What’s with all the novels about dead/missing parents? Linden MacIntyre’s latest novel, The Only Cafe, adds to the recent spate of missing-parent novels I’ve read (see Manhattan Beach and Last Snow, First Light). I’m sure there’s a Master’s thesis to be had examining the relationship between the search for absent parents and our current cultural/political moment which we might imagine as one of absent political authority and a desperate search to understand where and how this authority has been abdicated… Continue reading
Category Archives: Mystery
It has been… weeks. And weeks. Months, maybe. But I did it. I cracked my reader’s block, which is a real thing, I’ve come to understand. Thanks to the many of you who wrote with suggestions and sympathy for my vexed state. Ideas on how to break reader’s block included: read non-fiction, read a graphic novel, re-read an old favourite, read something short, read articles. While I appreciated all the advice, I ended up just… taking it slow. I read a few pages at a time and stopped putting pressure on myself to be reading. And worrying about why I wasn’t (had I broken my empathy?).
The book I eventually finished, Wayne Johnston’s Last Snow, First Light isn’t one you’d think would break reader’s block. It’s what you might call a slow burn. A mix of character study, realist drama and story-of-place there is – over the 400 odd pages – something of a mystery to be unraveled: what happened to Ned Vatcher’s parents, who disappear during a snow storm never to be seen again. But it’s mostly about the characters: the increasing weirdness of Ned as he gets richer and lonelier, the journey of Fielding (who some readers will recall from The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New York – though tbh I’d forgotten almost all of both books. Barely a glimmer of The Colony except that Smallwood stamps around Newfoundland) to reconcile with her past by way of truth-telling and sharing, the re-defining of family from genetic bond to affiliative relations.
It’s a book that invites going slowly, and so suited my reader’s block recovery. With careful and scene-setting writing, the reader is on a leisurely pace to unravel the mystery, certainly not of the page-turning, heart-palpitating variety (and this reader could be contented whether or not it is ever solved (though Ned can’t be).
Well suited to a winter curl-up and a book club (I guess you could talk about the role of religion, the exploration of ‘family,’ and how much it is possible to drink without dying), I’m happy to recommend this one for a good read, if not a zippy one.
I’ve now read all of David Mitchell’s novels and I can comfortably say Slade House is the worst.* (I’ve read all of Mitchell’s books because he is a giant of excellence and incredible and even though this book isn’t great you should read all of his books and that’s that.) At first blush a spooky haunted house story, the novel takes a strange – and not well executed – turn when it wraps everything up in the neat mythology of the (exceptional and genius) The Bone Clocks. Continue reading