Monday, February 26, 2018

Paul Howarth

Paul Howarth was born and grew up in Great Britain before moving to Melbourne in his late twenties. He lived in Australia for more than six years, gained dual citizenship in 2012, and now lives in Norwich, United Kingdom, with his family. In 2015, he received a master’s degree from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing program, the most prestigious course of its kind in the UK, where he was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship.

Howarth's new novel is Only Killers and Thieves.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m quite promiscuous when it comes to reading: I tend to pick up and put down a lot of books, dipping in and out, and when I do settle down to read one, I have no qualms giving it up if it’s not working for me. So my TBR pile is fairly chaotic! But, when a book clicks, the two of us are inseparable, and I thought I’d share two recent examples that very much did click with me: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor, and The Heavenly Table, by Donald Ray Pollock.

Reservoir 13 is the story of a small town in rural England in the years following the unsolved disappearance of a young girl. But it isn’t a who-dunnit, a why-dunnit, or an anything-dunnit; in fact, it’s not really about the disappearance at all. This is the story of a community, the intersection of many lives across the years, the cycles of the natural world. The narration is detached and sharp-eyed but always humane, and the many characters’ stories seep from the page in a unique and affecting mosaic style. It’s a terrific book, formally but unobtrusively innovative: the gentle rhythm of the prose washes over the reader like rain.

Donald Ray Pollock’s work, on the other hand, lands like a fist in the face; with his mixture of violence and humour, compassion and filth, it feels like he’s carving a genre all of his own. I’m definitely a fan—I love his writing, his humour, his dark themes, and The Heavenly Table (I’m roughly two thirds of the way through) is an absolute blast. Ostensibly it’s the story of the three Jewett brothers, accidental outlaws on the run through 1917 Ohio, heading for the Canadian border. But the supporting cast is also huge: Pollock employs a rolling, Russian Doll approach, with always-memorable characters pinballing off each other and sparking paragraph after paragraph of witty, comical, or touching asides. Joseph Heller did something similar in Catch-22 (a personal favourite); as Howard Jacobson comments in his introduction to the Vintage Classics edition: characters begetting characters, “as though there is an infection of fertility in them.”

The two novels couldn’t be more different, in terms of setting, tone, and style, but both share an ambition for grand scale story-telling, an admirable refusal to conform, and are both fantastic reads. Next on the list are some recent and forthcoming releases: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, Sal by Mick Kitson, and Tin Man by Sarah Winman; and one I missed when it first came out, Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins…unless, that is, something else catches my roving eye first!
Learn more about Only Killers and Thieves, and follow Paul Howarth on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue