Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tournament of Books: The Luminaries vs. Hill William

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's round puts up two very different books:

The Luminaries vs. Hill William


Full disclosure: I did not finish The Luminaries.  I know that it won the Man Booker Prize and I know I shouldn't talk about books I have not finished, but let me try.  I read 80 pages, but the book is over 800.  There are definitely things I may have missed.  In comparison, Hill William is a mere 200 pages, made even shorter by being written in stories.

The interesting thing to me about this pairing is that I really loved an earlier book from both of these authors.  I was first introduced to Eleanor Catton when I read all the nominees for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2010, and her novel The Rehearsal was on the list.  Where The Luminaries is sweeping in scope (a favorite phrase of professional reviewers to describe historical fiction that just maybe attempts to do too much), The Rehearsal is much smaller - just a few character in a girls' school with a scandal as the plot trigger.  Still, small does not mean insignificant.  I felt she captured the emotions and the characters so well.  The story is told non-linearly and I was completely interested the entire time.  When I heard she was coming out with a new novel, I was very excited.  I got a review copy, even more excited.  But it was like reading an entirely different novelist.  I have to admit I just don't care very much about the gold rush in New Zealand, and found the characters in the first 80 pages not to be nearly as compelling as the characters in the smaller world of The Rehearsal.  I still don't feel guilty for setting it aside as "not my thing," but I am willing to admit that I did not stick it out with Catton to really understand what she was attempting.

Scott McLanahan wrote an earlier book to Hill William called Crapalachia: A Biography of Place.  They are both stories based on his childhood, family, and acquaintances where he grew up in the hills of West Virginia.  Crapalachia was funny yet still managed to convey his deep love for his family, as crazy as they could be.  Hill William is more gritty, more realistic, and pretty darn uncomfortable at times.  Uncomfortable as in I sometimes wished not to be reading it.  The author is smart to continue writing in stories. Even though the stories are related, they are also over soon, and he can put in a truth about poverty or rape, but it can punch you in the face and walk away.

This isn't the first time discomfort will come up in a Tournament of Books discussion, so I'll save most of my waxing for another book, but one thing I know for sure - it is better for a book to stick with me than for me to abandon it.  And for that reason, this round is an easy call: Hill William by Scott McLanahan.  I fully expect the expert ToB judge to pick The Luminaries, and here is where I need to decide if I'll go with my own brackets to the end.  I think I should.  Any thoughts?

ETA: See the official ruling at the Tournament of Books.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting the Reading Envy blog and podcast. Word verification has become necessary because of spam.