My dirty little secret is that I’m not actually a very good reader.
It’s true: for someone who reads as much as I do (I’ll start my 12th book of 2016 tonight, although a bunch of them have been graphic novels) I have terrible recall of what I’ve read and little ability to pick up on subtext. I am godawful at the types of things that English majors do and say and think about books; I can barely tell you what they are.
I have, and this is related, never been a good reading teacher.
What this means is that when I read fiction I prefer books with strong and clear central narratives. Things like unreliable narrators and books where you have to hunt to find the plot drive me crazy, and I have to be careful sometimes to make sure I’m distinguishing between a book that is genuinely bad and a book that just isn’t “my” kind of book. And the last two books I’ve read have both been books where you sorta have to hunt around to figure out what was going on. A Brief History of Seven Killings was all multiple-narrator first person where a lot of stuff happened between the lines and sometimes he’d go off on a stream-of-consciousness tear and have three pages where there was no punctuation, especially if a character was high or terrified or dying during the events they were describing– which happened more often than you’d guess.
Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi, does something a little different, where she’s playing with narrative more than James was in Killings, and while the overall arc of the book is a little murky what’s going on at any given moment in a chapter is always pretty clear. I loved this book, which sort of surprises me; the three main characters are a writer, the titular Mr. Fox; his wife, and his muse, who is only real for bits and pieces of the book. Sometimes she’s a ghost. Sometimes she’s clearly physical and can be seen and interacted with by people who are not the three central characters. Sometimes the three central characters show up as characters in a story it turns out Mr. Fox is writing, and his habit of killing off his female characters at the end of his stories can be a little jarring. It lends the whole book this weirdly dreamy quality; you’re never sure whether anything going on in a given section is “real” or not and sometimes even the bits that are clearly fairy tales or fiction-within-the-fiction have characters who turn out to have been “real” but fictionalized when they show up later.
One way or another, I started the thing before bed last night and I just finished it about an hour ago despite this being a weekend and me having, like, stuff to do. So I devoured the crap outta this book. S’good. I promise.
So … if you read like me, and you like your narratives straightforward? Believe me that this turns out fascinatingly anyway, and just roll with it. If you’re an English Lit Sort of Person, knock a motherfucker down to get your hands on this if you need to, because I suspect you’ll love it. I five-starred it at Goodreads; it may end up on my 2016 shortlist but I’m going to give it a couple of weeks first to see how my thoughts of it hold up over a bit of time.
Now, I’m going to go read some YA to clear my brain, because there’s a China Miéville novella sitting on my TBR shelf and my ass is not ready.