It’s been far too long since I’ve taken part in Top Ten Tuesday, (see http://www.brokeandbookish.com/p/top-ten-tuesday-other-features.html) but I’m excited to have such a good subject to work with this week. I suppose unique books is a little ambiguous, but I’m mainly thinking in terms of structure and style rather than plot. If there’s one thing I really and truly love, it’s books that are written in an unusual way, be it a non-linear narrative, multiple points of view, or something even stranger. Many of my all-time favourite books fall into this category. Of course, if it doesn’t quite work, the result can be awful, but I still respect authors who give it a go.
Ones I Loved
1) Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell – Five short stories (each written in a wildly different style and genre, and spanning centuries) are interrupted halfway through by the next story. Each protagonist is reading the previous text, may or may not be the reincarnation of the previous hero or heroine, and is interrupted at the same point as the reader. In the second half, the protagonists resume their adventures an their reading, and we work our way back through time and through the story. In between all the cleverness of the mindbending structure is some seriously good writing and several engaging plots. As regular readers may have picked up, if I was forced to pick a favourite book, it’d probably be this one.
2) The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood – Parts of this story is the first person narrative of the eighty-something narrator. Other parts are her reminiscing about her childhood, the famous author sister who killed herself the day WW2 ended, and her unpleasant industrialist husband. Newspaper articles and other documents from the time about the three of them are interspersed. And every few chapters, we get The Blind Assassin itself – the science fiction novel that made the heroine’s sister’s name, which is itself a book within a book. The four (at least – it depends how you count them) aspects work together to tell the full story, and it results in a brilliant mash-up of contemporary, historical and sci-fi literature.
3) Sarum – Edward Rutherford – Sets out to tell the story of 10 000 years of human history via lots of interwoven stories featuring the same families and the same area (Salisbury Plain) over centuries. The scope is jawdropping, and somehow, the author makes you care about almost everyone of the cast of (probably literally) thousands.
4) What a Carve Up – Jonathan Coe – The hero is employed to write a history of the Winshaw Family, a clan of borderline evil aristocrats, by one of their members. Chapters alternate between modern day (well, early nineties) scenes of him researching, writing, obsessing over the eponymous film and being let down by the Government; some flashbacks to his younger years, and the story of each member of the family, told through diary entries, newspapers articles, and various other forms. And then from about two thirds in, the hero and the family meet, and things get very strange. It’s as laugh out loud hilarious, cleverly plotted, and viciously political.
5) Before I Go to Sleep – AJ Watson – I reviewed this only a few weeks ago. The main character wakes up each morning with no memory of the last few decades or real understanding of who she is. The story is told through the diary she has secretly begun to keep, and the fact that she (and therefore the reader) has no idea what is or isn’t true makes for a disorientating experience.
6) Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – Obviously, this book has been wildly popular recently. For me, it’s not so much the (really rather far-fetched) plot that made me enjoy it, but the clever structure (and some great prose and killer lines). Chapters alternate between Nick’s (the husband) narration, starting with the day of his wife’s disappearance, and Amy’s (the wife) diary entries, dating back from the day the two first met years before, and gradually working up to a few days before her mysterious disappearance. The two storylines didn’t quite mesh, showing what a different perspective two people can have on the same event and keeping me guessing about what was really going on in the main characters’ relationship and what had happened on the day of Amy’s disappearance.
7a) Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson – A chronological story of a girl growing up in Yorkshire in the sixties and seventies is interspersed with stories of her extended family stretching back to about 1900, and told out of order, so that the full picture only gradually becomes clear.
Ones I didn’t enjoy so much but that I admire for trying
7b) Life after Life – Kate Atkinson – The above author’s latest book was a bit of a let down to me, though it’s received rave reviews from many people and is certainly both unique and ambitious. The heroine is born, and dies moments later, choked by her umbilical cord. She is born again, and lives for a few months. The book endlessly returns to the scene of the baby being born, and to numerous scenes of her death – as a baby, a toddler, a teen, an adult. From smallpox, accidents, violence, war. It’s never quite clear whether these are reincarnations, parallel lives, or something in between.
8) A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan – It may have won the Pulitzer Prize, but I just couldn’t fall in love with this. Certainly written in an unusual way though. It consists of several stories, spanning about fifty years, and each centring around a different character, although each of them have links to some of the others, and one seems to be the key connecting link. The stories are told out of chronological order, which makes for some thought provoking moments, and uses different styles, perhaps most noteworthily, the story told in PowerPoint slide format!
9) Room – Emma Donughue – Not one of my favourites, but certainly unique and memorable. It’s narrated by a five year old boy, who has been imprisoned in a single room ever since he was born to his kidnapped and raped mother. The fact that he believes the room to be the whole world, that he has his own names for things, and that he is utterly innocent about the horrors that are really going on makes for a truly unusual voice.
10) The Lovely Bones – the heroine dies (horribly) in the first chapter, and then narrates the rest of the novel from heaven. A little mawkish in parts, but a pretty clever concept.