Still making my way through the Booker short-list, something that forces me to read outside my comfort zone, I have been delighted to discover find two beautifully-crafted gems that fit the tone of my rejection letters perfectly, even if I do say it myself. And by that I mean those that say, ‘We love your writing but the story is too quiet for the current market.’
I remember reading Jeremy Clarkson’s complaint that Booker books don’t contain enough explosions…
With no explanation of what that means, writers are left to ponder what they might add: the literary equivalent of a car-chase or two, perhaps? But what if your story line already contains family feuds, deception, a mother who tries to do away with her only child, near-death experience, sex addiction, religious fervour? What then?
And so I admire writers who refuse to fit the commercial mould and are prepared to focus on the inner lives of their central characters, the regrets that haunt them, their childhood demons and darkest fears.
In debut novelist Alison Moore’s, The Lighthouse, the premise is deceptively simple. A man, newly separated, takes a walking holiday and, as walkers will relate to, the more physical the activity, the more he retreats inwards. But nothing is quite as it seems. The wife who appears to have callously asked him to leave can no longer tolerate his comparisons of her with his mother, a mother who walked away and left him when he was a boy without, apparently, ever looking back. And the wife of the hotelier he meets on his travels may seem to be taunting her husband with her infidelities, but we gradually come to see that she is only trying to attract his attention. When there is sex, Moore leaves us at the bedroom door and when there is murder she leaves us sitting on the edge of a bath.
We know that there is instability at the beginning of Deborah Levy’s, Swimming Home. And soon we become certain that all will not end well, but the reader thinks they remain in control. When interloper Kitty gatecrashes the family holiday of Joe, famous poet and holocaust survivor, claiming to understand his work as no-one else does, they think they know which quarter trouble will come from. Even his teenage daughter Nina can foresee their affair. I wonder if the ending took any other readers by surprise as it did me.
From the reviews posted on Amazon it is clear that these books were not for everyone. But what shone through was that those who got them truly got them. And I continue to believe that you cannot write to please everyone, because that would be to compromise what the most important elements you have to offer: authenticity and integrity.