Thursday 4 October 2007

Lies and Love Songs

I read Libby Purves' latest novel last night. Love Songs and Lies: an interesting one (and wouldn't Lies and Love Songs have been more mellifluous?). I think it's the first of hers with a first-person narrator, and it's quite awkwardly done: the first twenty or so pages were so self-reflective that I almost gave up. She's an interesting author: some of the novels, particularly More Lives Than One, are obviously written with a particular issue in mind, but they're often none the worse for that. I should be able to make an intelligent comparison of Purves with Joanna Trollope, but it's tricky (I am rubbish at analysing novels -- wish I'd realised this before I did an English degree...).

They both focus very much on families, which presumably is what gets them pigeonholed as 'for women's'. This one was, in fact, partly a chick version of Espedair Street. (By Iain Banks, and terrific stuff if you don't mind a large does of his usual wish-fulfilment: it's only really bothered me in Dead Air, where it seemed to take the story beyond the bounds of reasonable possibility -- perhaps because it affected both the narrator's job, and his love life.) The idea that you could write pop lyrics by paraphrasing great literature must be one that occurs to lots of English graduates -- I'm reminded of the narrator in Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers writing a letter persuading a girlfriend to sleep with him, based line by line on Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. But it was nicely done here.

As usual, some sloppy sub-editing: possibly not at all, of course. What is, for instance, 'a Burne-Jones Ophelia'? Is she thinking of Millais or Waterhouse? (Or is there a Burne-Jones I don't know about? I can't think of any Shakespearean subjects in his stuff.) And why does she think that Durufle's motet Ubi caritas starts with upper voices, when in fact it begins with divided altos and no sopranos? And, oh dear, on the penultimate page it suddenly goes horribly rhetorical. I'd have been getting out the red pen as soon as I saw "Life!". But I'm nitpicking. I enjoyed it.

Also read Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant for our book group. Really liked this -- the narrative voice was so unobtrusive and understated. It seemed to me a sign of great confidence to write so subtly: in my experience it's the worst writers who feel the need to over-describe. Nothing conventional about the story or the plot, either. I'd only previously read The Accidental Tourist, so I'll definitely be reading more of her work.

Hurrah for Blogger's automatic draft saving: I managed to press some combination of keys that shut down the PC. Very fat fingers indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I´m glad you like Iain Banks, too. I actually really enjoy his wish-fulfilment scenarios and my favourite two novels of his are those that go furthest in that direction: Dead Air (as you point out) and my personal favourite The Business. Have you read it?

I also have a CD recommendation for you: Carla Bruni. She has a beautiful voice and the perfect vocal manner, I feel, for pulling off the witty, sexy French lyrics of her songs, which are reminiscent of Barbara (another favourite of mine).


Iona aka Your Most Faithful Commentator