Moriarty's The Cracks in the Kingdom is the second novel in The Colors of Madeleine series.
Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am in the middle of a reading experiment. There’s been a lot of talk around, lately, about whether enough attention is paid to novels written by women. There’s also been talk about whether adults should be reading books written for young adults. All this talk has made me realise that, mostly, and without meaning to, all I seem to read are novels by women or YA fiction.Visit Jaclyn Moriarty's website and blog.
So I’ve decided that, for one year, every second book I read will be an adult novel by a male author. I’m a few months into the experiment. Some of the authors I’ve read as my alternates include Tim Gautreaux, James Joyce, Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway and Haruki Murakami. Here are my initial observations:
- When I’m reading one of my usual choice of book, I smile whenever I think about it. All day, I look forward to reading. But when I’m reading one of the alternates, I tend to get a neutral expression on my face when I think about it. (When I was reading Joyce, I got a grim yet resolute expression.) In fact, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the alternates––I found them brilliant, intriguing and rewarding––they just (mostly) haven’t shouted at me to drop everything, put my child in front of the TV, get a cup of tea, and read. This is what my usual choices do.
- But some did shout at me. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and Nabokov’s Pnin are examples. They both had the irony and inventiveness that I admired in some of the other alternates, but there was also the humour, passion and vibrant characters I like, and often seem to find in novels by women and YA fiction.
- In Pnin, I especially liked the way Professor Pnin is irritated by noises. They expand in his mind. In one scene, a toilet is flushed in the middle of the night and ‘it brought down the house’. It’s such a great metaphor! The toilet flushes and it’s like an explosion, and also like a huge burst of applause! Afterwards, I saw that a critic had considered the phrase ‘incorrect in this context’. The critic blamed shortcomings in Nabokov’s English.
- Another two alternates that made me happy even when I wasn't reading them were David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. These might have been cheating because Levithan and Gaiman also write for young people. The Lover’s Dictionary was just as powerful, incisive and beautifully written as Levithan’s YA books; Stardust was just as poised, funny and atmospheric as Gaiman's books for young people.
- Actually, as far as I could see, only two things made Stardust an ‘adult book’: (1) Gaiman says, in the Introduction (to the edition I read), that he was ‘writing a book for adults, a fairy tale for those who liked and appreciated that kind of thing’; and (2) there are a couple of sex scenes and swear words. This made me wonder whether publishers should just highlight the sex and bad language in YA books so as to make them acceptable reading for adults. Or there could be a standard paragraph of sex/bad language added to the adult edition of any YA/children’s book. Critics who worry about adults-reading-books-for-young-people could then relax.
- I deliberately broke the rules of my experiment twice. The first time was when I’d been feeling very low for a few days. I was supposed to read an alternate, but I read three Jane Gardam books instead: a short story collection (Going into a Dark House) and two novels (Flight of the Maidens and The Queen of the Tambourine). I loved their intelligence, warmth and wonder. They made me happy. I returned to the experiment.
- The second time I cheated was when my sister (Liane Moriarty) asked me to read the manuscript of her new novel, Big Little Lies. It’s her best book yet. It’s about the politics of parenting, friendship between women, and dark secrets in relationships, and it’s complex, powerful, moving, super-paced, and hilarious.
- Three YA books I’ve read and loved during my experiment include Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner (which made me want to play bridge), Kirsty Eagar’s Night Beach (a gothic surfing novel) and Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective (a musical mystery set in St Kilda, Melbourne). Both Night Beach and Girl Defective explore, with insight, humour and sensitivity, the lives of teenage girls whose parents are flawed or absent. There’s a powerful scene in Kirsty Eagar’s novel where, in a surreal dream-state, the protagonist has to eat the pieces of paper on which she had written her ‘hopes’ as a child: ‘Each hope is worded differently, but they’re all saying the same thing: I hope we can be a family again.’
- People have written dismissively about fiction by women as being all about love and rooms, clothes and conversation (or, more succinctly, as chicklit). YA has been condemned as being all about angst and vampires. I guess I could say that manlit is just hunting and shooting, or it’s just satirical narratives capturing the zeitgeist by depicting selfish people doing drugs and having sordid affairs. But I won’t say that, because books by men can be about anything at all, and those that are about hunting, shooting and/or sordid affairs, can be genius, and there are plenty of readers who delight in books about those topics, and who am I to say they shouldn't be delighted?
- My interim conclusion is this: it all depends on why you’re reading. If you’re reading because you want to explore new ideas and places, and the breadth of language and literature, then it’s a good idea to read books by authors of every gender (and every sexuality, race and culture, and books of every genre, and books written for every age group). But if you’re reading for pleasure, to make your heart sing, and to save yourself from melancholy, then read the books that speak to you. I don’t mean this as an ‘Art’ v ‘Entertainment’ dichotomy: the books that sing to me are art. I just mean that books take on different dimensions depending on their reader. The idea that people ‘should not’ read a particular type of book––and, in particular, that they should not read YA––makes me angrier than that critic who thought Nabokov’s phrase was ‘incorrect’. Critics get things wrong. Read what you like.
The Page 69 Test: The Cracks in the Kingdom.