This final post of 2022 is going to be shorter and less narrowly focused than usual. That isn’t what I had intended. I spent a substantial part of Thursday and a few hours yesterday writing about Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Michael Dibdin’s A Rich Full Death, meaning to post the result under the title “Death in Florence”. However, I haven’t yet digested these novels well enough to discuss them to my own satisfaction. The Dibdin book, at just 200 pages, might appear slight but that’s deceptive: I found that it demands more attention than I had planned to devote to it. So, I’m going to hold “Death in Florence” over. It will be the first post of 2023 instead of the last of this year.
In its place, I’m going to take a look back at some of the things I’ve been attempting with Talk about books over the past two years, and vaguely sketch some of what I’m likely to do in the future.
From the beginning of Talk about books, I had planned to include regular posts about short stories. Of the 54 posts so far, 9 have concentrated on short story collections or individual stories. (I’m counting Ted Chiang’s story, which I think of as a novella rather than a short story, because it formed part of the collection Exhalation.) Here’s a list:
And here’s a blog post, dating from before I started Talk about books, on the subject of three short stories by Sally Rooney.
So, one sixth of all posts on Talk about books have been about short stories. That’s probably not quite as high a proportion as I had envisaged to start with, but I’m not entirely dissatisfied with it. Anyway, there’ll be more discussion of short stories in the near future, starting (most likely) with Alice Munro and Kevin Barry. I read Munro’s collection, Runaway a month or so ago, having watched and enjoyed Almodóvar’s film Julieta on tv in 2020. The film is based on three stories from the collection.
I had been thinking that I ought to read some of Munro’s fiction — having read at that point only two or three individual stories — and Runaway seemed a good place to start, since I’d liked Almodóvar’s film. The tone and setting of the stories are quite different from those of the film, and Almodóvar has made some small but significant changes to the plot. Indeed, while the film has a plot, I’d be inclined to use the plural of that word when speaking about the stories: they feel like distinct stories, though the events they recount are connected. I was glad I’d chosen Runaway as the place to start: it delivers a powerful punch. It’s a collection that I’m looking forward to writing about in detail.
Apart from Munro and Barry, I haven’t yet decided what other writers and collections I’ll be discussing. I just finished reading Helen Simpson’s Dear George (1995). It contains several stories about motherhood, childbirth, pregnancy and related themes, which are generally well handled, though several of the stories didn’t appeal to me on first reading. I don’t yet know whether I want to write about Simpson’s stories, but I might.
Other likely candidates include Bernard MacLaverty, whose Blank Pages I’ve left part-read for most of this past year and ought to get back to. I bought Mary Gaitskill’s Because They Wanted To last week (an impulse purchase) but I haven’t started to read it yet. My previous experience with Gaitskill’s fiction hasn’t been auspicious: I can remember Two Girls, Fat and Thin sitting on my bookshelf for several years, during which I never got past the first few pages.
Having in the last few months read two hugely enjoyable novels by Daphne du Maurier (one of those being My Cousin Rachel, the first book of hers that I read) I now want to get hold of the volume that includes her story “Don’t Look Now”.
There are several authors to whom I’ve returned once or more during the past two years. I wrote four posts about the six novels in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, this one being the most recent. Ian McEwan got three, one each on Saturday and Enduring Love, and the third shared between The Innocent and Sweet Tooth. I’ll be coming back to his work at least once more, probably in a post about his very short novels, Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach.
I’ve written about two of Salman Rushdie’s novels, Midnight’s Children and Fury, and it’s my intention to fill in the gap between them by writing about Shame, The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh and The Ground beneath Her Feet. (I don’t plan to include either his short stories in East, West or his children’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, neither of which I’ve read.)
William Empson has featured in four posts, three of them under the general heading “Empson’s insightful errors”. Peter Abrahams and Michael Dibdin have both appeared twice and are almost certain to do so again. This is also true of Kate Atkinson, whose Transcription is one of the novels I discussed in the category “spy fiction”. Dervla McTiernan, too, made a repeat appearance.
I’ve written about three plays of which Thomas Middleton was either sole or joint author, and I’d like to write some more, about his tragedy, Women Beware Women and some of his city comedies. Then there’s Kazuo Ishiguro, about whom I’ve posted three times, most recently just earlier this month.
Finally in this section, I’d like to mention Scott Turow. So far, I’ve posted about him only once, but it’s very likely that I’ll have more to say in future.
When I sent out the email in which I discussed Andrew Marvell’s “A Dialogue between the Soul and Body”, I immediately lost two subscribers, and that has made me a bit wary of writing about poetry. In fact, I haven’t done so since. But I would like to have another go at Empson’s poetry. (My first effort, originally written more than 25 years ago, is now on my personal site.) There are some others, notably Louis MacNeice, whom I’m considering. But I have no definite plans in this area.
I’d like to wish everybody a happy New Year. The next post, due on 11 January 2023, will be “Death in Florence”, I promise. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
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