Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A book to devour

It's sometime since I've been really satisfied by a novel, but here was an unexpected jewel that I picked up because it was on offer at a mass market bookseller at Dover's ferry docks. I hadn't previously heard of Bloom or the novel itself, but I will look out for more Bloom on the strength of Away.

While I was describing the story to a friend, I realised that most of my favourite books are about people making journeys and surviving in snowy wastes - This Thing of Darkness, Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow, the People's Act of Love and The Tenderness of Wolves spring to mind. And in the classics, one of the books that has risen up my top five list in the last few years is Frankenstein, where once again the denouement takes place in the Arctic circle.

The journey of Lilian Leyb in Away is epic and dangerous in a multitude of ways, and although Lilian does at times seem a little opaque, the cast of supporting characters she meets are rich and varied and Bloom somehow skewers them very delicately. I heard a radio review of the novel by an academic at Georgetown University who trashed the book for being 'a pale Yiddish imitation of Toni Morrison's Beloved', full of stereotypical characters, but actually, I thought that was desperately unfair. I have read Beloved, which I have to say I liked a good deal less than Away, although it is many years since I read it, but actually, I didn't see that much in common between the books. There is something gloriously life-affirming in Away - Lilian has terrible, difficult experiences, but there is an unquenchable optimism to Bloom, and I also found Bloom's style much more accessible. It is very pared down, but when she uses imagery, it is sharp and clear and unforced. I actually thought of Austen although that may be because I am currently re-reading Pride and Prejudice. But Bloom has a delicate hand with irony and the book has some delicious set-pieces as well as a narrative flow that swept me along with some regret to the end.

And by the way, for those familiar with my evil end-reading habits, I gave only the briefest of glances at the end.... the journey there was too enthralling for me to head for the final section without having read the middle.

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