A Giller Award winner from 2000, Mercy Among the Children is David Adams Richards’ story of an impoverished family living in small town New Brunswick is very well told but equally as bleak. The family endures ridicule and abuse from neighbours while they have barely two nickels to rub together. Sydney, the father, is stoic throughout but frustratingly so. It feels like if he lashed out a few times at his distractors, the family fortunes would have been a lot different.
In 1998 The Modern Library ranked Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury as the sixth best English language novel of all time. The novel is broken up into different narratives with each relating to the Compson family of Jefferson Mississippi. The book jumps back and forth in time and often in a stream of conciseness that makes it hard to follow. My favourite part of the book was brother Quentin wandering the streets and trying to find the home of a young Italian girl he befriends on his walk. The reviews on Goodreads vacillate between rating The Sound and the Fury was one of the greatest books of all time to being completely incomprehensible. I fall into the latter, I had no idea what was happening and enjoyed very little this novel.
David Mitchell’s third novel, 2004’s Cloud Atlas was later adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks. Winning the British Book Awards Literary Fiction and nominated for several other awards, the novel is actually six connected stories that are split into halves. The first story takes place in the mid nineteenth century and each book then takes place at a different point in time including well into the future. Some readers will like other stories more. Letters from Zedelghem follows the tale of a British musicians working with a Belgian composer who then becomes involved with the composer’s wife. Luisa Rey is a murder mystery while Timothy Cavendish is an entertaining look at a British book publisher.
I wasn’t quite as interested in the more futuristic stories that took up a large portion of the middle of the book and turned into a hard slog of reading. The problem was that by the time I returned to the other stories, I had forgotten parts of what was happening so took several pages to get into it again. An interesting concept but one that does have its share of flaws.
Another novel listed on the Modern Library List mentioned above, Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 book Slaughterhouse Five came in at number 18. The satirical look at war and life, it tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim who fought in WWII then came back to the US to be an optometrist, gets married and is eventually abducted by aliens. It’s a humourous book that also veers between space and time, which seems to be a theme in recent book choices, but is far easier to follow. No matter where he is, Pilgrim seems to be one step out of sync with the rest of society as the world twists around him. “So it goes”, a true classic.