Monday, June 6, 2011

Two of these books are not like the other . . .

I'm going to have to speed things up a bit, so you'll excuse some disparate pairings, I hope, and some very brief remarks.

Ian McEwan's Solar, while it is, as the Sunday Times apparently declared, "savagely funny," is not my favourite of his, and along with Howard Jakobson's The Finkler Question, it has reminded me that I'm not a huge fan of satire. Certainly, I see its usefulness -- indeed, the issue to which McEwan is responding (global warming/climate change) is so big, so disheartening, so drastically requiring some immediate consciousness-raising that satire may be the only response possible.

As with the protagonist in the Jakobson novel, I don't like Michael Beard much at all. However, as a vehicle for exploring the scientific community's response to global warming, alongside that of the marketplace, of corporations large and small, he works very well indeed. As my blogging friend Lesley points out, the book offers up some lively guffaws while exploring Beard's ego. It also pokes at the debate between the relative worth of the sciences and the humanities.

And the disparate pairing . . .
well that would be with William Trevor's gentle, delicate Love and Summer.

Trevor's novel is fairly slight. A newcomer arrives in a small Irish community, one of whose families has just lost (or been liberated from, depending on who's speaking) their matriarch. The arrival and the funeral together set up echoes from at least a generation back. A young woman who previously considered herself very fortunate in marriage begins to realize the possibilities she has relinquished in exchange for security. An older man whose mind has become unhinged by circumstances watches -- and appears to see the echoes as warnings of potential disaster, repetition of events long past.  And although those outlines might suggest a tumultuous climax, choices are sorted out, decisions made, all in the most nuanced, richest shades of grey. It's quiet, this little book, but almost unbearably poignant at spots. Each character, no matter how much we're tempted to dislike them, or dismiss them for their selfishness, or deride their insularity, each one is revealed in an insistent humanity.

I often scold my husband for comparing works rather than simply exploring what each has to offer, taking it on its own terms. It seems unfair to hold one up to another as if there were an either/or situation. But I couldn't help comparing Trevor, as an older Brit writer (born in 1928 . . . Love and Summer was published in 2009), with Jakobson (1942) and McEwan (1948).  Of course, the comparison is weighted by my lack of appreciation for satire. As well, though, I have to admit I'm simply less interested in the late middle-aged/early senior male perspective that Jakobson and McEwan write from, even finding it tiresome at times. In contrast, Trevor is able to illuminate, for me, a wider range of ages and to convincingly and sympathetically portray a female character.   Hmmm, I can see why I chide Paul for comparing . . . I'm already wondering if I want to commit to these musings. Well, let them stand for now, and perhaps you'll tell me what you think. . .


  1. I am often disappointed in contemporary fiction but Love and Summer sounds intriguing. I do love quiet books with shades of gray.

    I think it's fine to compare books and also fine not to.

  2. I suspect you'd like William Trevor's work -- he's very strong on narrative, character, setting, all the good stuff!

  3. I too love quiet books with shades of gray and think Trevor's book sounds good.

    I used to love satire but might have changed. I found Solar so maddeningly tedious that I just couldn't really enjoy it, even though I like many of McEwan's other books.

  4. Fortunately, Trevor's book is available on audible -- I save most of my fiction reading for listening while working out. Will download as soon as I finish Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein, a truly annoying book.

  5. Mardel: I'm sure you'd love the Trevor -- and if you haven't read him before, there's a wonderful backlist. Felicia's Journey, The Story of Lucy Gault.
    Funny, isn't it, that altho' McEwan's so often dark, and Solar is, by contrast (well, not exactly, but . . .) laugh-out-loud hilarious in spots, I probably like it least of other titles I've read by him.
    Susan: I suspect this will be a perfect book to listen to -- curious to hear if it's done by an Irish speaker.

  6. I didn't enjoy Solar much either, and I have always been a huge McEwan fan - I think for the sames reasons you give. Nor did I find Finkler as funny as I was supposed to ...

  7. Tiffany, have you read any William Trevor? -- he's v. good.

  8. Very disappointed - went to the library with Kid 2 today and looked for William Trevor but they didn't have anything. Next stop bookshop. Sounds too good for the Kindle :)

  9. have to admit, I read mine on my e-reader and now wish I had a hard copy. Re-visiting the e-copy is just not the same (indeed, I wonder if it would even happen)

  10. I just finished reading the Trevor book and enjoyed re-reading your review. Yes, unbearably poignant in spots.

    As for the insistent humanity of each character, I guess so, but found myself disliking Florian more and more as the story unfolded.

    My experience reading contemporary fiction has been hit or miss, so it's nice to find a really good one like this. The way you (and Mardel) write reviews seems to work better than the NY Times reviews, because I get a sense of what you enjoyed rather than just a critique. I read contemporary fiction for enjoyment, and need to really love at least one of the characters.

  11. Oh, I should have mentioned that yes, the speaker was Irish, and very, very good at creating different voices for the different characters.

  12. Susan: I'm so glad you enjoyed the Trevor book. He's got a strong backlist worth checking out. Hearing the Irish accent through the reading must have added immeasurably to the experience.