Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Truth and fiction

One of the nicest things about being on holiday is that it frees up lots of time to read. Every year we try to find a selection of books that might suit all four of us, which is not always a straightforward task, and this year we did take some good stuff.
One of the first novels I read was The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry. I won’t say too much about this one as it is our book club novel for September, but I do recommend this as well worth reading, cleverly crafted, although it has its flaws. We also took Life of Pi, a novel that I have been intending to read for some time. I must say I absolutely loved this, I was hooked after the first few pages and devoured it – devour being quite an appropriate verb since the narrator spends the majority of the book on board a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger...OK... sorry...
I found both Life of Pi and The Secret Scripture moving, particularly the ending of each novel and the themes of the reliability of memory and what we mean by “truth” in storytelling – and life?
Strangely enough, the third novel I read, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, drew on similar themes, exploring the idea of private and public identity and the discrepancy between the “facts” of someone’s life and the more tenuous, but indispensible, “truth”. I am ashamed to say that, although I found this book readable, I couldn’t see where it was going until a fair way in and then, suddenly, all its meaning opened up and I couldn’t put it down.
Set in Mexico, the lacuna is an underwater cave, hard to see, full of treasures and danger, to which the narrator returns. The lacuna is itself a metaphor for the book, the idea of a missing piece, a missing notebook, parts of the protagonist’s life that are only hinted at, but which are the most moving and essentials parts, as Kingsolver writes, “the most important part of a story is the piece of it you don’t know”, (or as Eliot says “all significant truths are private truths”!)
My final novel was Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. This was written in 1946 and has only just been translated into English. It tells the story of the inhabitants of an apartment block in Nazi Germany. It is a story of resistance to the Nazis by dropping subversive postcards around Berlin. It may sound pretentious, but this book reminded me of reading Dostoyevsky (admittedly a long time ago.) There seemed to be the same detailing of minute motives, often in quite mundane, petty events, and this was used as a way to reveal the extremes of baseness and atrocity and heroism and goodness within human nature.

Oh, and I am back from holiday now and contemplating a large pile of washing as my entertainment for today...


  1. good to see you back - for the book reviews rather than the washing - I doubt if you're taking it in?

  2. Things are a bit tight with just my salary, but I am not taking in laundry yet. Having said that the fridge freezer is on the blink (everything in the household decided to break once Kev gave up work), so you never know...