What We're Reading

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Neil

The Names, by Don deLillo (Vintage US, 1989)

I've just reread this terrific novel. It's set mostly in Greece, and concerns a somewhat oblique character, a risk assessor for an American insurance company, who stumbles upon a murderous cult living in a cave in a remote part of the country. He becomes fascinated by their method of choosing victims, which he comes to believe is based on ancient languages. There is a large cast of characters who eat and drink, discuss the state of the world in restaurants and bars, have affairs with each other, and travel.

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Neil

The Crying Place, by Lia Hills (A&U 2017)

This powerful, epic novel by a New Zealander now living near Melbourne is steeped in the Australian interior, a place where the city's rules don't apply. Saul's best and oldest friend Jed takes his own life soon after returning from working in a remote Aboriginal community. Saul, devastated, sets out to the community to try to come to terms with his friend's sudden death. It's a gripping story, set in an alien landscape, beautifully written, haunting and has a lot to say about grief. It's a brave and compassionate, graceful novel of great humanity.

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Neil

Loving Sylvie, by Elizabeth Smither (Allen & Unwin April 2019)

Elizabeth Smither's new novel weaves the lives of three generations of women, in a clever, subtle and satisfying narrative set in Auckland and Paris. The style is wry and ironic, the characterisation deep and true, the plot meandering and unforced. As good as anything by Anne Tyler or Mary Wesley, fiction like this doesn't come very often from New Zealand, but it's all the better for the familiar surroundings.

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Neil

Lanny, by Max Porter (Granta April 2019)

Lanny is like nothing else I've ever read, and it deserves the widest possible readership. It's an amazing piece of work. Lanny is an eccentric child, perhaps somewhat autistic, who both enchants and baffles his parents and neighbours in a small rural village in England. There is an encounter with a mythical figure, Dead Papa Toothwort, an ancient spirit, which changes everybody's lives. The story is told in a fabulous collage of characters, voices and words, constructing a parable for our times. Absolute genius, it will stay with you, haunt you for weeks.

Neil's picture
Neil

American Pastoral, by Philip Roth (Vintage 1997)

Incredibly, this is the first Philip Roth I've read - aside from Portnoy's Complaint as a naive teenager, which I failed to get. I'd always had this belief that he's 'difficult'. I think that had put me off. Anyway, I'm pleased I've now read this superb, epic novel, which is extremely readable, while also being subtle, profound and moving. It tells the story of a successful businessman, good-looking, and thriving in post-war America, until his daughter commits a violent act of political terrorism, which destroys his family.