Thursday, September 24, 2015

(No.295) "E.L. Doctorow, J.K.Rowling, Charles Bukowski, Dennis Lehane & Lee Child": some end of summer reading"


"Some enjoyable end of summer reading in five novels: the forgotten, the underestimated, the unusual, the surprising and the addictive ---  by E.L. Doctorow, J.K. Rowling, Charles Bukowski, Dennis Lehane and Lee Child"

by Alastair Rickard

The recent death at 84 of the American literary novelist E.L. Doctorow generated numerous reflections and tributes by peers and critics and readers. Many people have read one or more of Doctorow's best-known novels such as "Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate".

I was prompted to read Doctorow's first novel from 1960 (still in print) "Welcome To Hard Times". Ostensibly it is a western tale set in a small town ca. the 1880s in an unnamed territory not far from the Dakotas.

In fact this tale is really a literary work of fiction as far removed from the typical novels in the American genre of 'westerns' like those by Louis L'Amour as one can imagine. It is a dark tale of the negative effect on the small settlement and its leading characters of a truly sociopathic individual.

The novel was made into a movie Doctorow understandably disliked but Hollywood then as now was unlikely to produce a version of a complex novel pleasing to its author. "Welcome To Hard Times" is worth reading if only to see the point at which Doctorow's novel writing started.

Charles Bukowski was a German born (1920) poet and novelist who came to the U.S. at the age of three. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for fifty years. He died in San Pedro California in 1994.

During his often tough and rough life he wrote 45 books of poetry and prose including 5 novels. He gradually developed -- and still has -- a loyal rather than a "best selling" readership.

I recently read his 1982 autobiographical novel "Ham On Rye"(still in print). The novel follows the hardscrabble youth in LA of his alter ego in the book -- Henry Chinaski -- from childhood through to the post-Pearl Harbor American entry into WWII. It is not only an absorbing story but conveys much feeling and impact in its straightforward prose.

Dennis Lehane, a very successful American novelist, may be best known for "Mystic River" which was turned into a successful movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

"Live By Night"(2012) is a tale that unfolds in Boston, Tampa Florida and Cuba during the 1920s and early 1930s. It follows the criminal activity and prison time of Joe Coughlin, the son of a senior but corrupt Boston cop, who makes his money and his reputation in organized crime. It is very well told, a novel that is hard to put down

Lehane continues Coughlin's story in "World Gone By" (2015), a novel set in Tampa and Cuba in the 1940s  For maximum enjoyment the two novels should be read in the order in which they were published. They are very interesting tales.

When J.K. Rowling, the hugely successful creator of the Harry Potter novels, wrote her first non-Potter novel, one for adults called "The Casual Vacancy" (2012), it was as if some book reviewers had been waiting eagerly for the chance to bring down a literary notch or two the world's most commercially successful novelist. Indeed Rowling came to believe that she would receive unbiased reviews from the literary paparazzi for a non-Potter novel written for adults only if critics did not know they were reviewing a novel she had written.

Hence the use by Rowling of the pseudonym Robert Galbraith for the first novel "The Cuckoo's Calling"(her second 'adult' novel after the "The Casual Vacancy") in what by now has turned out to be a series featuring a London private detective and one-legged ex-soldier named Cormoran Strike.

Her identity as its author was leaked but not before a number of critics had given 'Galbraith's first novel' favourable reviews. As I indicated previously in RickardsRead I regard Rowling's detective novels as very good indeed.

"The Casual Vacancy" title refers to a legal/administrative reference to the death of a sitting member of a parish council. The novel's plot is kicked off by and subsequently intertwined with the unexpected death of a 'progressive' member of the parish council of the small English town of Pagford  in contemporary Britain.

Rowling wrote a very good novel indeed, a penetrating story of the various conflicts which surface after the councillor's death among a cast of characters, conflicts related to age, class, gender, politics, incomes and race.  The novel has elements that remind me of both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Lee Child is an Englishman and a former director who worked in British television. He is today a famous New York City-based novelist and best selling American writer.

His current fame derives from the huge commercial success of a series of novels featuring an adventure-seeking ex-U.S. Army military police officer named Jack Reacher, a physically fit and imposing man who is violence prone and wanders the country carrying not much more than his toothbrush.

Child has just put out his latest Reacher novel, the twentieth, titled "Make Me" (2015). The Reacher novels are very successful and, while hardly great fiction, they are addictive for many people including me. The publication of a new Reacher novel is a guaranteed fix for addicts. For us "Make Me" has a plot as absorbing and action-filled as any Reacher fan could desire.

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email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

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