This page links to all “Talk about books” posts in 2022. Posts up to and including 23 December 2021 can be found on the archive page for the first year of Talk about books.
I didn’t mean to write a year-end look back but it happened anyway
A look at some of the things I’ve been writing about in Talk about books over the past 2 years, including a list of all the posts about short stories, and a vague sketch of what is to come.
Intelligent AF: Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (2021)
Klara and the Sun marks a return by Kazuo Ishiguro to the first-person narrative, following his departure from that mode in 2015’s The Buried Giant. But Klara isn’t at all like his earlier narrators. For a start, she’s not even human.
The role of Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights
Nelly Dean, the main narrator of Wuthering Heights, is often defensive in describing her own behaviour, and evasive or even deceptive towards her “masters”. Might that be because of her ambiguous social position?
An almost insignificant figure: Jonathan Holt’s Carnivia trilogy
Jonathan Holt’s Venice-set trilogy mixes a collection of plotlines that range from the implausible but entirely possible, through the all too likely, to the extremely fanciful. The result is disorienting: at once entertaining and disturbing.
Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Changeling
The greatest achievement of Middleton and Rowley is a kind of post-revenge tragedy that to start with resembles a romantic comedy.
Sweet and Innocent: Spy stories by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan wrote two spy novels, published 22 years apart. Both of them tend to support my view that spy fiction is largely about sex.
Sophie Hannah, the Simon Waterhouse/Charlie Zailer series
Hannah’s series centred on Spilling CID combines ingenious puzzle-solving with psychological acuity and a dissection of dysfunctional family (and workplace) dynamics.
Present discontinuous: Tense and tension in J M Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999)
J M Coetzee’s 1999 Booker winner is written almost entirely in the present tense. It’s a surprising choice for a book whose themes are so grave and disturbing. I have some idea what the author is up to.
Two short stories by Louise Nealon, author of the novel Snowflake
Louise Nealon’s first published short story, “What feminism is”, won a prestigious prize. I’ve found only one other short story by her online, “The possibility of snow”. I discuss both stories here.
“People I should trust”: Dervla McTiernan, The Good Turn (2020)
The third book in Dervla McTiernan’s series featuring DS Cormac Reilly is a bit of a departure from the first two. Unfortunately, the publishers don’t seem to be wholeheartedly behind it.
Fit the crime: Prison and prisoners in the crime novels of Peter Abrahams
When a character in one of Peter Abrahams’s novels goes to prison for a long stretch, he may or may not be guilty of the crime of which he’s been convicted. Either way, he’ll come out a dangerous killer.
Who knows where the timeline goes?: Ted Chiang, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”
Ted Chiang’s 19,750-word novella, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”, is at once a moral fable and a dazzling meditation on whether it might be possible to use quantum entanglement to communicate between diverging branches of reality.
“Like ghosts, while London burns”: Andrew Taylor, The Ashes of London (2016)
The first book in a series (of 5 so far) set in Restoration London depicts a city experiencing an unaccustomed degree of social mobility, much of it downwards.
James Plunkett, The Trusting and the Maimed (1959)
A collection of 12 short stories dating from the 1950s by the author of Strumpet City is long out of print but worth seeking out.
A fabulist’s adventure: Kate Atkinson, Transcription
Kate Atkinson’s spy novel is a compelling synthesis of references to le Carré, remarkable real-life operations against British fifth columnists and a heroine who can lie for England (though not only for England).
Daughters and fathers: Tana French, The Secret Place and The Trespasser
The last two books in the Dublin Murder Squad series feature the same two detectives in very different settings, and reflect the differences in their varied approaches to narrative.
And not to yield: William Empson, “The Wife Is Praised”
William Empson’s wife, Hetta (née Crouse), had a long-standing practice of taking younger male lovers. Her husband wanted to join in the fun. So naturally he wrote a poem, his second-longest.
“Solemn oaths undone in cruel slaughter”: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
The first of Ishiguro’s novels not to have the protagonist as a first-person narrator examines the founding myths of the English and Welsh nations and imagines a perfidious King Arthur.
Ephemeral Woman in waterlogged landscape: Short stories by Caoilinn Hughes
Though Caoilinn Hughes’s short stories have won prizes, they have not been published in a collection. I list 8 stories that can be read online, and discuss 3 of them.
Reluctant defectors: Graham Greene’s The Human Factor and John le Carré’s Smiley’s People
Two novels from the late 1970s by “spymasters” Graham Greene and John le Carré show (in rather different ways) the futility, waste, brutality and frustration of spying.
Candia McWilliam, Wait Till I Tell You
Candia McWilliam writes in an oblique style, which sometimes leaves the reader unsure what is supposed to have happened, combined with a very satisfying level of particularity and detail.
Fractured spaces: Tana French, Faithful Place and Broken Harbour
In Faithful Place, two separate Dublins poke through the holes in each other; similarly, Broken Harbour features two incompatible locations attempting to occupy the same space.
“A villain not to be forsworn”: The Revenger’s Tragedy
A malcontent who is prepared to commit multiple murders to avenge the death of his betrothed, persists in an attempt to corrupt his own sister, with their mother’s help, rather than break his oath. Why does he value his oath above many lives, including his own?
“An exemplary case of unacknowledged self-persuasion”: Ian McEwan, Enduring Love
Ian McEwan’s 1997 novel is (apart from a few chapters) the first-person narrative of Joe Rose, a successful science journalist and popularizer of scientific topics from dinosaurs to quantum mechanics, who suffers a crisis when he finds himself unwittingly taking part in an accidental but fatal “game” of Prisoner’s Dilemma.
An infant in its cradle: William Blake’s prophetic serial killers
Michael Dibdin’s first US-set novel, Dark Spectre (1995), features a group of serial killers who believe they’re inspired by William Blake. But the resemblances to Francis Dolarhyde are mostly superficial. Is Dibdin’s novel a critique of Thomas Harris’s?
You’ve got a right to be angry: Salman Rushdie, Fury
Like some of his earlier fiction, notably Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie’s novel Fury (2001) is driven by anger. But it’s a more diffuse, less directed anger than in the earlier novel. Something has changed.