Monday, August 10, 2009

The Booker in the Midwest

“Here in the Midlands we don’t have to read the big names,” my husband says.

The Midlands?

We’re pretending we’re British and dividing up the Booker longlist - because we decided it was unfair of me to announce I was giving the Booker to Byatt without bothering to read any of the other books. What about Samantha Harvey and Sarah Waters, whose novels we found at the library? And hasn't Byatt already won it?

So my husband is reviewing Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness, a short novel about Alzheimer’s that he can fit in between histories of the French and Indian War and German novels in translation.

“There are three words that come into my mind, but I’ve just totally forgotten,” he says of Harvey’s book.

He also says, “it’s in the running.”

That means he likes it.

He turned over Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger to me. “I can’t read that,” he says.

So I’m reading it.

Waters is a lively, elegant, protean writer of historical fiction. The Night Watch, set in the ‘40s, nominated for every award a few years ago but winning none, centers on a female ambulance driver during the blitz. It goes backward in time from 1947 to the beginning of the war, and I admired this very much. I also enjoyed Affinity, set in the 19th century, a mysterious, intriguing novel about the fascination and relationship between a visitor/social worker at a Victorian prison and a charming medium who is in for assault and fraud.

I admit I didn’t buy The Little Stranger because I dreaded reading a ghost story. Any reference to The Turn of the Screw - invoked by the critics in the reviews - bores me shitless. So far the book is very good, and I haven’t actually reached the ghost story yet. The introspective narrator, Dr. Farraday, is called in to Hundreds Hall to treat the Ayres’ maid when his partner is busy. Because his mother used to be a maid at the Hall, he is very class-conscious and almost awed by the chance to tour the house again. But Hundreds Hall is a wreck, and though Roderick Ayre and his sister, Caroline, are arrogant, Dr. Farraday's professional relationship with them gradually changes to friendship.

The book cover says, “But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life?”

I’ve really only begun it.

Waters is solid - her plots carry you along and her style is impeccable.

So more on this later.

And as a treat - I’m reading an advance copy of Maureen Howard’s The Rags of Time, the final novel in her four seasons quartet (due out on Oct. 19). She’s one of the really important American writers, as far as I’m concerned, and I feel very lucky to have gotten a copy. But I am insane: I BOUGHT an advance copy over the INTERNET. I should have begged it from a publisher.


Ellen said...

I do like ghost stories :) so please to write more about it. I'll keep the title in mind.

It's lovely the two of you reading and blogging together. The two friends Jim and I went out with three times last week (sigh, it was such fun to be with a congenial couple) read aloud to one another at night. Jim and I did that when we were first married.


Mad Housewife said...

The Little Stranger is fascinating, and I will blog on it when I've finished.

I wish I could get him to write a blog on Harvey's book, but so far not! I quoted his witty comments instead. He says The Wilderness is good, but perhaps not quite his type of thing. He and I have very different tastes and I might like it. He reads a lot of European novels in translation these days: glum, set in the '40s, with characters with jangled nerves. I would think he WOULD like Sarah Waters' book, but it does take a while to get into it. Then it goes fast.