A Son of the Circus John Irving, Her Fearful Symmetry Audrey Niffenegger, Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie, The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold, The Shining Stephen King, We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver
This month’s linking starts and ends with books with Indian connections. Neat.
I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie earlier this year as part of my self-imposed “Reading India” challenge. It’s a book I had tried to read before – maybe started twice – but then bombed out before about 50 pages. This time I made myself read it, and ended up loving it, impressed and exhausted by the experience.
Another book that exhausted me was Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Reading it was a kind of masochism, in that I knew what was going to happen, found it completely unpalatable and prurient, but kept reading anyway in an attempt to understand the mother and understand Kevin and understand what happened. The problem with Kevin is that you read it and are no closer to understanding, and this is partly because the narrator, Kevin’s mother Eva is unreliable and possibly the problem that created a boy like Kevin. Arguments about nature versus nurture fascinate me, and I really grapple with the concept of ‘evil’. It’s a word that has religious connections, and to me – a firm atheist – I find that hard to ‘get’. But bad characters who are ‘evil’ are compelling, and make for thrilling reading.
There is an evil character in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, who kidnaps and kills a girl (not a spoiler, the cover blurb and promo materials reveals the book is narrated by the murdered girl) . He plans, he waits, and is so creepy and unsettling. The movie is a good one, and I feel in many ways exceeds the book in terms of ‘chilling rating’.
If The Lovely Bones leaves the reader cold with fear, Stephen King’s The Shining draws the reader into both a physically cold, snowy setting but also a psychologically frozen place. Ghosts and possessed parents, with final scenes of running through a snowed-in maze, early King novels (and his short stories and novellas) are worth looking up. In The Shining, there are two girl twins who stand in the hallway of the hotel, and call to Danny, the son of the Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval character.
Female twins are central in Her Fearful Symmetry, a book by Audrey Niffenegger which I read ages ago and didn’t like as much as her The Time Traveler’s Wife, but it was interesting. Girl twins who inhabit houses, or a flat. I can’t remember much about it and to be honest, I’m not really recommending it.
Another book I don’t recommend is John Irving’s A Son of the Circus. As a long-time Irving fan I am sorry to say it was shit. I didn’t finish but couldn’t stand everything about it. Sorry John, it’s over between us.