I have challenged myself to read 7 big books (i.e more than 450 pages) before the blog turns 8 in February 2015.
Big Book #1
My library book group decided to get in on the act by assigning John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. We broke it into two discussions, which turned into an interesting exercise. Surprisingly only two of our twelve had read it before and at our first discussion, they were the book’s only defenders. I tried very hard to sit on the fence but failed miserably. At that point in time I recall feeling that Owen Meany, the dwarf with the big voice, was a poor man’s Oscar Matzerath (from Grass’s The Tin Drum). I felt alienated from him because of the disgraceful way he treated his parents at the nativity play. Also it was obvious that he was being set up for a sacrifice and I felt that the point and the symbols and motifs were being overplayed. I’ve got it, I cried to myself multiple times. Now Irving, just get on with it!
This was one of those books that when I put it down, I didn’t want to pick up again. Nor would I have done so, if not for book group. But here’s the thing. I breezed through the second half which for all the heavy-handed foreshadowing in the first half contained a number of surprises and what I suspect are unforgettable scenes. Diamond hand-saw, anyone? And the nature of Owen’s sacrifice – didn’t see that coming at all.
I came to appreciate Irving’s skill and the point of those incessant motifs. The humour came through. I began to smile, often in retrospect, but also to weep for poor John, his life blighted by the loss of his friend, seeking his consolation in the novels of Thomas Hardy and their sense of tragic fatalism. Yes, the second half pulls it all together quite magnificently and I was really intrigued by the serendipitous parallels with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I won’t rule out a reread sometime in the future, even if I’m in no rush to read more Irving.
Big Book #2
I’m looking forward to attending the Folio Festival in London in a week’s time, where Sergio De La Pava will be talking about Folio Prize Shortlisted A Naked Singularity (864 pages); my reading experience of which could not be more different from Irving’s novel. I began reading on Sunday and quickly raced through 170 highly-entertaining pages replete with snappy dialogue describing the sometimes surreal logic within the New York judicial system. 2 reading sessions later and I’m bogged down on page 222 in some debate about drug-trafficking. There have already been a couple of other debates which I thought to gloss over and I realise this is the pattern of things to come. In fact, the narrator points this out in the very first digression of the book. From page 11:
And this is as good a time as any for you, gentle readers, to learn that I can wander a bit while storytelling so that the very imminent digressive passage on the judicial creation of Miranda warnings can be entirely skipped by the uncurious without the slightest loss of narrative stream.
It took until page 222 to contemplate skimming but that’s only a quarter of the way through the book. I’ve decided that’s far too soon and the book’s not worth completing on that basis. Perhaps the author can convince me otherwise on 9th March. (To be continued …. maybe …)
i’m already wondering whether I ought to change the terms of my challenge to attempt to read 7 big books …..