I choose a book to read for all sorts of reasons. Usually a title or an author catches my eye on the library shelves. Sometimes I listen to a recommendation. The one I’m reading presently was in a box I sorted left over from the Church Fête – A Shield of Coolest Air by Marion Molteno. It is unusual, a first novel from 1992, by an unknown (to me) author so I’ve no idea what to expect, but it gripped me from the first sentence so I shall continue – I rarely fail to finish something I start, if only because I record the books I’ve read in an exercise book and hate to feel I’ve wasted my time*. And sometimes I enjoy a TV or radio version so much I am inspired to get hold of the original book. Such was the case with Lionel Shriver whose novel We Need to Talk About Kevin I first heard on Woman’s Hour. I found this black comedy unputdownable. However uncomfortable the story, I had to know what happened next and was genuinely surprised on several occasions (yes, despite having heard the serialisation). Last week I read So Much For That (also heard on the radio) and it too was brilliant. Very black, and only occasionally laugh out loud funny, but humorous just the same. It doesn’t sound amusing I grant you. It is about the American health system and, to illustrate her point, several of the main characters have medical problems: terminal cancer, a terminal degenerative disease and some elective surgery. Well I said it didn’t sound fun! It was not only funny, but true. If someone you know has had any sort of illness you will find scenarios that have the ring of truth. For instance, how many times do you need to remind yourself to ring a sick friend before you actually do it? And when you’re not comfortable about what you might say, or how they might react, how much more likely are you to put it off? But because it’s always on your mind, and on your to do list, you don’t realise how long it is since you called… I loved the commentary on modern life, the arc of the story, and (should I mention?) the happy ending (you probably need to know!). Even for the characters for whom life ended there was a satisfactory conclusion. I loved this! If nothing else, if you’re a Brit reader, you will thank God for the NHS!
*I recently stopped reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty; I really wasn’t enjoying the sex or the self harm. I am also struggling to get through A Dance to the Music of Time. I loved the TV series and was leant the novels by a neighbour… I have reached book five of twelve but am losing the will to live… Should I strive to complete either task?