Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia – I wrote about Tan’s The Arrival almost two years ago now, and it remains very much a favourite of mine, so I was delighted to find another of his books: Tales from Outer Suburbia. It is a collection of stories, illustrated in various styles and to various degrees, all loosely related to the idea of suburbia, and if I would not rate it quite as highly as The Arrival, it is still well worth reading. Tan’s storytelling is as beautiful as his art, and he has a real gift for balancing simplicity with imagination, so his stories often feel like modern day fairytales, delightful and whimsical, disarmingly simple, yet touching also on something more profound. I may just have to make a point of hunting up his other books also.
Saul Bellow’s Herzog – I disliked this book very much for the first hundred pages or so. I could recognize in it a certain virtuosity, but I identified with the position of the protagonist so little that his problems, his petty money troubles, his failed romances, his mediocre academic career, all seemed like mere whining to me. As the book progressed, however, particularly as the narrative began to incorporate the Ludeyville house as a kind of metaphor for the protagonist’s condition, I began to find some real pleasure in it. I will never rank it very highly in my personal canon, but I can see how it might rank very highly for other people, and I would certainly not warn people away from it.
Italo Calvino’s The Road to San Giovanni – Calvino writes in the ways I want to read. I can name more than a few authors who have written better novels but none who writes in such constantly beautiful, elegant, marvelous prose. I can read him endlessly, whatever his subject. I suspect that his grocery lists have more aesthetic value than anything I will ever write.
Colette’s The Pure and the Impure – This was my first exposure to the quasi-biographical and famously controversial writing of Colette. The book was originally published in 1932, and it produced public outcry for its unambiguous and sympathetic portrayal of same -sex relationships and sexuality, particularly between women. The appeal of the book, however, is not primarily in its more salacious elements. Though Colette never shies from frank descriptions of sexuality, she never drifts into mere pornography either, and the strength of her writing comes from her ability to portray a depth of emotion and humanity and experience in her characters as they struggle to live their lives in a world that has little or no place for them. The book is sometimes amusing, often poignant, always thoughtful, and it is characterized by a kind of gentleness and languor that make its reading a real pleasure.
Georges Perec’s A Void – Though I would not count A Void as a great novel in purely literary terms, it is still nothing short of a technical masterpiece. It is a full-length novel that is written entirely without the letter ‘e’, a punning, teasing, taunting novel that plays with ideas of absence and that amounts to a truly remarkable piece of writing. Just as remarkable, perhaps even more so, is that the book has been translated into English, also without the latter ‘e’, by Gilbert Adair, which is a serious achievement in translation considering the rigid constraints of the source text. Whatever its literary shortcomings, therefore, and they are several, it is truly a wonder to read.