This year has started out pretty well for me, reading-wise; it’s not been perfect, but I did finish two novels I liked very much, Anita Brookner’s Look At Me and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. This is the third Brookner novel I’ve read, and I think it’s my favorite so far. Brookner captures a certain kind of consciousness so well — the lonely, smart, isolated figure who wants a different life but can’t quite reach it. It’s a first-person point of view, and the narrator is ruthless in her honesty, which makes for a sad story. But there’s something bracing in that honesty that I admire. What’s really hard to read is the process she goes through of figuring out that she was wrong about her relationships. She thought she was doing things right, when it turns out she wasn’t. Sad! But Brookner dissects it all so well.
The Lethem was fabulous as well. Motherless Brooklyn is the second Lethem novel I’ve read, after The Fortress of Solitude, and I think it’s my favorite (perhaps because the subject matter of the other one didn’t appeal as much). It’s a detective novel, and a book I read for my mystery book group, which met last night. In a lot of ways, it’s a straightforward mystery, with murders and detectives and clues, etc. But the main character, Lionel, has Tourette’s, which means he’s not able to control his words and actions as a traditional detective might. I thought Lethem did a great job portraying what life with Tourette’s might be like (not that I know for sure, of course, but his depiction was convincing), and I was fascinated by how imaginative and fluent Lionel was with language. The problem, of course, was that he couldn’t control the outpouring of words, and this frequently got him into trouble. He’s an appealing character — a thoroughly unconventional detective who does the best he can in some difficult circumstances.
I also finished Terry Castle’s collection of essays The Professor and Other Writings, which was a little disappointing. Some of the early essays in the book were good, especially the one on Susan Sontag and another one her obsession with World War I. Other essays I didn’t quite get the point of, and the title essay is much too long, book-length, really, with not enough pay-off. The success of an essay collection comes down to voice, I think, and I was never quite won over by Castle’s.
And now I’m reading Ali Smith’s The Accidental, which has been very good so far. It tells a story from multiple points of view and follows the characters’ minds closely in a stream-of-consciousness style that captures their different experiences well. I can sometimes be put off by writing that seems labored or self-consciously poetic, and I postponed reading this book for a long time because I was afraid I would find that kind of writing here, but that hasn’t been the case at all.
Before I go, a quick note on cycling: since January 1st, I’ve done 11 rides with 410 miles total in over 26 hours on the bike. That’s perhaps one reason I haven’t posted here much!