I don’t get jetlag.
Correction. I’ve never had jetlag before this year.
My journeys across the Atlantic reached double figures some time ago if you count there and back again as two, and aside from a depressed appetite (no bad thing!) and a couple of very early nights at the beginning of each vacation and a twelve-hour zonk-out the first night home, I don’t seem to have reacted much at all to the time changes, even when they were the eight-hour variety.
But, perish the thought, I must be getting old. Or something. This year, a week after the return journey, if sleeping were an Olympic sport I’d be a gold medal hope. And the time change was only five hours.
I expect I’ll get over it. Meanwhile, on the subject of sleep, there’s this book. Before I Go To Sleep. S J Watson. You may have heard of it. It keeps winning awards; the latest nomination is for the McCavitys. And, oh yes, my daughter posted about it a couple of weeks ago while I was away.
Actually it was that same daughter who gave it to me. Like her, I wasn’t going to read it. I have an inbuilt resistance to books that win awards; when I’ve been persuaded to read them in the past, I’ve far too often found them, well, let’s say a tad on the pretentious side.
But Meriel and I often have similar tastes in books, and she’d actually paid out money for the copy in my birthday book mountain a few weeks ago. I decided to give it a whirl.
And I’m glad I did. For the most part I have to agree with Meriel’s up-sum: tight plot, well realized characters and writing to die for. I’d add good setting to that list. What more does a book need?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for good writing, by which I mean the kind that’s so in tune with the subject matter that you hardly notice it’s there. This qualified.
But... You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?
The thing is, I don’t understand why it’s been up for all those crime fiction awards, first here in the UK and now in the US. The Desmond Elliott Prize, OK – that’s for a first novel in any genre. The TV Book Club also doesn’t discriminate. But it’s also won five major crime fiction prizes and is nominated for two more which are yet to be announced.
Because for me it’s not a crime novel.
It’s not even a thriller, certainly not in the fast-paced, action-on-every-page style of thrillers I’ve been reading recently. And though it explores the workings of the human mind, I’m not even sure that it’s a psychological thriller. And the more I think about it, the more I’m moved to wonder whether the author intended it to be one.
I’m sure he’s delighted it’s won all the plaudits and is still clinging to the bestseller lists. I certainly would be in his shoes. But as I read it, with great absorption, in three or four sessions while I was on vacation earlier this month, I had a growing sense that I was reading quality literary fiction. Not the artsy kind that’s all clever ideas and look-at-me writing: the real quality kind, in which something actually happens and you can connect to the people it happens to and the writing is just plain good. I’ve read examples of both kinds recently (my tastes do sometimes veer outside the realm of the triumph of good over evil) and this book was quite definitely my kind – but still it came over as litfic, not mysteryfic.
This view even seems to be supported by evidence. S J Watson is quite proud of the book’s origins: he took a course in creative writing run by one of the UK’s foremost small-ish literary publishers. Think T S Eliot. William Golding. Gunter Grass. Kazuo Ishiguro. So I can’t help feeling he was steered, not unwillingly, towards the literary end of fiction rather than the less lofty genre side that we Dead Guy bloggers revel in.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this matters. I still enjoyed the book, certainly don’t begrudge S J his very healthy sales figures. I wish the guy every success as he pursues his new career and shall be looking out for his next book.
I suppose what I am saying is something along these lines: when it comes to literary awards, crime and mystery fiction is cast as very much the poor relation. So what’s a literary novel doing winning crime and mystery prizes?