Saturday, December 6, 2008

The sun also sucks

I have been trying, and I mean that most sincerely, to read
some old literary classics; but have had to give up on both
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and The Secret
Agent by Joseph Conrad. In a word, they are too mannered;
too, not to put too fine a point on it, literary. Having been
bookish from an alarmingly early age I never thought I’d
find myself saying this, but fiction doesn’t cut it for me like
it used to. And, as these examples show, I don’t mean just
the new stuff coming out; the classics can weary me too.
The inevitable conclusion is that, as one gets older (I am 62)
one has less patience with these artificial worlds created for
us by novelists. They have to be bloody good to get us past
the first few pages, otherwise you think, 'Why bother? Why
enter this elaborately constructed imaginary place at all,
while time ticks on?' (Possibly one is haunted, whether one
knows it or not, by the memory of all the bad fiction you’ve
slogged your way through in earlier years.)

Having said all that, I wouldn’t like to be without the
satisfaction that a really good novel can bring. As blogged
here, this year I’ve greatly enjoyed Sea of Poppies by
Amitav Ghosh and The Blue by Mary McCallum; Kate
Grenville’s The Lieutenant is rich and absorbing too. And as
for classics, I read The Great Gatsby again, for the fourth
time in my life, and still found it the closest thing to a
perfect book I know. So all is not lost. Maybe I’ve just been
exposed to a fraction too much fiction.

1 comment:

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks for the mention, Denis. I love that you liked the book so much. I've just had to re-engage with The Blue over the past three weeks while Radio NZ's been running it in the morning slot - and it's been a bitter-sweet experience. Some days I've been very moved by what I've heard, some days happy and some not so. So it's good to hear the noises of a happy reader again.

Generally, I've found like you I've been enjoying non-fiction more this year. In fact my 'best of' list for The Listener is all non-fiction for the first time ever. Which is strange and interesting and requires more thought ... however, as you say, there is still fiction that grabs me. Just enjoyed An Arsonists Guide to Writers' Homes in New England.