Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When old favourites go wrong

I am unsettled. 

I have a handful of authors who, in my opinion, can do no wrong. It's their names I rattle off when people ask who my favourites are. They are my top people. And being a bookish librarian, that says a lot.

Anne Tyler has topped my list of favourite authors ever since I read Patchwork Planet a decade ago. 
As John Updike describes, she "gives the mundane its beautiful due". Her work has been described as 'domestic realism' - she writes about people grappling the stuff of ordinary life, and she captures the nuances and quirks of that everyday life in such a way that we see it afresh. Her work always carries an edge of melancholy; yet her amused tone makes us smile as we read, detached and charmed, taking nothing to heart.

So, when I finally had her new book, The Beginner's Goodbye, in my clutches last month, I quickly made up an excuse to spend the afternoon curled up reading. It's a slow-moving tale of a man grappling with grief, and finding his way back to equilibrium and happiness, after his wife dies in a freak accident.

When I emerged, book finished, I felt a bit let down. It's just a bit sad really - flat, like the melancholia took over, and left little room for a redemptive tale to emerge. 

But I still love her. I'm loyal like that. However, when I next name her in my top five, there may be a disclaimer.


  1. I love Anne Tyler too although I'm yet to read The Beginner's Goodbye. Only one of her novels (so far) has left me feeling flat - The Amateur Marriage - I just didn't enjoy it as much as her others. I also love Joanna Trollope, have you read any of her novels? Her latest though, The Soldier's Wife, left me feeling the same way you did after reading A.T's. latest, which was hugely disappointing because I've loved all her other stories so much.

  2. I feel that way about Carol Shields. Her penultimate "Larry's Party" was far more pleasant and well crafted than her final, and deeply personal "Unless". I want to say read everything but the last one.

  3. nice review - clealry not one for my head right now!


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