I finished David Nicholls' One Day the, er, other day. I raved about it on here last week, with 80 pages left to go. My feelings have changed somewhat. I don't want to ruin the book for you, because I really think you should read it, but the last pages certainly made me rethink my enthusiasm.
There's a traumatic event near the end, which is OK - arbitrary, but OK. But. But, but but. It means that the most sympathetic and convincing narrative voice is silenced, and the actions of the remaining characters are simply their (fairly predictable) responses - the book fizzles out with the loss and becomes an exercise in tying up loose ends. Emma's involvement is ended on a beautiful, economic sentence in the present tense - why not end it there and let the audience worry about the consequences? That's what readers like - that lovely sense, at the end of a great book, of wondering, feeling, hoping and caring about characters.
At the same time, a parallel narrative starts to appear, presenting an alternative past in which the protagonists got together as soon as they met, rather than becoming friends while leading diverse lives. I thought that this worked very well - but why start doing it in the last 8o pages? Why not do it from the start, in a much more sustained fashion. Bunging this in at the end just awakened me to the possibility that a much more interesting book had been smothered for no apparent reason.
So anyway - still a lovely book, but flawed. I only thought of it just now because I opened more parcels:
Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog. For some reason, I was convinced I'd already received this, but no. I love Atkinson's work - great narrative voices. Totally underrated.
Clifford Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures, because someone nicked my copy of this theory classic. As my so-called educationalist superiors are busy using Geertz to abandon the concept of humanist education, I thought I'd remind myself of what he actually had to say. It's his birthday today - born 1926.
Finally, The Autumn 2010 issue of New Welsh Review, the essential Welsh cultural and literary periodical.