Good literature

After my post a while back complaining about Brandenburg I thought it was time to make a more positive comment about the literature I’ve been exposed to recently, so here it is.

Having read the Wikipedia article, I now know that Chuck Palahniuk is an American “transgressional fiction” novelist. Transgressive fiction is defined as:

…..a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressional fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sex, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime.

That all sounds a little stronger than it really is although I wouldn’t recommend his books to any nuns or people of a sensitive disposition.

Chuck’s first book, Fight Club in 1996, is undoubtedly the best known thanks to the excellent 1999 film starring Brad, Edward and Helena. I’ve seen the film but not read the book, nor did I know he was the author of Fight Club until I investigated after having read Survivor, Rant and Diary. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, perhaps Diary is the weakest although “weakest” here still means 10 times better than Brandenburg or any of the 1,000 titles by James Patterson the library seems fixated on. The library has Choke by Palahniuk that has also been turned into a film, so I’ll try that one next.

I got from Palahniuk a similar sense of uneasiness as I got when I first read The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks. Something that is very well written, uses a wider vocabulary than most books do and has clearly burst forth from a mind blessed with a vivid, if slightly weird, imagination. Good story line, well developed characters, strong narrative and a few twists. I think the danger for Palahniuk is that of being stuck in a successful formula because although the stories vary considerably there are similarities in the way they are written and because these are distinctive they could become monotonous.

Another author (and poet) I’ve tried recently with her book Oryx & Crake (2003) is Margaret Atwood. She is one of the most honoured authors of fiction in recent history both internationally and more so in her native Canada. She’s been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times and won it once, so it’s strange that I’ve not bothered trying her out until now but there it is.

Reading about Atwood and in particular Oryx & Crake introduced me to anther new literary term, that of “dystopian”. Oryx & Crake is a dystopian science fiction novel, other examples would be Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. Dystopian can be explained as:

……an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. A dystopia is, thus, regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of technology going “too far” and how humans individually and en masse use technology. A dystopian society is also often characterized by mass poverty for most of its inhabitants and a large military-like police force.

This too is a slightly edgy novel, disturbing at times in the same way as Palahniuk and also one that I enjoyed very much with one exception, the ending. To be fair, it’s not the kind of novel that’s easy to find a suitable end for as you will realise if you read it but nevertheless, this ending seemed somewhat rushed and not as satisfying as the rest of the novel. I’d recommend it though and will certainly try another Atwood.

Last on my list is Alexander McCall Smith, an altogether different kettle of fish. I came to McCall Smith via Portuguese Irregular Verbs, which recounts the adventures of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, a highly comedic German academic and then moved on to books from other series.

McCall Smith is definitely the stuff you might recommend to nuns, easy going and not likely to offend anyone, a veritable Victoria Sponge Cake of an author. There are lots of well drawn characters, interesting if somewhat shallow storylines and a great deal of very British humour, slightly P G Wodehouse in a way. Be careful though as A McC S writes an immense amount of books and most are woven into series with some plots spanning many books so I’d recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through from there. I’ve found the three von Igelfeld books to be the best followed by the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency but there are plenty of others to try as well. I’d recommend using McCall Smith’s books as a peaceful yet amusing interlude between more challenging books.

So there are three authors for you to try out, if you haven’t already. Let me know if you have different views to those I express above.


6 thoughts on “Good literature

  1. I am actually following Chuck Palahniuk on Twitter. I found out about him from having copy and pasted one of my blog posts and inserting it into this “Write Like” Analyzer on the web. It said that I write like Chuck (at least on that one; on another I wrote like Stephen King). I don’t really like fighting things or reading about them–yes, I saw the movie, but I at least wanted to get to know him a little better since we must have something in common even if it’s a shared sense of punctuation.

    I really liked this post. I actually think that Victorian sponge cake is the one that appeals the most to me as long as it’s clever :-).

  2. Stuff – Very interesting web site, everyone should have a go –

    Turns out that whichever post I paste into the machine (I tried perhaps 5) I come out as writing like David Foster Wallace. I tried others, Yellerbelly for example, and he came out as Dan Brown. On that basis alone, Yellerbelly will be rich and famous and I’ll kill myself!

    Now I have to order a couple of DFW books. Never read any of them.

  3. do you know that in no 44 Scotland Street, by McCall Smith one of his characters is a surveyor, i totally agree about his writing being a light interlude, except they make me homesick reading in warsaw

  4. I think you underrate McCall Smith. The ones I like best are the Scotland Street series (and I don’t think it matters at all what order you read them in). Yes, he is light and easy-to-read, but he also constantly dispenses his own view on a variety of contemporary issues, on which I seldom disagree with him. As a trivial example, I think he could offend a Guardian reader, but not more than is fair.

    I’ve also read some of the rather similar Isabel Dalhousie series, but I find Isabel so unbearably pleased with herself that I can endure her no longer.

    I didn’t get on at all with the Botswana books.

  5. I tried three different posts from my blog and got three different results: Margaret Atwood, David Foster Wallace and Douglas Adams.

    I strongly suspect the alleged stylistic analysis is twaddle and that it’s just a come-on to enrol you into a creative writing course or a literary agency.

  6. I agree it’s twaddle but it’s interesting twaddle!

    I’ll give Scotland Street another go someday (especially if there’s a surveyor!). I didn’t dislike it, I just found it a bit boring and didn’t like the characters as much as others.

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