neighborhood in England where Alan Moore was born, raised, and still lives—from ancient times through the near future, not told in chronological order, and actively eschewing the concept of linear narrative. It’s the story of a unique family who lives there through several generations, and various persons associated with them. It’s a story of the afterlife and eternity and the Universe. It’s a story about life and death, art and work, obligation and free will, ghosts and angles and builders and demons. Visions and dreams are as real in this world as reality.
If I had to categorize this book, I’d probably call it fantastical realism. Everyone is going to shelve it in their SF sections. But it’s more than just these—it’s philosophical, historical, political, religious.
It’s holy and profane, poetic and pedestrian, beautiful and gritty. It’s deeply human. It’s hard to explain. You really need to read it.
We need diverse books to be sure, but those must be part of a literature that reflects our reality, books in which little black boys push one another on the swings, in which little black girls daydream about working in the zoo, in which kids of every color do what kids of every color do every day: tromp through the woods, obsess about trucks, love their parents, refuse to eat dinner. We need more books in which our kids are simply themselves, and in which that is enough.
The Shadow of Your Smile is the first Mary Higgins Clark novel I’ve ever read.
Of course I’ve heard of Mary Higgins Clark. Her name has been all over bestseller lists for years, and she occupies quite a lot of shelf space in public libraries and bookstores across the country. But she’s not an author I was ever interested in reading. So I wasn’t sure how I would react when I ended up listening to the audiobook of The Shadow of Your Smile on a recent road trip.
Reading other reviews of The Shadow of Your Smile, I realize this probably isn’t the best book Ms. Clark has written. Consensus appears to place this novel on the low end of quality for her output. Perhaps it’s regrettable it became my first Mary Higgins Clark novel.
I got into Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels a couple of years ago and the character immediately became one of my favorites, ranking alongside Spencer, Jim Chee & Joe Leaphorn, Alex Delaware, and V.I. Warshawski. John Rebus is a fascinating police detective.
The Beat Goes On collects all of Mr. Rankin’s Inspector Rebus short stories and presents them in chronological order. Reading through them is a delightful journey through the history of this character.
I tend to be cautious about short stories in the mystery genre. The short form is too short to create truly compelling whodunits. The mystery aspect must necessarily be rather simplistic, due to spatial constraints.
I’m a great admirer of Nick Tosches. More than any other living author, for me he defines erudition. He is, without doubt, one of the great prose stylists of the English language. His artistry and craftsmanship, the astounding depth and breadth of his intellect, is unparalleled.
But Me and the Devil is disappointing. It still has all the style and intellect I expect from Mr. Tosches—his typical hallmarks are as much in evidence in this work as in any of his others.
But I walked away from this book asking the one question I’ve never asked about any of his work before: