On 9/11 this year, the Bangkok Post carried a New York Times article complaining of an impending autumn glut in the States of fresh spoor by ‘a pride of literary lions’, among them Tom Wolfe, Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan, whose Sweet Tooth is to be ‘released in November’. Uh oh?
I was aware that that book had been published in late August in Britain and, before my flight to France on September 6 I did a fruitless round of the local bookshops to find it to read on the plane. At Central Pinklao, in desperation I bought another novel instead, a slim pocketbook by a Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner, 2003 (!), which the cover told me ‘sold 21 million copies worldwide’, wow!
This, by the way, was the occasion for a delightful (and rare) conversation with a young attendant who was well versed in Thai literature, was also eager to perfect his English by reading the best contemporary American and British novelists, and sought my advice. I slighly obliged: start with Norman Mailer, John Updike and Don DeLillo and, across the pond, with Martin Amis and Ian McEwan.
I finally found Sweet Tooth, in its trade version, at the airport, minutes before departure, started it once on board, switched to the other while we flew over Kabul, and finished both over the next few days.
I was delighted by McEwan’s for once ludic legerdemains, ostensibly showing us how tricks of fiction are achieved only to trick us further while performing them.
But I still prefer On Chesil Beach. Atonement, you say? Give me a break: who reads Jane Austen these days?
For the purpose of this entry, I’ve just read on the net half a dozen British press professional critics’ verdicts on Sweet Tooth and the one closest to my appreciation of the novel is by a J.C. Sutcliffe writing in … The Globe & Mail. I’ll direct you to that article, and even more so to her ‘postprandial’ musings in her Slightly Bookist blog, which I’m putting on my reading list.
As for The Kite Runner, it’s a tearjerker all right, well deserving of its millions of readers. Actually a better time-killer on international flights in its grin and grim manipulations and textbook exposure of Afghan shenanigans than that so typically Brit-toff Sweet Tooth, which, sure, can appeal to the mainstream but is so much more enjoyable when you have the bookish baggage to delve deep into its layers of double-entendres, reminiscences and literary winks.