Andrew's Fiction Picks
Apeirogon is a curious mixture of fiction and non-fiction, the essence being the story of how an Israeli and a Palestinian became best friends after their daughters were killed in separate incidents; one in a shooting, the other in a bombing. Grief layers the novel, yet it is supremely uplifting, their friendship providing a tangible, simple solution to the conflict of the Middle East, and conflict everywhere. After decades of political ritual, apathy, and failure, the reader will feel that this novel really could make a difference. As such, it is the type of work that appears very rarely, perhaps once in a generation.
I became curious about Lawrence Osborne, when I read a review of his work comparing him to Graham Greene. Indeed, if I remember correctly, he was being hailed as "a modern Graham Greene." Beautiful Animals provides an excellent introduction to Osborne's style. Set in the Greek Islands, ostensibly the story of two young women thrown into crisis when they encounter a migrant, the novel reveals complex layers of metaphor, describing the fatal breakdown of contemporary Europe.
Set on the island of Bougainville, during the civil war of the 1990s, Mister Pip is a work of extraordinary beauty and inspiration. With a background of Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, the events are narrated by a young girl who comes of age in atrocious circumstances. Much of the story revolves around the identity and character of the mysterious Watts, the children's teacher and the only white person left on the island. The reader will be kept guessing to the very end. Overall, the novel develops as a tribute to the power of teaching and literature to occlude horror, and carry the human spirit through the darkest circumstances.
One of the great novels of espionage, le Carré also provides us with true epic myth, in the form of George Smiley. You will see yourself in these pages, your workplace, your family, your friends. And George Smiley is always the paradigm of dignity and control, no matter what the circumstances.
Justine is the first volume of Lawrence Durrell's tetralogy, The Alexandria Quartet. Set in Alexandria in the 1930s, the novel begins the labyrinthine, interlocking perspectives that form the overall plot. The sordid and the beautiful coexist through the characters and the city creating a mesmerizing panorama of a lost age. Published between 1957 and 1960, Lawrence Durrell's prose in The Alexandria Quartet is regarded as some of the finest of the 20th century.
This novel offers an excellent introduction to Graham Greene's style, and it is quite suitable for young teenagers keen to explore literature. Thematically one of Graham Greene's more humorous works, Our Man in Havana lampoons the spy services, notably MI6. Published in 1958, darker elements emerge in the novel, for example the uncanny "prediction" of Cuban missile sites. Apparently, Our Man in Havana got Greene into trouble with his former employers (he was an MI6 officer during the Second World War) because the novel details the relationship between a handler and an agent. Incidentally, Kim Philby was Greene's supervisor during the war, they remained friends even after Philby's defection (Greene visited Philby in Moscow), and Greene wrote an introduction to Philby's memoir, My Silent War.
Constantly in print since it was first published in 1889, and originally intended to be a serious travel guide, Three Men in a Boat is a hilarious account of three men (and a dog) fed up with their dull lives, venturing up the River Thames in a small camping skiff. Not only does the story offer a delightful escape from the mundane and the dark, it also offers a splendid exploration of a section of the Thames, all the pubs and inns mentioned still being open. This volume includes the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, about a cycling tour of Germany.
In the course of an illicit afternoon's tryst, in a seedy hotel on decaying Coney Island, we uncover the layers of life and experience of the two lovers that have led to the afternoon in question. This is a novel of rare poetic beauty describing the heartbreaking circumstances of two people who are deeply, madly in love, yet they will never truly become a couple, for to do so would inevitably destroy the love they have treasured. With the affair as a metaphor of existence, along with the each of the lovers' dead marriages, the narrative evokes the ultimate tragedy of all human effort; forever striving, forever denied, the only certainty being occasional brief fleeting joy, amid constant anguish, frustration, and misery.
A book for our times in more ways than one, The Plague is ostensibly about an outbreak of plague in North Africa. However, Camus’ masterpiece is also a metaphor of the spread of fascism and its ultimate defeat, against all odds, by bravery, compassion, and the refusal to surrender.