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
I listen to audio books daily. I find them, in part, a type of ear-blinker, a vocal filter for the noise about. They (almost) replace (almost all of the time) the voice of the monologist inside my head but inadvertence, a disturbance like a falling leaf or an acorn dropping on my shoulder, can muffle the sound track and cause me to try to walk in reverse, as if to play back the narration I have missed. Yes, I listen while I walk: exercise and diversion, along back roads in the tangles of suburbia. I can associate fiddle head fern with Anna Kareninas leap into oblivion.
Condition of England novels were a recognized genre in mid-nineteenth century Britain. Works such as Hard Times captured the social tensions of the country, sampling the spectrum of class, industry, education and mores. The subtitle of Martin Amiss Lionel Asbo, is tellingly, State of England. Amis presents the novel in the tradition of Dickens, Gaskell and Disraeli. The title character, the monstrous Lionel Asbo, appears in hyperbolic form as the state of English society and culture.
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.