Tuesday, 5 November 2002

The tax inspecter & Granta 78

Listening to:

Shostakovich, piano sonata no. 2, op. 61.

Just read:

Peter Carey, The tax inspector.

This novel is a compelling, but uncomfortable read. I finished it in a single sitting, and definitely felt relieved to have done so. The story generates a lot of tension, and doesn't let the reader relax until the very end. The story is about the tax inspector of the title, a sympathetic woman of Greek descent, and the family who are involved with the business that she is sent to investigate. The family is dysfunctional (that child abuse is its dark secret is where the novel seems most unoriginal; this meme is one that really has been done to death), and full of vividly drawn characters.

The novel is mainly set in the town of Franklin, once a country town, but now practically within the Sydney sprawl. (It seems as if Franklin is fictional.) Sydney features a little as well, but there's not much that really ties the novel to Australia. Instead, its geographical stereotypes are those of small town failure and decline. While most of the characters are disturbed and/or disturbing, most are also pretty sympathetic. The plot is full of viciousness of one form or another, though there's very little explicit gore. All in all, it's a tight, brutal, well-written drama with a bitter view of the world. And there's even a positive ending (the good guys come through mainly unscathed).

Granta 78: bad company (contents)

This issue of the literary magazine is an appealing mix of fiction and non-fiction. The fiction I enjoyed most read almost as if it was non-fiction, in an easy confessional and journalistic style. I particularly liked Jon McGregor's story about a man with a secret, vividly set in East Anglia (now quite a familiar landscape to me). Edmund White's story about a older gay man having a holiday in Florida kept my attention, and Gary Shteyngart's story is larger-than-life and a good read. I also liked Jonathan Tel's elegantly written Zaghrouda, set in Palestine, but only glancingly about the Israeli occupation. Milan Kundera's story featured a character who bordered on the "too angst-filled" to be sympathetic. The story by Todd McEwen (whose Arithmetic I mainly liked) was too disjointed to appeal to me, and Marek Marek by Olga Tokarczuk also seemed pointless.

I liked all of the non-fiction. The first piece, by Adrian Leftwich, who, when push came to shove, betrayed his friends in apartheid-era South Africa to escape a jail sentence himself was particularly interesting. Rory Stewart, walking through Pakistan and talking to people there about dervishes was good, and Arthur Miller's reminiscing about the Chelsea Hotel was amusing in a dry, off-hand way.

To read next:

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.