I have been avoiding the book “The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared” as a matter of principle for weeks. And not just because of the dreadful title. There is some sort of bizarre conspiracy to force the population to read it, spearheaded by Waterstones who cannot sit on a high street or send an email to my inbox without thrusting its turquoise cover in my face. Amazon’s just as bad. I simply shan’t.
Perhaps it was this determined grouchiness that duped me into buying the sort of book I never pick up – a American female family saga of 3 generations, each with their own slowly-unfolding issues and shock horror surprises and the parallels drawn between one and another. Sigh. Haven’t I just described 30% of the books published in the last 5 – no, make it 10 – years?
Duly duped, I found myself reading Maine with the slowly creeping realisation of the type of book I’d purchased. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good example of this – all drawn perfectly well, neither too heavy-handed nor too cheesy (though not without a touch of both.) But it offered nothing new – a vaguely feminist feeling of how we’re all in it together and have all had terribly tough moments but life is better for women now and we can look to the future with the support of our messed up families. Next. There was nothing new being said, nor was the old being said in a lyrical enough manner to let it wash over you without excuse.
I dutifully hoovered it up and moved on to my current read, which is only serving to highlight the mere adequacy of Maine and the intrigue of my new read – The Magus by John Fowles. I am hooked – baffled, curious, sceptical, scared – and have never had so little idea where a book is going. It’s this unexpected newness that can make novels so magical. It’s a tall order to achieve, and to give Courtney Sullivan her due, I couldn’t write a book as good as Maine. But I don’t read to soak in things I could write. I read to experience things I can’t even imagine. Fingers crossed The Magus keeps it up – I’ll let you know…