As usual, I've had some odd bedfellows this summer. Clarice Lispector and Carol Shields, Pessoa and Harry Potter; Don Quixote and Ian Mcewan. Although I'm a Mcewan fan, I wasn't able to make it through Atonement. On the other hand, I wasn't able to put Unless down until I finished it. Brilliant, I kept thinking, immediate, unflinching, and yet Shields, in the way of Atwood, is able to maintain a steady eye on the Common Reader. Not an easy task, to be unflinching in the eye of the common reader.
As for McEwan, he is a gorgeous writer, and Atonement is fabulous, surely worthy of all the rewards and fuss it has garnered. Quite simply, he is the kind of writer who creates a world and time in a ultra-literary sense, so if you love the world you are rewarded with a lingering afternoon in the beautifully crafted cradle of his prose. However, if the world doesn't strike you, or strikes the wrong note in you, then the weave itself becomes a bit of an irritant, and for those of us with a dozen other books stacked up by the bed, it's better to gently close the cover and move on, rather than acquire rashes where the weave rubs too harshly. And that has been my experience with this one. I haven't read Saturday yet, and despite my little encounter with Atonement, I look forward to a date with that one soon.
Unless, I couldn't put down, but I had a similar reaction to the ending as I had with Wright's Clara Callan. It was too tidy, too "book of the month". The narrative that Shields developed was too easily resolved--I don't think we can actually trace the moment a person goes off track in this way and it bothers me that popular fiction seems so invested in it. Too simplistic.
This was my reaction to the new Harry Potter as well. Thin.
Clarice Lipsector--now here's a writer who deserves her own post. And when I find more time I will indeed write a post about her.