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Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (1984, M) – Edith is told by her friends to take some time off, find herself, realize her mistakes, and become a mature woman. She checks in at Hotel du Lac, trying to convince herself that there is no need to do what her friends told her to do. The guests of Hotel du Lac force her to look at things in retrospect, particularly Mr. Neville. Although some furor arose when it won the Booker in 1984, this is nevertheless a contemplative novel on exiles and the exiled.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998, L) – Three women from three different decades are affected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. First is Virginia Woolf herself, who is writing the novel. Second is Laura Brown, a suburban mom who is reading the novel. Third is Clarissa Vaughn, fondly called Mrs. Dalloway by her friends and rightly so, for she mirrors the life of Clarissa Dalloway in many so many ways. The intricate plot is woven with an astounding prose. One may or may not read Mrs. Dalloway first. Either way is okay.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000, L) – A house that is bigger inside than it is on the outside? Yes, that’s the main premise of this voluminous book, and there are parallel story lines that unspool: Navidson’s documentary about the house, Zampano’s study of the documentary, and Truant’s annotation of the study. As if the meta of this book is not enough, appendices, bibliographies, collages, and unconventional typography indeed push the limits of the novel further.
Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (2008, H) – A complex literary act that has multiple layers of fiction, a novel within a novel, a missing manuscript, and more. It begins with the death of Crispin Salvador. “Miguel Syjuco”, the protege, investigates: is this murder or suicide? What follows is a platter full of literariness that can be dismissed as sheer gimmick. I didn’t, and one has to give it to a daring author who pulled it off and snagged the Man Asian Literary Prize.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006, L) – Biju, an illegal immigrate in the U.S., is doing his best to make his and his family’s life better. Sai, a westernized girl, continues to live with his grandfather in their decrepit house in India. The lives of Biju and Sai create a landscape on identity and loss that tears asunder the modern and the traditional, the present and the past.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999, L) – An incandescent collection of short stories that deal with Indians dealing with the cultural differences between their motherland and America. Each story is masterfully written. My favorites would be the opening story, A Temporary Matter, which is about a couple reconsidering their marriage, and the title story, which is about an American Indian family visiting India with a local tour guide.
Ironweed by William Kennedy (1983, M) – Francis is an alcoholic bum who is haunted by one event in his life: he accidentally dropped his baby while he’s drunk. He runs away and all throughout his life, he seems to be just doing that. However, his ghosts come along wherever he goes. The stark quality of its writing mirrors many aspects in the book: New York during the depression, the theme of guilt, and the whole character of Francis.
The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003, M) – A must-read on slavery, The Known World tells about white men owning black men, and black men owning black men. The prose grips the reader right from the start and it makes one take a good look at each character. It swept almost every major literary award, but why it’s continued to be snubbed is a bafflement to me. I daresay that it has long since secured a spot in the list of modern classics. As a reader, that gives me reassurance.
The Land of Green Plums (Herztier) by Herta Müller (1994, H) – A novel about four young adults who suffer under the totalitarian regime of Ceauşescu in Romania, it is remarkable for the sheer effect of its writing. It is told in fragments from the present and the past, and it slowly builds a tension that could only be similar to the oppression that the Romanians experienced during the said regime. A great read that must be slowly devoured.
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004, M) – Set in the 80s during the start of the AIDS revolution, Nick Guest prepares for his postgraduate studies as he explores the life of the upper classes in London, the political atmosphere under Margaret Thatcher, and his own blossoming sexuality. Attracted to beautiful people and beautiful things, Nick wonders if being surrounded with beauty is worth the high price it demands. Hollinghurst writes with great clarity and precision. Each sentence is exact, and this should be on the top of the gay canon, if there’s any.
Stay tuned for Part 5.
Format: [Title] ([Original Title]) by [Author] ([Publication Year, LSS Meter Level])
This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).