Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tinkers and Inkers

There is nothing better than reading a book you enjoy so much that you can’t stop talking or thinking about it. It doesn’t happen nearly enough but I just love it when I am in the middle of a book that I think about idly through the day; longing for the moment when I can snatch a few minutes to read a little more. Once I have finished a book like this I am often disappointed in whatever I happen to read next. Recently, I have been fortunate enough to read two excellent books back to back.

First I read Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor, a Sydney author, followed by Tinkers by Paul Harding, which has just won the Pulitzer Prize. Being such different books, and especially enjoyable for markedly different reasons probably helped me to appreciate each fully because I wasn’t comparing them closely and finding more favour with one than the other. In a very broad way I would have to say that I liked Tinkers for style and Indelible Ink for content.

I felt completely immersed in the world of Indelible Ink; a Sydney that makes sense to me. McGregor captures the sense of being in Sydney like no other book I can think of. Her characters are so realistic that they both reminded me of specific people I know, and felt like rounded and complete individuals know to me as real people, not just two-dimensional sketches delivering dialogue and performing actions. While I was reading it I went to a couple of places mentioned in the book and very mildly freaked out; I almost expected the streets to have changed since I saw them last, as though the book had happened to them.

Another manifestation of McGregor’s brilliant ability to create such an “on point” sense of place is the contrast in feeling between the North Shore and Inner City suburbs that she brings to life. “Crossing the bridge” is a real and metaphorical boundary to breach for Sydneysiders and it is depicted here in a way that makes real the metaphorical; it is common for residents to complain about having to “cross the bridge” (no matter which side they are starting from) and McGregor manages to colour in the spaces between such a thin sounding complaint. North and South/East/West really are two different worlds. People think differently, the streets and houses look different, the atmosphere is – somehow – completely distinct.

The result of a story based around such lifelike characters playing out their dramas in a cityscape that so closely reflects my own home brought an immediacy to my reading of the novel. I’m not able to separate my knowledge and experience of Sydney from my appreciation of the book. I think that it would still be a great read, although perhaps not quite as gripping or all-consuming. So far I have only heard Sydney-centric feedback and I look forward to finding out how readers unfamiliar with life in Sydney respond to Indelible Ink.

Tinkers was a delight to read. I read the tiny little US edition (just before a local Australian release in standard small-format paperback). It really is impressive packaging design. Being slightly shorter, it is closer to a square shape and makes the book fell hugely covetable. Reading from it and holding it is like handling a secret little treasure.

“A literary meditation.” This was how I described the book to Tallboy and it seems to perfectly sum it up for me. It is quite easy and gentle to read but I found myself pausing to think about the images, ideas and themes explored. Harding very subtly slides them into the narrative almost unnoticeably, so that all of a sudden several ideas have slipped through that need to be mulled over. For such a short book, it took a long time to read – almost a week. But this wasn’t a struggled read; it was a very calm and pleasant perambulating read.

Once I had finished Tinkers, I wanted to read something equally literary and well written. I thought about Richard Yates as I have a volume of collected stories of which I have only read a fraction. I realised that I didn’t want the magic of Tinkers to fade so quickly, and decided to read something light and rather silly before tackling the Yates. It turned out to be a good tactic, and good old Georgette Heyer came to the rescue once again. Now I feel refreshed and ready for another meaty read.