Edward T. Wheeler
Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.
By this author
When a book advertises itself as a police procedural and a psychological thriller, you can assume that you will be taken, step by step, through an investigation of a crime and an exploration of a criminal mind. Who-done-it? is not displaced by aberrant psychology, but the latter often provides a focus for analysis, sometimes ghoulish. The novelist can give access to the psychology of the criminal in many ways: revelation by the unnamed perpetrator interleaved in the narrative, a series of letters, diary entries, or direct interior monologue.
One might quip that A Hologram for the King is a state of the States novel except for the fact that it is set in Saudi Arabia and in the mind of the books protagonist, Alan Clay. David Eggers new novel, has a thematic force that places Clay between Willie Loman and Vladimir and Estragon. He has all of the failed salesmans dogged pursuit of success and the two clowns deferred expectation.
Philip Carey is so prolific and assured a writer that any new work of his must be a source of happy expectation. His latest novel, The Chemistry of Tears, does not disappoint. As he did in his early Oscar and Lucinda, Carey recreates Victorian times and shows himself effortlessly at ease with that world and with an eye focused on outsized characters and situations. But this is also a contemporary novel, one that works by parallels.
The book jacket of the recently reissued, Crusoes Daughter, asserts that the author Jane Gardam is the best British novelist you never heard of. This is a fair comment in that Gardam has published eighteen works of fiction (and three childrens books) to critical acclaim, but she has a small following in this country. The question should be not why so many American readers have missed her but rather what have they missed. Much, clearly. Gardams works stand quite happily next to those of her rough contemporaries, Penelope Fitzgerald and Beryl Bainbridge.
Sometimes we are simply lucky. I was, fifty years ago, when I heard William T. Noon S.J. speak on David Jones (1895 1974), the Anglo-Welsh poet and artist. Some years later I was fortunate to have Jones as a correspondent. I was also lucky to become an early member of the David Jones Society, begun by Anne Price-Owen, a professor and Jones specialist at Swansea Metropolitan University. And I was lucky to be staying in Baltimore last March when an email from Anne Price-Owen gave notice of a Jones convention in nearby Washington Adventist University.
The Screwtape Letters they appear in memory flagged by the red devil slash on the paperback cover. That diabolical light glimmers in a cavernous basement (temporary lunch room) of a church abutting my Manhattan high school. The book, assigned fifty years ago for summer reading, seemed an extension of the religion classes I had attended and the sermons I had heard preached. As I prepped for the quiz, I asked myself, What sort of test can there be on temptation?.Well, since C. S. Lewiss book reentered my life unexpectedly just this month, that question appears to have relevance.
I suppose we must all ask ourselves in reading history, what distinguishes the historians task from that of the novelist, the historical novelist in particular. The simple question, Is it true? leads inevitably into philosophical waters. In a note at the end of her new novel, Bring Up the Bodies, Hillary Mantel makes the reader a proposal: I try to show how a few crucial weeks might have looked from Thomas Cromwells point of view. I am not claiming authority for my position.
There are so many intriguing aspects to Peter Camerons latest novel, Coral Glynn, that I have no reservations in recommending it enthusiastically. Yet, my immediate response upon finishing it was to attempt to explain the strange sense of distance, estrangement even, that his characterization provoked.
A prose poem, a lyrical appreciation of the shape-dissolving powers of darkness and London fog, begins the final chapter of William Boyds new novel, Waiting for Sunrise. If the title suggests that there is hope in the dawn to follow the books end, the conclusion assures us that such hope is false. Lysander Rief, the protagonist, is a creature of shadows, of confusing shapes, of dissolving characters; he leaves us and himself, it seems, without illumination.Waiting for Sunrise is a thriller, a mystery, a war time spy drama, and an investigation of personality.
Marilynne Robinson is an eloquent polemicist. I nod in agreement with her prose even as I half wonder over the target of her attacks. Every essay in her new collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books, asserts the mystery of divine creation and admits no place for the reductive force of modern scientific atheism. Amongst other things, she redefines Calvinism, offers a contrarian view of the strictures of Mosaic law, and dispels Eastern establishment condescension towards a Western upbringing. Many of her paragraphs offer sentences that might serve as points for meditation.