I have mixed feelings about Olive Kitteridge, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel that just didn’t quite reach the same level as 2008’s The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Throughout the book, I waivered between finding the writing style and structure (almost a compendium of short stories tied together by the ever present Olive Kitteridge) compelling to wishing that I was reading a ligher and more uplifting John Irving novel (Olive Kitteridge takes place in Maine and New England is the principle setting in Irving’s fiction). I was also reminded, believe it or not, of V.S. Naipaul whose protagonists, in particular Mr. Biswas, are often unlikeable characters, just as we are not always sure whether to root for Olive Kitteridge. Overall, though, while I recognize the writing talent and effectiveness of the story’s underlying theme – the inevitable loneliness of life, even in a picture perfect All American town – I suppose that I just don’t want to relate to such bleakness at this moment in my own life.
I am a big fan of Israeli writer Amos Oz’s works; I especially loved The Black Box. But with regards to his new novel, Rhyming Life and Death, I am really not sure what to say. Billed as reflecting “on writing, reading, middle age and the elusive chimera of literary posterity”, this meta-novella about a few hours in the day of a writer and his public left me almost completely indifferent. Just like with recent works by Coetzee focused on middle age and aging, Oz showcases his great ease with storytelling, but that’s about it. Nothing too memorable.
Finally, the book I thought I would enjoy the least, Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, I finished in just one sitting. Nocturnes’ five short stories all have a common thread – “love, music and the passing of time” – and unlike his other novels that are darker and more enigmatic, these stories were light and playful. Usually when I finish an Ishiguro novel, with the exception of Remains of the Day and the heart-wrenching Never Let Me Go, I always feel slightly disappointed, possibly because his books have such great and promising titles: A Pale View of the Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans, Never Let Me Go, and now Nocturnes. I would love to be able to write novels with those names! Nocturnes, definitely not a magnum opus, at least left me wanting more, and definitely made up for me having to suffer The Unconsoled, possibly the most frustrating novel I have ever read (other than Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night which I quit after re-reading the first page ten times).