Granta Books, $19.99 pb, 263 pp, 9781783781065
For the most part, we move among books with ease, passing from one writer's prose to another without having to adjust the frequency of our inner ear. We detect shifts in style and sensibility, sure, but as readers we open ourselves to such a wide harmonic range that, should multiple books arrive on our lap with the authors' names deleted, we could segue from page to page without stumbling over minor variations.
Then there are those other writers, the ones with idiolects so distinct that their sentences startle us. Think of Nadine Gordimer, Shirley Hazzard, Clarice Lispector, or Janette Turner Hospital. We find ourselves seeking such writers precisely because of the temperament that makes their pages distinct. The first or even third encounter with their work can feel like a jolt, but as readers we often cling to our favourite writers precisely because of their differences. In this way, the taste and sensation of a book remains with us long after we forget the marriage plot or how the detective discovers whodunit.
In much contemporary fiction, point of view works like wallpaper to which we grow accustomed, usually within the first paragraph. We follow the first-person narrative, convinced that this story, told at this time, is absolutely necessary. And even if we can't find those notes from our literature class that remind us how to define the intricacies of the third person, we recognise them when we see them.