When we come to the end of a very good book, the first thing that most of us do is rush into our local bookshop to find something else by the same author. There’s the expectation that we’ll have a repeat experience and while this isn’t always the case I’ve found some marvellous books by going through a back catalogue or even finding something new on the shelves that they’ve written - joy of joys!
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was a captivating story that quite stole my heart. How, I reasoned, could this author write another great book when he’d obviously poured his heart and soul into his first novel? But the minute A Thousand Splendid Suns arrived in the shop I claimed the first copy to take home for the weekend. As I turned each page (weeping copiously throughout) I marvelled at how Hosseini had brought me back to his homeland, Afghanistan, with a dramatic emotional story that blew me away. It was just as good as his first novel, better even in so many ways.
My introduction to Patrick Gale began with Notes from an Exhibition, a story that followed the life of a wife and mother whose sole purpose in life was to be an artist. Only last week I came across one of his earlier novels, Rough Music, a largely biographical novel, that was utterly compelling from start to finish. It concerns a young boy whose father is a prison governor and whose mother leads an unfulfilled conservative life until a magnetic personality comes along to upset the surburban applecart. From a relatively slow start, this story had me completely enthralled by the end.
Aminatta Forna’s novel, The Hired Man, was a most unusual story set in Croatia, a wounded country that continues to hide its troubled past well beneath sunny skies and pastures green. When tourists come for a summer away from home they don’t notice the long shadows cast over the very place where they are staying but the locals can’t forget the recent ugliness of war that touched them all. Forna’s previous novel, The Memory of Love, lay in wait, an unforgiving story that grips the reader by the throat lest she become complacent as she turns the pages. A British psychologist arrives in an African state riven by civil war, determined to escape his demons. There he makes friends whose personal stories would make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck; dangerous times but life miraculously goes on. It sits now on my new book shelves, waiting and deserving to be reread in the fullness of time.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a powerful story that serves to remind us of great evil perpetrated against our fellow man, and all the more so for having been seen through the eyes of a child. Boyne could not match this story, or so I thought until I discovered A History of Loneliness, a novel that follows Odran, a young priest with a strong vocation. Odran’s faith is unshakeable even though his church is involved in controversy that threatens to undermine the faith of his fathers. While the subject matter made for uncomfortable reading at times, this story was gripping for all the right reasons.
Sometimes you will love just one book in an author’s canon, and other times you’ll read every single piece of work they’ve ever written. For me that also includes Kent Haruf, Elizabeth Strout, Jane Austen, Julian Barnes and Willy Vlautin, each one a writer to their very bones.