This is the second book recommendation post for Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. The first post makes the necessary excuses about the motive for writing this. In the interest of keeping each post under three minutes of reading, I broke up what I wrote in to thirds.
The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist
This is first person narration that grabs the reader by the collar and never lets go. I’ve blogged about it before. From a writer’s perspective it’s a how-to for crafting a powerful first person narrative. That makes the reader see the world from within the head of a very nasty person. Yet realise the unsettling fact that this nasty person is human.
The book is an English translation of a 1944 Norwegian novel. Set in a Renaissance era Italian City-state. Yet the story is timeless. Even if it is marinated in the time and place it is written.
Fatherland by Robert Harris and P.K Dick’s Man in the High Castle
“Alternate” or “speculative history” is a genre awash with bad writing. I found this out the hard way. A lot of it no more than nudge-nudge wink-wink can-you-spot-the-historical-detail shop talk of history trivia buffs. These two books rise above that mire. Fatherland is the most entertaining of the two.
Both excel in showing (not telling) vivid details of life in a alternate reality. While using real historical periods and events as a jumping off point. Among the things they teach is how to show the universe in a story without overpowering the narrative. The success in both books is not just describing the “visuals” of another reality. They connect that big visual with the feeling of what it’s like to live in that reality. Not as a visitor but as an inhabitant. Whose psychology is guided by a past outside the timeframe of the narrative. It’s a background that makes the characters real. In turn making their world convincing.
A lot of writing mechanics are involved in pulling this off. The are two main ones I recall are:
- Seeming offhand remarks/references that give the reader a snapshot understanding about the universe of the book. Which would otherwise involve droning on for pages and pages. It all about the wording.
- Connecting big sprawling panoramas with small details of the character’s habits/lives. The stuff in their pockets. The mundane grit of life that make the unreal feel real. Both authors give the reader just enough for the reader’s imagination to do the work. It’s a tricky thing to do. Miss the balance and you get tedious droning.
Yudhanjaya proves he can do this in his recent short story. I’m betting he will do the same with his up coming novel. Still it doesn’t hurt to look at the work of masters.
There is a science fiction book recommendation in my list. I’ll blog about it in the third and final post. Congratulations if you have hung on this far.