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The Power of Fiction: February Picks

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  • Everything Under book cover

Phil, Queen's Square | February 1, 2019

In January, I suggested exploring the power of fiction; why we read it and what are the ideas contained with a good novel. Here is a summary of January's titles and our February reading list.

Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel Hazards of Time Travel is billed as a dystopian novel about a little-too-smart-for-the-times heroine, who is sent back from the near future to the late 1950s as punishment. At the heart of this (at times funny) novel, is a critique of living safely in the middle and mediocrity, and perhaps most cruelly, giving a middle finger to the past, with its unknowing dead-ends and missed opportunities.

Fighting against societal strictures would definitely resonate with Lionel Shriver, an author who has issues with “identity politics”. Property wears its subject both in its title and on the arm as it were. Two novellas with several short stories explore the entanglement that owning things has on our lives. 

Both My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Otessa Moshfegh) and Conversations with Friends (Sally Rooney) had me struggling with that almost trite conceit: what do you do with a most unlikeable character?

Moshfegh’s main character is a trust fund brat living in New York who, when she’s not sleeping away the day, is so high it’s unclear if she is even aware of her life aside from the social media trail she leaves.

Sally Rooney’s main characters, Francis and Bobby, are former lovers and performance artists who ingratiate themselves into the lives of a couple, Nick and Melissa. The characters are all clinical, disassociated and cool, but mostly just full of empty savagery. There’s not much to like character-wise, but the writing is incisive and clear-headed.

If connecting with characters is integral to your enjoyment, both books may leave you feeling unsatisfied. This is a shame because Moshfegh and Rooney are two of the brightest lights in fiction, with two very different stylistic approaches. These books are definitely worth discussing, so drop by the Fiction desk at Queen’s Square and let me know what you think.

Well, where to from here?

How about back to the beginning so to speak: to the mythical and to the beginning of storytelling. This month I’ll read Circe by Madeline Miller, the Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. Three novels that explore myth-making and origin stories in three very different ways.

Circe book coverThe Silence of the GirlsEverything Under

Keep your bookmarks handy.