So my tournament of books pitched two novellas against two long epic novels, and in both cases the novella KO’d its opponent. It’s a knock-out when one competitor doesn’t make it to the final
bell page, isn’t it?
Now this surprised me because I’ve been in the mood all year to immerse myself in a long epic read (450+) pages, but it’s just not happening. In fact as hinted above, both tournamented epics were DNF, for different reasons.
C E Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (Pulitzer Prize finalist, shortlisted for the Rathbone Folio Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and The Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction) came with such resoundingly positive reviews that I was sure that immersed I would be. And yet at 200 pages, feeling impatient, and with absolutely no investment or even interest in where things were headed, I stopped. For now. I will revisit this as it’s one of the novels to be discussed on this summer’s online How to Read A Novel reading course (free from the University of Edinburgh). Perhaps I will even finish it.
The second DNF – after only 70 pages – surprised me even more, particularly after the anticipation following my visit to the Leipzig Book Fair earlier this year. Matthias Enard’s Compass, winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Leipzig Prize for European Understanding, is surely the favourite to win this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Even after only 70 pages I could recognise the intelligence of Enard’s writing, the erudition resulting from his research and the worthiness of the novel. Compass is a plea for better understanding and cooperation between East and West, and seemed to be gearing up to encompass a complete history of occidental literary and musical culture within the stream of consciousness of a terminally-ill man. It’s an interesting concept and not necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t entertaining me. As I am no longer a student, I abandoned it – probably for good.
Interestingly Enard’s opponent in the tournament also features the stream of consciousness of a terminally ill patient and a worthy cause. But Samatha Schweblin’s Fever Dream is altogether much more – oh, dare I use this word – readable with a page-turning quality that satisfies my need for pleasure, not just instruction.
A full review of Fever Dream will follow in due course (i.e when the sun stops shining, which won’t be long, knowing Scotland as I do). As will a review of the second giant-killing novella, China Miéville’s This Census Taker. I don’t know what has taken me this long to return to Miéville; it’s 6.5 years since The City and The City blew me away for goodness sake! Still I’m here now. Nor will it be 6.5 years before I read him again.