The problem with reading a really good book, a book that absolutely hits the mark, is that there is no where to go afterwards. What do you do when that book that has been with you for days, no weeks, finally releases you and you return reluctantly to the real world. Some books are so good that the pain of the parting almost overwhelms the joy of the reading.
Case in point – A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Said at the time of its publication to be the longest book written in the English language, I started it in the winter of 1993, a week or two after the birth of my daughter. It became my official breastfeeding book. It was my own version of The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and The Lover or in my case, The Couch, The Pillow, The Book and The Baby. In fact, the book and the baby weighed about the same and I simply alternated them from side to side, propping both up on the pillow. I was so devastated when I finally finished A Suitable Boy that I considered giving the breastfeeding away. I worried about the characters for months while I was wandering the fiction wasteland and there I remained until I discovered Conversations at Curlow Creek by David Malouf, but that is another story.
Which brings me to the present day. I have read some books lately that I have absolutely loved – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Kindling, The Breaking of Eggs. And I have some very impressive names on the bedside table that for some reason I continue to ignore – Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Then there is Lights Out in Wonderland, DBC Pierre’s new one which is supposed to be brilliant. I’ve even got the new Bernhard Schlink sitting there making me feel guilty for not picking it up (which is rather appropriate when you consider the theme of many of his books). This one is called The Weekend, apparently a kind of Big Chill goes Baader-Meinhof gang 25 years on. So with all that heavy fire power up for grabs, don’t ask me why I couldn’t tackle it. For my next hit of fiction, I slid effortless into Mark Watson’s upcoming novel, Eleven. And I discovered that sometimes, gems are found in the most surprising of places.
Mark Watson will be landing on our shores in about a month for a 60 gig tour. He is an English comic. He is also a person who can weave a pretty complicated plotline so effortlessly that this accutely observed tale of our times slyly hijacks the reader without she even noticing. Stephen Fry describes the books as “brilliantly hilarious and hilariously brilliant”. I beg to differ. I was looking for the funny bits and didn’t really find them, although I did wonder if Fry was referring to the hapless and socially unaware Murray, whose dreams of taking over the midnight to dawn shift on talkback radio are constantly thwarted by his stutter. There were some comic situations, but Fry’s jacket quote, while it might be a drawcard dreamt up by the publisher’s publicity team, is misleading. No matter, as Watson’s tale is engaging regardless of what is written on the cover.
So what is it all about? One moment, eleven lives and endless consequences. As the jacket says “Eleven is a tale of love, loss, scrabble and six degrees of separation, asking whether the choices we don’t make affect us must as powerfully as those we do”. It is a good description. Xavier Ireland, an Australian late night radio jock in London, manages to keep life at bay while dispensing moderately helpful advice over the airwaves to insomniacs. When he ignores a bullying incident in the snow one night, the consquences play out for eleven strangers who are unaware of how in fact they are connected. Yes, I know this isn’t startlingly original, but Watson’s talent is to continually build on previous incidents and to build tension seamlessly while creating a few unexpected twists. All that with social insight thrown in, and somehow, miraculously, soothing the reader so she doesn’t need to keep the sort of cast of character list that is usually needed for a story with such interlocking plots and figures.
Eleven would be enjoyed by David Nicholls, Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper fans, as well as any of the lad lit brigade. It is no Bernard Schlink or David Mitchell, but it is just about the perfect book to read in between them.
Eleven is available for pre-order here for September delivery.