Wednesday, February 01, 2017

To read or not to read. That is the question.

A friend of mine, who has more or less the same taste in fiction as me, reminded me last week that a book I'd recommended to her had upset her so much she'd stopped reading it. It was Helen Dunmore's The Siege. It's about a family fighting for survival during the siege of Leningrad. She couldn't bear the suffering. And I puzzled over why I could. I think it's partly because it's a historical novel (set 70+ years ago - which distances it from me somewhat), partly because they did survive (well, most of them), and partly because I love Helen Dunmore's writing. I don't always like her books and I stopped reading The Greatcoat which I thought was weird and tedious. But her writing is beautiful, and her latest book Exposure is gripping as well. It is brilliant.

This friend is the one I've told you about before: she always reads the last page of a novel before she begins, so that she knows how it ends and doesn't rush through great writing to find out what happens. So I told her the ending of Exposure and told her she must read it.

Another author whose writing I think is beautiful is Sebastian Barry. My favourite novel of his is A Long, Long Way, which is set in the First World War. There are parts of this that are so upsetting to read, despite its being historical, that I had to take a break of two weeks in the middle of reading it. Barry and Dunmore are both poets, and it shows in their prose. Dunmore is very sensual and neither of them are wordy. 

Why am I blogging about this today? Because Barry has just won the Costa prize with his latest novel Days Without End. I read the reviews when it was published and thought it might be too near the knuckle for me, and decided not to pursue it.

Here is an excerpt from today's Guardian about Barry winning the Costa: 

In a decision that the chair of the judges, author Kate Williams, said took 90 minutes, Days Without End was picked unanimously by the panel as the winner. “It is brutal, it is terrifying, it moves you to tears, it horrifies – and at the same time, it has these fantastic moments of light and beauty, and of friendship,” Williams said. “It takes you from the highs to the lows of human experience. It is an absolutely magnificent, incredible book.”

I am trying to decide if I want to read it.

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