The other day I bought a copy of something that everybody else read two or three years ago but that had passed me by. I hadn't realised it was a novel -- I thought it was some kind of dreary earnest American soul-searching self-help kind of thingy -- or I would have read it sooner.
I'm talking about Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Now I have been putting in marathon efforts to get up to date with the piled-up Magic-Puddingesque workload (I cut, it comes again) of other work apart from the weekly fiction reviewing, and have actually been making tiny inroads here and there -- ensuring in the meantime that I do not actually forget what my friends and family look like, run out of clean knickers, or die of botulism or bubonic plague.
But all such efforts have been blown out of the water over the last 48 hours. Because when I haven't been asleep or out, I've been reading this appalling, brilliant book.
I gather there's some amazing twist at the end. DO NOT I REPEAT DO NOT TELL ME WHAT IT IS and if anybody does I will stalk you down the Interwebs for all eternity. (Has it got something to do with her very very wonky 'handwriting' in the signatures? Are the husband and the daughter, in fact, both dead?)
In the meantime, here's how to win the Orange Prize: write a passage as good as this, and then keep it up for 468 pages.
'But I have a theory about Dream Homes ... Regardless of how much money you lavish on oak baseboards, an unhistoried house is invariably cheap in another dimension. Otherwise, the trouble seems rooted in the nature of beauty itself, a surprisingly elusive quality and one you can rarely buy outright. It flees in the face of too much effort. It rewards casualness, and most of all it deigns to arrive by whim, by accident. On my travels, I became a devotee of found art: a shaft of light on a dilapidated 1914 gun factory, an abadoned billboard whose layers have worn into a beguiling pentimento collage of Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, and Burma Shave, cut-rate pensions whose faded cushions perfectly match, in that unplanned way, the fluttering sun-blanched curtains.'
UPDATE, LATER THE SAME DAY
Well, there's an almost Shakespearean breadth and transcendence at the very end, that looking-family-matters-in-the-eye-no-matter-what business that you get at the end of the four last plays, and quite a few of the others as well. 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.'
Cross-posted at A Fugitive Phenomenon