Friday, July 07, 2006

DESPERATELY SEEKING GREAT STORIES WELL TOLD


The Sherlock Holmes Pub, Northumberland Street
Originally uploaded by ANiceCupofTea.



Seventy-six years ago today, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle encountered the darkness that fascinated and drove, terrified and challenged his great creation, Sherlock Holmes. In Conan Doyle's tales, death was sometimes a setting, sometimes a character itself. It was both mundane and exotic, and it was always a story.

I wonder how Conan Doyle was classified in his lifetime: Was he literary or commercial? Noir? A thriller writer or was his work labeled psychological suspense? Did he care, or did he just set out to write the best story he had in him to tell, seen through the eyes of one of the most intriguing characters ever created?

Did those who bequeathed literary prizes honor him, or did they scorn him for his popularity? The answers are surely available (probably as close as Wikipedia), but I don't intend to look them up. Why? Because seventy-six years later, it doesn't matter.

What matters is Sherlock Holmes. What matters is the stories.

In my constant quest for great stories, well told, I've ordered the books on my summer reading list. The box containing those already released arrived last week. A few titles are not available yet. Today seemed like the perfect date to share my list:

1. TRIANGLE by Katharine Weber

2. THEFT: A LOVE STORY by Peter Carey

3. THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards

4. CAGE OF STARS by Jacquelyn Mitchard

5. TALK, TALK by T.C. Boyle

6. RAVEN BLACK BY Ann Cleeves (an award winning suspense novel, not yet available in the U.S.!)

7.

8.

That's six titles and since I'm determined to read a book a week this summer, I've still got a couple of vacant slots on the list. If anyone can suggest a great story, well told, I would love to hear it.

30 comments:

Amishlaw said...

Patry, have you read, "Woman in White," by Wilkie Collins? Collins was a contemporary of Dickens but in my opinion, a better writer. Some say this is the first modern mystery novel. I just recently read it and really like it.

Patry Francis said...

amishlaw: Thanks for the recommendation; sounds fascinating. I'm going to look it up right now.

Dale said...

I'd second the Woman in White; it has possibly the greatest villain in English fiction. Also it breaks Victorian convention by having, in addition to the obligatory pretty and useless heroine, an ugly and intrepid one. Terrific novel!

Dale said...

For some reason my mind is running on novellas from a century ago -- Stevenson's Suicide Club; Conrad's Typhoon or Nigger of the Narcissus. The Queen of Elfland's Daughter, by Lord Dunsany. And unfinished novels: Dickens' Edwin Drood, Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston. There's something eerie and intriguing, to me, about reading an unfinished novel by a master.

Patry Francis said...

dale: Oh, there's nothing quite like a great villain--and there's not nearly enough of them around these days. Add an ugly intrepid heroine, and I'm already hooked.

Thanks to you both for my #7.

I love the unfinished Edwin Drood, too. The title alone is so evocative, I have only to see it and the whole gloomy story returns.

marta said...

Read "The Birth House" by Ami McKay--a story about a midwife and women taking control of their lives. And you'll be supporting an author just starting out!

Cliff said...

Hi Patry, I've been a fond reader of your blogs, and I just recently discovered your poetry (I know, a bit slow here). Just wanted to tell you that I admire your work and I think it is beautiful. I hope to read more, and that you don't mind me linking you to my blog. Cheers from Singapore.

Patry Francis said...

marta: I used to read Ami McKay's blog on Publisher's Marketplace, and once emailed her to tell her how much I enjoyed it. She is a fine writer.

Cliff: Thanks for reading--and for the link. I enjoyed my brief visit to your blog as well. Will return to read more soon, but today I'm off to work.

Lorna said...

I've recently been reading a lot of so-called adolescent fiction and loved these two: His Dark Materials, a trilogy by Phillip Pullman, and Tales of the Otori: Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow and another the name of which I don't recall right now. the first trilogy is set in an alternative London at the turn of the 19th Century;the second trilogy is about a mystical medieval Japan, and both meet your criteria.

paris parfait said...

Patry, David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green" is fabulous! Love the photo of the Sherlock Holmes pub. (My husband's last name is Holmes). And I shall be looking for the Jacquelyn Mitchard book, as I really enjoyed her others.

Clare said...

Just read NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro and thought it one of the most weird books I've ever read. Really made me think - I love books like that. Particularly good for summer, I'd say.

Cliff said...

I just finished Never Let Me Go, and it was very good indeed. The language and pacing very tightly controlled. Have you read Bel Canto? I remember it as very good story-telling. I am reading Banville's The Sea now. It is quite dense, so requires slow reading, but the language is breathtaking.

Kerstin said...

Hi Patry,

I'd strongly recommend anything by Swedish author Henning Mankell that has been translated into English. He is a bit of a phenomenon in Europe, having outsold Harry Potter in Germany, but he is also on top of the book list in Brazil, I heard. He is a very compelling writer of crime stories that center on a Swedish inspector but really they are suspensful tales of justice, morality and a reflection of our society with very topical references. As he says: "You hold a mirror to crime to see what's happening in society".

If the English translations are anything like the German ones that I have read you won't be disappointed. Two of my favorites are:

The White Lioness
The Fifth Woman

Take care, Kerstin

Patry Francis said...

lorna: I love YA fiction. Tried to write some at one point, which led to a lot of reading--and a whole new respect for the genre. Particularly admire Paula Fox. Thanks for the suggestions!

Paris: Funny you should mention Black Swan Green. I ordered a copy of that a couple of months ago, but lent it out before I had a chance to read it. Thanks for reminding me to get it back. Mitchell is an amazing writer.

Clare, Cliff: I read Never Let Me Go
last winter. Your descriptions are accurate. At times, I felt frustrated and detached from characters, but then I understood that was the point. Yes, weird and thoughtful and very tightly plotted.

kerstin: Wow. These sound very intriguing. I'm off to follow your links now.

Sara said...

I second Wilkie Collins. Gobble him up, all of him. The Woman in White is wonderful. So is The Moonstone.

I also love T. C. Boyle, though lately his work has seemed very, very depressed, even more than usual. My two faves of all time by him are The Road to Wellville (freakin' hilarious, especially for somebody in my business) and Riven Rock (which is astonishing in lots of ways and based on a true story). If you haven't read them already, I'd enthusiastically recommend them, even though you already have something by him on your list.

Old stuff: See if you can find any novels by Ouida, a French novelist of the 1800s. Then there's Turgenev, Balzac, and Thomas Mann. From Turgenev, Fathers and Sons or Smoke. From Balzac, anything, but especially Catherine de Medici, a very subtle, complicated and witty work. From Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, all about people living in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Switzerland. Might make an amusing companion piece to The Road to Wellville. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. The Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn (dark but fantastic, really). All of Dumas Frères. Oh, goodness, I could go on and on. The Antiquarian by Sir Walter Scott. Samantha at Saratoga by "Josiah Allen's Wife" (wicked funny). Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (also unbelievably funny even though it's something like three hundred years old now). Jean-Christophe, the whole damn trilogy, by Romain Rolland, which should, in my opinion, be a bible for artists seeing as how it puts forth the idea, in telling the tale of a man like Beethoven (who really is not Beethoven, but was inspired by him), that the very best art is created out of love.

Newer? How much material do you want?

Here's a short list from my "already read, but not art, art history, poetry, gardening, reference or cooking" bookcase: Poor Things by Alasdair Gray; Feather Crowns by Bobbie Ann Mason; Flying Hero Class, To Asmara, A Family Madness, or The Playmaker by Thomas Kenneally; Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood; Tales of the City, the whole series, by Armistead Maupin, or Maybe the Moon by the same author followed immediately or read concurrently with Geek Love by Katharine Dunn and/or Dominic by Kathleen Robinson; Mazel by Rebecca Goldstein, and then Strange Attractors by the same author; anything by Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, or both together, anything at all; anything by Andrea Barrett, The Voyage of the Narwhal if you're feeling overheated, Lucid Stars if you're not; anything by Marge Piercy, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich; short stories by Kim Stanley Robinson; Shame or The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie; A Dark-Adapted Eye by Ruth Rendell; The Matisse Stories by A. S. Byatt, if you want deeply intelligent short stories, or Babel Tower if you want something much longer and both richly literate and intensely striking; American Pie by Pascal le Draoulec, which has nothing to do with those idiotic movies but is a true story about a food writer who went across the United States on road trips with her girlfriends looking for the perfect slice of pie; Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively -- or anything else by her, for that matter. Parallel Lives, a study of five Victorian marriages by Phyllis Rose.

If you want some modern Victoriana -- and no, that's not the oxymoron it appears -- and haven't already devoured it long ago, try The Quincunx by Charles Palliser.

Enough? Sorry to barf so much out here; it's just so difficult to know what to recommend. For all I know you've read all this stuff already. But they are all great stories, brilliantly told, full of unforgettable characters.

If you try any of it, I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you'll let me know what you think.

Cheers!

kate said...

I freakin love tc boyle! can't wait to read his latest now . . . yay!

Patry Francis said...

Sara: You have no idea how much I enjoy your delightful comments. They are posts in themselves--and frequently better than the one they inspired. Though I've read many of the titles on your wonderfully eclectic list, there are enough that I haven't read to keep me busy over several summers. A few spoke to me particularly loudly: The Master and Margarita (I'd never heard of this until a few months ago. Since then, it's been recommended to me three times--once by a friend who said it was the best thing she ever read. ) The name Neil Gaiman has also been lodged in my brain as someone I need to know about. And Ruth Rendell--I've been meaning to check out one of her novels; thanks for giving me a specific suggestion.

Kate: Talk,Talk, Boyle's latest is about two fascinating subjects: Identity theft and victim's revenge.
I'm a Boyle fan, too. Even when a particular book disappoints, he's so much fun to read.

Fred Garber said...

Patry...here are 3 short books that I have read over and over.
1.Fup by Jim Dodge... A duck, a guy, his grandfather and homemade booze that makes you immortal(at least until you die).

2. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya...Grandma comes to live with the family. She is a curandera. Set in post WWII New Mexico.

3. Miracle in Seville by James Michener...American sports writer, a rancher, bullfighters, gypsy fortune teller and the Virgen.

Sara said...

Ah, Patry, I'm glad I'm not driving you nuts. You do get me thinking, and I type very, very fast, so I am able to barf out more mental effluvia per minute than the average lurker. And when I post when I'm pooped, like after work on a Sunday night, well, whatever I have that acts as an internal editor is clearly absent.

Re The Master and Margarita -- My biggest fear with regard to this book is that someday someone will make a terrible movie out of it. Be sure you read it before then. You won't be sorry. I laughed out loud with sheer delight, often, while reading it.

Re Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett -- Both these guys are hilarious and super smart. Both operate in the realm of fantasy. Pratchett is famous for a hilarious series of books which play out in a place called Discworld. Gaiman, before he became a novelist, was famous for a series of graphic novels featuring a character named Sandman. His novels begin, I believe, with the wonderful Neverwhere, but he and Pratchett also wrote a brilliant book together called Good Omens, just about the greatest, funniest, most loving working over of apocalyptic prophecy that you will ever read.

As for Ruth Rendell, a suspense/psychological/mystery novelist who also writes under the name Barbara Vine, the problem with A Dark-Adapted Eye, I believe, is that it's her very best novel. All her work is very fine, but this one is, IMO, her very finest. Not sure you want to start with the best! Of course, her Inspector Wexford novels are very good, too, as good as Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels, and her other suspense/psychological novels are all very interesting, so it's not like reading this one first will leave you with a poverty of selections afterward! Start anywhere. This one's just my favorite.

I look forward to hearing what you do end up reading, and how the selections you've already made turn out, as well. Have fun!

finnegan said...

"Disgrace" and "The Lives of Animals" by J.M. Coetzee.

JonnyB said...

'Great Story Well Told'

Ummmmmm.

'The Old Devils' - Kingsley Amis. Another genre. Lovely, lovely book.

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