Friday, 31 July 2009

Second-hand Treasure Trove

Charity bookshop trawls can throw up some unexpected treasures. Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino was published back in the 70s, and it was so surreal I didn't know quite what to make of it at first. It's a brilliant satire on writing that most writers will enjoy. I loved the way the characters get so fed up with the author, and the dreadful book he's working on, that they try to plot their own way out of the story. I really liked the idea that characters from books live in a separate dimension where they are constantly looking for employment in other books by other authors. There are quite a lot of stories within stories, some of which are so bizarre and strange I was tempted to skip (but I would have missed some real treasures!). Halpin, the main character's, diary is a good antidote to the tedious chapters of the novel and the author's journal is such a send up I couldn't keep from smiling. His letters to publishers and critics are hilarious. There are some really good examples of 'how not to write' which I can use with creative writing students. The whole thing is wierd and bizarre, but incredibly well written. The 'author' is so pretentious and awful I can't help but feel I've met him.

Also in my second-hand book swoop was The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler. How good she is. The writing is brilliant - the way she weaves the story, the dialogue, the characters. And yet it's quiet, not showy.

My New Zealand publishers sent me a book by another of their authors, Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova It's a wonderful memoir about growing up in communist Bulgaria, moving to the West as a teenager and then going back after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It captures perfectly the tragedy of communism, and the cultural schizophrenia that so many suffered from afterwards. She writes beautiful prose and is also a very good poet. I just missed her at the Edinburgh Festival and wish now that I'd been able to make it.

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