Evidence of my general malaise and cultural stagnation is the fact that it took me six weeks to finish three books. (Well, there was some dabbling in Let’s Go South East Asia, Irish For Beginners and The Watchmen on the side, but it was mostly those three.)
I enjoyed Brick Lane, but at the same time, I don’t have a lot to say about it. I haven’t read any of the other Booker nominees for this year, but am frankly quite surprised it was a favourite to win. I’m quite a sucker for books about immigrant angst and cultural disconnection and the inner struggle of the Asian (in the sense that the Brits use it, meaning Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi) woman in contemporary British society feeling hamstrung by the traditional mores of her community, but the thing is I don’t see anything about this book that made it stand out from all the others I’ve read in the same vein. Meera Syal may not be considered a literary heavyweight, but Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee packed a hell of a punch. I guess I’d say that if you’ve never read any books with a similar setting, Brick Lane’s as good a place to begin as any, but if you have, it’s more of the same. Having said that, by “more of the same” I do mean more of the same high quality of writing, more of the same spot-on evocations of London, and more of the same poignance and well-captured frustrations.
Borrowing Purple America and The Corrections at the same time was probably a bad idea, because by the time I got to The Corrections I was finding it increasingly hard to view small town America with anything more than contempt and pity. Jonathan Franzen’s splendid writing only served to compound my condescension.
“In the pageantry of weddings Enid reliably experienced the paroxysmal place of place – of the Midwest in general and suburban St. Jude in particular – that for her was the only true patriotism and the only viable spirituality. Living under presidents as crooked as Nixon and stupid as Reagan and disgusting as Clinton, she’d lost interest in American flag-waving, and not one of the miracles she’d ever prayed to God for had come to pass; but at a Saturday wedding in the lilac season, from a pew of the Paradise Valley Presbyterian Church, she could look around and see two hundred nice people and not a single bad one. All her friends were nice and had nice friends, and since nice people tended to raise nice children, Enid’s world was like a lawn in which the bluegrass grew so thick that evil was simply choked out: a miracle of niceness.”
Having said that, great characterization and one of those masterful bringing-it-all-together final chapters made even me begin to feel for the characters, Enid included. Quite an authorial feat, considering their various individual warts and collective dysfunctions. To that extent, the hype is justified. Some rather weak stretches like the bit on the cruise liner and anything and everything dealing with Lithuania really needed some editorial whipping into shape though.
So on Saturday I returned those and replenished my stash.
- A Home at the End of the World (Michael Cunningham)
- The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
- East Of Eden (John Steinbeck)
More books that have been on my list for absolutely ages, yay! I can’t be culturally stagnating if I can feel this happy about a new haul.