I want to point out again at the beginning of this post that I really do not know what people read and what they don’t. So, I am only going on my own experience when I mention authors among my friends who read and claim not to know who I am talking about. Also, I could have easily spent the post describing how much I love James Kelman but as I have already written about him when I was talking about underrated books, I decided to choose two other authors. Although it goes without saying that you should read him as well.
My first choice is A. L. Kennedy. My favourite novel by her is Looking
for the Possible Dance which is about being
female and being Scottish. It discusses all the pressures that are on women, marriage, relationships, children. It has its funny moments – like when she discusses the ways in which she does not fit in on her ‘English, English Literature course’ but is most successful, I think in charting Margaret’s psychological state and her difficulties with fitting into society.
This book also contains one of my favourite images from a book “She remembers seeing waxwings searching the grass when she was at university and suddenly feeling homesick because they were not Scottish birds. There was something a little impossible about them. And that was all it took to make you miss things, a mild impossibility, a slight difference of birds.” It seems a perfect description of homesickness which can sneak up on you at the most unlikely times and for reasons as small as this.
Secondly, I have chosen Patrick McGrath. What I like about his narratives is the ambiguity of his narrators who are always in some ways suspect. They are superbly unreliable and even as you know this, you are drawn into their world, only to discover that you have been duped once again.
My favourite McGrath book is Asylum. It seems an obvious set up; a psychiatrist with a beautiful wife takes over the running of a hospital for the criminally insane. When she befriends a patient, it seems we can see the way that things will go. However, McGrath, while leading us in one direction, is actually taking a very different road and the horror and terror do
not come from the direction you would expect.
The narrator of the story is the one of the doctors Peter Cleave. He opens his narration with the line ‘The catastrophic love affair characterised by sexual obsession has been a professional interest of mine for many years.’ This perfectly sets the scene for the story to come and the reader is given just enough information to come to the wrong conclusion. This is a masterful psychological thriller that plays with the readers’ expectations in a cunning and clever way.