Just two books read (but not reviewed) worth recommending in April but not for the woebegone reason of March’s sad little tally. This time it was the sheer door-stopping size of Philip Hensher’s The Emperor Waltz which weighs in at a chunky 600+ pages. It’s one of those books that having bought it enthusiastically I promptly buried it in the pile, intimidated by its bulk. I wasn’t at all sure I’d get through it but despite its length and meandering structure it was well worth the time invested. There are nine sections and an epilogue. Several sections are set in the ’70s and ’80s in London’s first gay bookshop, several are set against the backdrop of the Bauhaus movement in ’20s Germany and it is these two sets of characters who provide the backbone of the novel, all supposedly linked – albeit very tenuously – by once piece of music. On the whole it works, although the section set in AD 203 and the one in a present-day hospital in which a writer called Philip is recovering from an infection, sat a little uneasily in the rest of the novel for me.
It’s an indication of my new-found enjoyment of short stories that my heart didn’t sink when I realised that Andre Dubus III’s Dirty Love was a collection of four stories rather than a novel. All four are set against the backdrop of a small New England seaside town. In ‘Listen Carefully As Our Options Have Changed’ a man learns a thing or two about himself from a woman he sleeps with after having his unfaithful wife followed. ‘The Bartender’ sees a vain, philandering man – still pretending he’s a poet to any young attractive woman who will listen – faced with the responsibilities of adulthood. In ‘Dirty Love’ – more of a novella than a short story – a young woman whose sexual indiscretion has been broadcast via Facebook comes to live with her uncle who struggles with his guilt at letting her down. By far my favourite is ‘Marla’ in which the eponymous character finally achieves her aim of coupledom only for a nagging internal voice to start carping about her boyfriend’s habits.
That’s it for April, a much happier month for me than March, I’m relieved to say. I hope all those suffering from the same miserable bug I had then have now recovered.