I’ve just read three novels, all literary fiction, which are really enjoyable and memorable, albeit for different reasons. Whether you just like a profound and meaningful narrative, or whether you’re inspired as a writer by well-conceived and well-written novels, there three are highly recommended.
We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, is full of surprises in terms of the storyline. It is well written, dealing with sibling love and rivalry but the real point of the novel comes at the point where we find out about the protagonist’s sister, Fern. It’s a shock to discover why the main character, Rosemary, grows up so unhappily and is so incapable of forming stable relationships. Her brother Lowell is in a similar predicament, differently manifested. As we discover what happens to Fern and that Rosemary’s entire childhood was an experiment, the novel makes profound sense and is very moving. My moment of real epiphany was the understanding that all relationships between parents and their children are bound to fail to some extent, and that while parents may try to do their best, their efforts are undoubtedly flawed and invariably subject to scrutiny. This is a provocative and important novel, and I haven’t given away the most powerful part. The narrative resonates with grief and frustration, and the central discussion point is mankind’s treatment of others in the name of science and discovery. I won’t spoil the story. However, Larkin was right!
Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright’s novel, The Green Road, is a perfect example of how a simple idea, beautifully written and detailed, works so well. The story concerns four kids who have grown up, have created their own lives and return home to their mother for Christmas. Hanna, Dan, Emmet and Constance are very different to each other and their lives are explored by Enright before they return to their family home and their mother, Rosaleen.Of course, it is their independence and different lifestyles which cause problems, and the mother’s loneliness and stubborn nature. The novel is is fast paced, packed with beautiful description, perfect prose and vivid setting. Enright is a fabulous story-teller: the characters are visual and credible, likeable yet flawed. The humanity, grief and vitriol are tangible. Yes, Larkin was right.
I really enjoyed The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. Readers may make comparisons with Doyle and Welsh but McInerney is a talent in her own right. I loved the characters, the setting, the interplay, the roving first person, third person narrative. The novel tells the story of Ryan who grows up with five siblings, no mother and a loser of a father, Tony. Ryan’s relationship with Karine is a redeeming factor but his decline to crime and failure is inevitable. McInerney creates some fabulous characters. Maureen, who kills a man with a holy stone. Her son, the dangerous Jimmy Phelan. Georgie, a lost and hopeless victim, and Tara Duane, the next door neighbour who takes advantage of fifteen year old Ryan. At times, the narrative is poignant but it is also funny. The characters stoically accept their lot and still rail against life’s injustices; the narrative is exciting and fast-paced. The storyline is, at times, incendiary. And of course, as Ryan learns too quickly, Larkin was absolutely right.
These three novels are highly recommended, whether you’re a parent, someone’s child, or both. Highly entertaining, poignant, inspirational and, of course, all three stories come to the final conclusion that Larkin’s resonant words are an inescapable realisation, a part of parenting, of growing up. Read the whole poem, This Be the Verse. It’s as uplifting as it is demoralising.