Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Richards, Wagamese, and Rankin

Just time to record a few titles.
First, David Adams Richards' The Lost Highway -- the man can write! His novels are always dense and always verging on the grotesque, either through particular characters or through aspects of setting or, as in this case, through a gruelling inexorability of plot whose twists and turns begin to point towards certain catastrophe that horrifies us but that we can't look away from. As well, I always picture the narrators of Richards' novels as somehow weirdly idealistic misanthropes -- by the end of this novel, even the most apparently selfish, pusillanimous characters have their humanity revealed through vulnerabilities and secret generosities. And there are the "good" characters, those whose innocence and/or pragmatic kindness can be found in most of Richards' works as well. He's a puzzle. Why, for instance, do I keep reading him when he insults me so wholeheartedly -- that is, me as an academic, representative of a group he freely mocks and satirizes for pages on end -- the complexities he reveals in other characters apparently don't extend to anyone at university. He's certainly not predictable, nor fashionable -- he dares to have his characters explore the morality of abortion, and even as my feminist hackles rise, I have to admire the honesty of his probing. Similarly, he has characters face up to the consequences of their atheism (a consideration of religion that recalls his earlier non-fiction book, an excerpt from which was published in The Globe last year).
Not for the faint of heart, though, nor for the lazy reader. If you've read this one, or other Richards' novels, I'd love to hear what you think.

For a palate cleanser of lighter reading, my Reading Break treat was Ian Rankin's The Complaints which I've been waiting to read since Christmas (I gave Pater a copy). While I'm not yet reconciled to losing Rebus, I enjoyed the characters in this mystery, especially the relationship formed between a supposedly dirty cop and the main character, a member of the Complaints department charged with investigating him. Trust becomes an interesting motif, and overall, I thought the novel worked well.

I've just finished re-reading Richard Wagamese's Ragged Company because I'm teaching it to my first-year students. It's surprising how much I forgot in the year since I first read it. And if you're not in the habit of re-reading novels, you might be surprised at how rich an experience the re-reading can be -- once plot is no longer the driver, language can be savoured; patterns become more obvious (this time through Ragged Company I was more alert to the emphasis on words as words, a recurring emphasis I didn't pay much attention to first time 'round).

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