My Library Thing widget should update soon to show I’ve been on a reading fest – three books in three days is a lot for me! – and only happened because a neck problem has kept me off the golf-course and also the P.C. So far this week I have clocked up a racy historical novel, a contemporary family story and a fictional biography (which I haven’t yet finished).
How would I summarise my literary tastes? Not sure, but I was disconcerted to see Monica Ali described in the Telegraph as ‘middle-brow’, as if that were a bad thing. I haven’t read her latest books but I thoroughy enjoyed Brick Lane and I woud say it is roughly representative of a lot of what I read. And what I read is probaby what I aspire to in my writing. So that makes me middle-brow too. But who wants to be low-brow writer (poor or formulaic writing?) and who would lay caim to high-brow (obscure and with a limited market?) The whole ‘brow’ idea is clearly a lazy shorthand which lets us put someone down without explaining our real reasons. If I have to choose one, it’s still going to be the middle ground.
If for ‘high-brow’ we can read ‘literary’, my current read probably does fall in that category. Jill Dawson’s ”The Great Lover’ is about Rupert Brooke. I chose it as an example of historical fiction that deals with a real (and not too distant) figure – something I’m about to attempt myself. I like the way it uses his maid at Grantchester (not just a servant but also the keeper of the honey bees) as the second narrator. As such it’s a good example of the technique of ‘fictional minor character’ as a vehicle for historical fiction, something I’m thinking about too. In this case Brooke himself also has a voice which is convincing but so far less compelling – perhaps the problem with a hero who is, as he should be, a man of light and shade, i.e. he carries a lot of the narrative but I’m not sure I like him! Still it’s early days, and the beautifully evoked atmosphere (smell those scones!) is beginning to pull me in.