First of all – hello to all my new readers and followers!
Thank you for your interest.
I have now abandonned the Booker Long List for the moment and have been reading two books by published authors who are unaccountably not on this year’s list. James Meek’s new novel The Heart Broke In and Ian McEwan’s latest novel Sweet Tooth. Both authors are favourites of mine and both these books make for a marvellous day/afternoon/evening read depending on the time you have.
I have just spent all day reading Sweet Tooth. [While at the same time slow-cooking Red Plum & Apple Chutney ready for Christmas.] I loved the book, it is like mirror writing. As in Atonement, another one of my favourite books and also full of complications, Mr McEwan has chosen a female narrator: a young and inexperienced woman who, through no fault of her own, is drawn into a complex world of counter-intelligence, misinformation and duplicity. As a result of an affair with a much older man, Serena Frome is recruited to MI5. What follows is a circuitous journey in which she deceives her family, her lover and above all herself: her family thinks she works for the Department of Health; her lover thinks that she works for an Arts Fund and she thinks she is, well what? Sometimes the heroine of a thrilling novel, sometimes a lonely spinster living in a flat share with three trainee solicitors and most of the time she convinces herself that she is successfully doing her job; at the same time she also knows that she is breaking all the rules in the book.
At one point in the novel she accuses a writer of using a series of complicated tricks in order to arrive at the denouement, Serena doesn’t like this method of novel writing, she wants everything to be uncomplicated and for all stories to end ‘happily ever after’, more or less… well reader, caveat emptor! You should enjoy reading Sweet Tooth.
James Meek’s new novel is part modern science and part artist’s licence. In the lives of the characters in this novel, the age old Science versus Art dichotomy subtly makes its presence felt. The brother Ritchie Shepherd, is a rock artist who has abandonned a not very successful career as a singer for a career as a talent show front man. His sister Rebecca, on the other hand, is a serious and talented biologist who has found a haemoproteus which if multiplied and injected gives a partial cure for malaria. (This is fiction, remember). We first meet Bec when she is being propositioned by a publisher called Val Oatland, who surprises her into accepting an engagement ring. Unprepared for this sudden declaration, she takes the ring and then puts it in an envelope in the deep freeze, for safe keeping…and thereby hangs the rest of the tale.
Bec doesn’t marry Val, she meets another scientist Alex (who has abandonned a career as a drummer in Ritchie’s rock band), the nephew of a more famous scientist Harry Comrie whose own son is something of a disappointment. Matthew Comrie, the son, is a ‘born again’ Christian and the family scenes with his wife and children are some of the funniest in the book. But everything that stems from the things that the Shepherd family are trying to keep secret will eventually have an impact on the Comrie family and it is not pretty.
This book was so unlike James Meek’s novel The People’s Act of Love, that I was driven to read that again. Both books are a consummate act of brilliance, they both grab your attention from the first page and hold you to the last. Critics describe James Meek as a ‘writer of prodigious talent’, this is to understate the case because like Hilary Mantel (another favourite of mine) his range of subject matters, time zones and places is prodigious in every sense of this word – marvellous, amazing and, sometimes, monstrous.