Sunday, 17 July 2016

"It makes you wonder why we bother accumulating, accumulating, when we know from earliest childhood how its all going to end"

I'd planned my summer holiday reading list with extreme care and precision seeking out the titles that I'd hope would suit seven lazy days on the sun. What I hadn't planned for was my kindle crashing out on day 3 - aaaarrrgh!!! Note: Don't leave e-books in direct sunlight, they don't like it :(

I'd packed two paperbacks, and a quick read from The School of Life, but that wasn't going to last a week so I was forced to take emergency measures. Luckily there was a stack of pre-read paper backs in a shady corner of the pool bar just waiting to be picked up. My choice consisted of:

A copy of yesterday's New York Times
Das Perfect Opfer by Gillian Flynn
Eine Kurze Geshichter von fast allem by Bill Bryson
Verschworung by David Lagerkranz
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler 

Needless to say, five minutes later I was back on my sun-bed with my first Anne Tyler. Straight of the back of Hotel du Lac I had been looking forward to something more virile, brawny even, yet here I was about to delve in to a multi-generational American family saga.

A Spool of Blue Thread is epic in its portrayal of a single family, the Whitshanks, across a number of generations. Tyler eases us in gently, the start of the novel is set in contemporary Baltimore and begins tightly with parents Red and Abby and their four grown up kids. The story plods along with occasional tangents that dial in and out on specific characters back stories largely based around the family home itself. 

At times the rabbit holes are gripping, such as the parts about youngest son Stem, but most times you're left wanting a whole lot more. Eldest son Denny is the most interesting character yet we never get chance to read his real backstory.

Some of the prose is touching; "But still, you know how it is when you're missing a loved one. You try to turn every stranger into the person you were hoping for" but other times its all a bit too civil for my taste. Even the rows and fights are well-bred and courteous. 

Anne Tyler is without doubt an accomplished story teller and reading more of her work I'm sure I'd come to understand her idiosyncrasies  For me, this is a rather polite and only partly engrossing summer read but If I was reading this at home in inevitably shorter bursts I'm not sure I'd be able to keep going. The early chapters are strongest but once the story delves back too far in time the narrative unravels. The problem here is knowing when to stop. These characters are clearly very personal to Anne Tyler and I suspect she could continue to write the Whitshank saga for ever. Despite my misgivings I am glad I've read Anne Tyler in a reading list curve ball kinda way. 

I read this novel in paperback in July 2016 by the pool in Dubrovnik, Croatia

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, published by Vintage, 482 pages

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