But Then I Got High
As well as becoming one of my favourite novelists, Patrick Ness is rapidly becoming one of my favourite reviewers. It helps that the Guardian usually send him exactly the sort of book I’m interested in. This month it is Chronic City by Jonathen Lethem:
Let me say here that I have no idea whether Lethem lights up himself, but without even considering the possibility, I’d already thought the sparkiness of earlier work such as Gun, With Occasional Music and Motherless Brooklyn had gone strangely awol in Lethem’s last two novels, the wide-ranging but frequently dull The Fortress of Solitude and the misfiring romantic comedy You Don’t Love Me Yet. Chronic City is better than both of those, but it’s still sometimes a struggle to see through the sheer haze of pot smoke.
I was surprised that I liked You Don’t Love Me Yet as much as I did but, like Ness, I have found his recent work less satisfying then his earlier work and I was not looking forward to Chronic City with any sense of anticipation. Frankly, it sounds like a mess and the bits that sound good have already been published:
Take Janice’s letters to Chase. Popping up every hundred pages or so, they’re just brilliant… The letters, in fact, are so compelling, they were a standalone short story in the New Yorker last year called “Lostronaut”. And “Lostronaut”, I think, is the Chronic City that might have been; everything Jonathan Lethem is capable of: compellingly odd beauty, a fresh turn of phrase (those “dry little feet”) and a concise, downbeat narrative arc, all delivering insight and emotional impact.
Elsewhere in the paper, Nicholas Lezard makes The Rapture by Liz Jensen his paperback choice:
Thrillers, alas, do not need to be well-written to succeed. (You could tell The Da Vinci Code was garbage from its very first word. But it was still a success.) So when an entertainment is, at the level of the sentence, up to the mark of respectable literary fiction then the entertainment is all the better – and all the more convincing: good prose is, or can feel like, a guarantor of truth, which makes The Rapture a peculiarly unnerving book, and all the more timely for coming in the wake of the failed negotiations of Copenhagen.
My review will be published by Strange Horizons the week after next and yes, it is pretty good. (I did raise an eyebrow at this line from Lezard’s review: “after all, we have been reading about screwed-up weather at least since Martin Amis wrote London Fields“.)