I’ve always loved reading, but a few weeks ago I realised that I’m reading less often, and taking far too long to finish a book. I’d had the notion – odd it seems now – that I shouldn’t be indulging in books during the day. This meant I read for fifteen minutes before falling asleep at night, and by the next night I’d lost the thread, and had no sense of continuity or satisfaction. It occurred to me then, that it’s really okay to read in snatched moments during the day, besides which, if I want to write well, I need to read every good writer I can find. So that’s what I’ve been doing over the last month, and it’s been richly rewarding.
At an independent publishers’ fair in Sheffield I came across Tilted Axis Press, and bought One Hundred Shadows, by Korean writer, Hwang Jungeun. It’s a short novel, bleak, spare, strangely beautiful. Set in an industrial landscape on the verge of demolition and disintegration, two young people, barely surviving, begin to know each other and to love. Nothing much happens – they eat, walk, talk, work in an electrical shop – and at times their shadows rise – harbingers of death or madness, and they care for each other. Yet the novel is far from gloomy. It’s subtle, delicate and richly nuanced, and I was reminded of the powerful atmosphere created by Philip Larkin in his novel ‘A Girl in Winter,’ one of my favourite books. This short novel is beautiful and deeply satisfying, like the best poetry.
And this morning I finished reading a book I discovered on a recent visit to the delightful Malvern Book Co-op. On a shelf of new novels I caught sight of Evie Wyld’s After the Fire, A Still Small Voice and, scanning the first page, I had to buy it, knowing I’d enjoy the quality of her writing if nothing else. There’s much fine attention to detail in this densely written novel – the Australian landscape, insects, animals, plants, weather, the way people move, speak, and feel. But the detail enhances, rather than clutters her work. Evie Wyld gets right into the skin of her two main characters, Leon and Frank. At the same time as experiencing the world through their eyes, I knew how they looked, moved, spoke. She writes with great maturity and insight about the horror of war, its effect on the mind and spirit, the shadow it casts over a family. It’s a brilliant debut novel, beautifully structured and deeply moving. Finishing it I feel I’ve experienced and understood something about human nature, about the loneliness and isolation of trauma.