Thursday, July 09, 2009


The week has been spent in a prolonged fit of extreme grumpiness due to illness; I am only just surfacing into a less distressed frame of mind, having been deprived of the luxuriant amounts of triathlon training and novel-revising that I had contemplated undertaking on my return from England. Lungs still groaning, in other words, but hoping that tomorrow may be a better day!

(It has been extremely frustrating - I have an upcoming race and an upcoming deadline, the latter of course being more significant/consequential but the former more emotionally pressing - but time and tide wait for no man, and this week has been virtually useless!)

I did find consolation in two sublimely good books, so different in their kind that it is almost hard to think of them as belonging to the same conceptual category of fiction.

The first is James Lasdun's new story collection, It's Beginning to Hurt. Lasdun is in my opinion a really extraordinary writer, one of the best working in English today (some prior thoughts of mine here); I am not inherently drawn to the short story as a form, and read with real pleasure only a small handful of contemporary practitioners (Nathan Englander, Kelly Link, Yiyun Li, Edward P. Jones, a few others), but these are utterly brilliant pieces. They somehow have the feel of the tales of the uncanny that I grew up reading and loving (the best nineteenth-century prototype perhaps being Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp"), managing the strange trick of being at once divinely literary and yet redolent of the pleasures of Joan Aiken's A Touch of Chill or Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. Uncanny, delightful...

(My particular favorite, though it's in certain respects anomalous within the collection, is "Annals of the Honorary Secretary" - I believe it was published in the TLS, and if you are a subscriber you may be able to get it through the archive - but the collection is well worth acquiring, though it is the sort of slim volume that under other circumstances would strike me as poor value for money - not, at any rate, what I would buy in an airport!)

The other experience of reading sublimity: Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is not perfect as a crime novel, certain aspects of the story needlessly strain credulity, but the richness of the world the book creates reminds me of why this kind of thriller is so irresistible...

(I also read a non-sublime though thoroughly immersing guilty purchase from Heathrow - I wanted at least one backup volume in case of massive delay and a shortage of other material, preferably in the English style i.e. not what I can just get anywhere in America [no Jodi Picoult!] - the best thing of all, of course, would be a huge new Jilly Cooper novel, but alas, there was no such thing; instead I purchased Penny Vincenzi's The Best of Times. The characters are slightly underdeveloped, and I cannot honestly imagine what it would be like to have the kind of brain that would have either the impulse or the capability of producing a book like this, but it lasted me happily through many an unpleasant hour of post-nasal drip and painful lung tightness, so I am not complaining...)


  1. Um... I wouldn't quite go so far as to say the bulk of the stories in Henry Sugar were delightful, exactly. Memorable, yes. And is it A Touch of Chill that includes the charming story of what happens inside the boy's cast????

    But I do like both of these, even though I'm not a short story person exactly myself, so I will keep my eyes open for the Lasdun book.

    I hope you recover quickly!

  2. Hey Jenny, you convinced me to buy The Explosionist for my Kindle! And don't miss Stieg's 2nd out on July 28th. Sincerely, Reg Keeland