Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Summer reading

I remember listening to an archive Radio 4 interview with the writer Storm Jameson. I can't quote her words exactly but she said the while many intelligent, articulate and perceptive people can write a good book it is not the same as writing a great book.

This is how I felt about Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. Good but not great. It starts off as a portrayal of family life. Middle-aged mother Mary Beth Latham runs her own gardening business. Three teenage children, reliable husband, nice house in New England and comfortable finances. Quindlen is good on the conflicts between work and motherhood and the difficulties of maintaining a relationship with teenagers.

About half way through the novel there is a completely unexpected event which this reader certainly did not anticipate. Again Quindlen is very good at writing about the fractured nature of a crisis and the grief, guilt, gossip and small-town claustrophobia that follows. I think it was the continuous present tense that irked me - 'I'm sitting on the screened porch, I'm at the garden centre, I pull into the driveway ...' That said, I would read more Quindlen.

Having read two contemporary novels in a row I now need some Austen. Mansfield Park is on my mind ...

10 comments:

Constance Reader said...

The unexpected event left me feeling totally slammed and stunned...but then after that, I felt that Quindlen sort of lost steam. The story of Mary Beth's recovery just wasn't very INTERESTING. I mean, it was an interesting premise in theory, but boring to read about in actuality.

I felt a little like Quindlen didn't know if she wanted her book to be a good, soapy, Jodi-Picoultish summer read or a Serious Literary Endeavor.

Oh, well!

Steph said...

I haven't read any Anna Quindlen and I'm not sure I will... I don't mind what I term "domestic fiction", but I think there are writers who can take that area of life and write a great book rather than simply a good one.

As for Austen, I went on a mini-binge this weekend and watched S&S (Emma Thompson version) as well as P&P (Colin Firth version). It was delightful and now I've definitely decided that my Austen of 2011 will be S&S. It has been too long since I ensconced myself in its pages!

Mad Housewife said...

I can't read Anna Quindlen. Her columns were all right, but the one novel of hers I read baffled me. Here was this earnest but intelligent columnist writing a very corny novel about a baby found on a doorstep.

I had to read it for a book group and no one liked it much. Maybe it was her worst, though.

potterjotter said...

I haven't read any of hers, but I too would find that present tense a tad irksome. Am lagging behind a bit in my reading, so will give this one a miss - beach holiday coming up in two weeks though, so gonna catch up!

Penny said...

I think I'm going to give this writer a miss. When there are so many great ones around, I'd grudge the time, but sometimes when you've already started a book, and you realise the way of writing's not for you, you want to keep reading just to find out what's happened. But when you just don't care what happens...

Jane Austen will come as a welcome relief! First person/present tense seems to be the fashion these days.

Sunday Taylor said...

That same thing happens to me after I read a contemporary novel that leaves me cold. Bring on the classics! I am reading "The Tiger's Wife" right now, a contemporary book which I am enjoying. However, my favorite book I read in the last few months was "Howard's End" by E.M. Forster.

Anbolyn said...

Sometimes a good novel is good enough. But too many of those leaves me running after greatness!

Nan said...

The name Storm J. seemed familiar to me, and then I remembered I offered a quote from her once - a great one.

http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2008/09/quote-du-jourstorm-jameson.html

I like AQ's nonfiction, but not her fiction. I just don't care for all that depressing dramatic stuff. :<)

Vintage Reading said...

Constance, I agree with you. There was nowhere for the novel to go after the event.

Steph, it started out very much as domestic fiction and then takes a completely unexpected turn. S&S is completely appropriate for this anniversary year! I will look for your posts.

Mad Housewife, I didn't even know that Quindlen wrote columns! I will google her.

potterjotter, just don't get so engrossed in a novel you get sunburnt - it happened to me!

Penny, I would read more AQ - now I know she writes for the media I will check out her journalism. But I need some Austen!

Sunday, I'm feeling guilty because Howard's End is still sitting on my shelf unread!

Anbolyn, yup, we're too discerning!!

Nan, terrific quote!!

galant said...

This arrived today - looking forward to reading it. It will be my first book by this author.
Margaret P