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Ian R Macleod

What I'm Reading

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A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne

A superb example of the specific - in this case, a suburb of Washington DC in the 70s – illuminating the universal. This is an almost perfectly judged work, flashing with the dark and light of childhood. We already know at the start that the crime of the title, the murder of a local boy, remains unresolved, but Berne uses this lack of resolution to explore some of the deep and subtle currents which pervade ordinary lives. This beautifully executed book is every bit as good as the comparisons with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird imply. 

 
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The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster

This is a close companion to Theodore Roszak’s Flicker, but done in far more a self-consciously literary way. I’ve tried Auster’s work before, but have never got very far. Having read The Book of Illusions from start to finish, I can understand why. Frankly, Auster’s not much of a stylist. Neither is he very good with character and dialogue. The love affair around which much of the book turns is very poorly rendered and reads like the pallid wish-fulfilment of a far older man than I imagine Auster to be. Maybe, like the consistently disappointing Michael Dibdin, it’s something to do with the literary mystique which his publishers Faber still cling to which makes people take Auster seriously as a writer — that, or his willingness to throw in references to Chateaubriand. Still, Auster does have an ability to manipulate images and ideas in interesting and imaginative ways, even if he seems better at woodenly describing implications and events rather than actually letting his characters live and feel them. But if you want to read a stimulating metaphysical thriller about the movie industry, read Flicker. 

 
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Saturday by Ian McEwan

I’ve read most, if not all, of McEwan’s novels. He remains one of the most interesting of English writers, although I also have to admit that that isn’t the greatest of all possible praise at this particular moment. By focussing on a small timescale and everyday detail with such near-rabid intent, McEwan seems to be trying to imitate the depictions of an era which John Updike has sometimes achieved. The book doesn’t get anywhere near that level of power and transcendence, but nevertheless it does provide a fascinating snapshot of a certain kind of affluent metropolitan life. In this novel, in some senses a counterpoint to his previous Amsterdam, which was about the sheer selfishness of the creative process, the main character supposedly has no sympathy or feeling for fictional writing. It’s an interesting approach to adopt, but McEwan’s own literary sensibilities shine through. In fact, it got me thinking that writers, far more than anyone else, are continually asking themselves why anyone should ever bother to read made-up stuff about imaginary people… At the end of the day, and despite its weaknesses and limitations, particularly in the supposedly climactic scene, the answer lies in thoughtful and illuminating books such as this.

 
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Stories of Your Life & Others by Ted Chiang

Chiang’s often mentioned as a bright new hope in SF, and also as living proof of short fiction being the genre’s key method of expression, and there’s plenty of evidence here why that might be so. His first short story collection ranges across history and setting, and shows an unusual and refreshing subtly of touch. He has a quite voice as a writer, and whispers of things of which other, more brash, stylists might choose to shout. Still, I was left with a slight feeling of themes which have been re-warmed by clever hands, rather than the freshness of vision which I once used to associate with good SF – which this collection, by the way, undoubtedly is. The fault for this may lie with Chiang, or with me, or with the nature of genre itself at this late stage in its long development.

 

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