Writers, generally speaking, tend to read a lot. But we are also a pretty tough audience, as it can be hard to get fully swept away with a story if you can’t detach your author’s mind from the writing itself. For me it takes a sustained, captivating voice coupled with a powerful sense of place – environment, atmosphere or era – to make a novel believable and compelling.
But the last two books I finished went beyond that, both managing not only to engage me completely as a reader, but also speaking to me as a writer because even as I was swept along by the story I could not help but admire the authors’ skill: novels for novelists, perhaps? Both enjoyable and inspiring.
I don’t do book reviews but I wanted to share these novels, so I’m going to choose three words I think best describe the books, and give you a couple of quotes as a flavour of the writing.
The first is Stephen Kelman’s second novel, due out next month – Man on Fire. I found it comedic, charming and redemptive. Quotes below from uncorrected proof.
“I had the feeling the weather would enjoy stripping me down to the vulnerable parts I could cover up with clothes back home. I thought it might expose a madness I’d been carefully hiding all these years.”
“I chose the groin kick for my opening record because its danger and high skill level required would guarantee that it would remain intact for many years to come (this has since been proved correct as to this day of writing I remain unmatched in this area).”
“I was beating the life out of Bibhuti with a baseball bat when my first monsoon broke…”
The second book is Sarah Perry’s debut novel After Me Comes The Flood – which was recently released in paperback. I found it languid, discomforting and atmospheric.
“She stood and reached across the table to shake my hand. Hers was as small as a child’s and her nails were dirty. She was very slender, and I could see how fine and sharp her bones were, with a thin covering of white skin glossy in the heat. In a voice on the verge of singing she said: ‘You must be hungry, John. Do sit, won’t you? And don’t let Walker frighten you: he will, you know – if he can.’ She gestured towards the man sitting next to her, who concealed a smile, then struck a match on the table’s edge and lit a cigarette.”
“As John set out on the path he paused to let a toad cross; it splayed out its soft patient feet and crept past, a pulse throbbing in its stomach and its butter-coloured eyes rolling thanks.”
*By complete coincidence, the casts of both of these novels play out their stories in searing heat, in anticipation of impending rains, but the similarity stops there. Even the quality of the heat and the impact it has on the characters is perfectly distinct in each book.
Are there books you have read recently that you loved as a reader but also admired for the quality of the writing itself?