A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is.

August 2018

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, July 24, 2018
This month I’ve been reading some short novels by interesting authors out of the mainstream.The first is a debut novel by Olivia Laing who has written two non-fiction books The Lonely City and The Trip to Echo Spring (a fascinating look at writers’ relationship with alcohol). Crudo is one of a new genre of novel known as autofiction (think Chris Kraus) in which memoir is combined with fiction challenging the reader to untangle the ‘truth’ from ‘untruth’. Laing’s main character is Kathy Acker,   who died over 20 years ago, but the novel is set during the summer of 2017. Acker and Laing become interchangeable. We learn from Google, for instance, that Laing did marry a poet 30 years her senior last year and yes, like Kathy and her new husband in the story, they honeymooned in Italy. The book is really about the personal and political as the woman wrestles with the horror of Trump and his dangerous rantings about North Korea, about the uncertainty of Brexit—Kathy/Olivia lives with the poet in London but has to go back to America to teach. Intertwined with these political considerations is her uncertainty about marriage when she has always treasured her independence. I loved the playful oddness of this book—and Laing is a marvellous writer.

In the same genre is American writer Sheila Heti’s Motherhood, a well-written discourse on whether or not to have a child—a must for people in their thirties struggling with this issue—or just interested in new writing! Laing and Heti, along with the aforementioned Chris Kraus, whose new book Aliens and Anorexia is also autofiction, are at the forefront of a wonderful bunch of women and men writing new kinds of books and playing with genres as their forebears did before them—it must be said, the book is not only not dead, but thrillingly alive.

Even odder than Crudo is Katharine Kilalea’s OK, Mr Field—a novel about a concert pianist whose hand is badly injured in an accident. On a whim he buys a house in South Africa which is a copy of a Le Corbusier. There ensues a strange and weirdly beguiling story as the man, known only as Mr Field, goes quietly mad from loneliness and sadness. So much is not said in this book and we are left to surmise why has his wife left him and how has the end of his piano playing career affected him. Field has become philosophical, asking the important questions like ‘what is a worthwhile way of spending time in life?’ Although this might sound like a difficult book, it is beautifully written and has a deeply satisfying ending.

Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer prize-winner for fiction, Less, is about a heartbroken novelist, Arthur Less, travelling the world to avoid the wedding of his ex-boyfriend. Less is a wonderful character and well worth spending time with. I adored this lovely book.

Next on the list is another American novel—A Weekend in New York by Benjamin Markovits which has been well reviewed. I’ll be back to Oz fiction next month as there are soooo many great new books coming out for Christmas. I shall do my best to read as many of them as I can. See you on D’Hill, Morgan

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