STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS READ:

  • How I Live Now—Meg Rosoff
  • Liars and Saints—Maile Meloy
  • Through a Glass Darkly: Life of Patrick Hamilton—Nigel Jones
  • Father and Son—Edmund Gosse
  • The Siege of Pleasure—Patrick Hamilton
  • So Many Books—Gabriel Zaid

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Chekov: A Life in Letters
  • Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters
  • The Letters of Kingsley Amis
  • Soldiers of Salamis—Javier Cercas
  • Timoleon Vieta Come Home—Dan Rhodes
  • The Wisdom of Crowds—James Surowiecki
  • Liars and Saints—Maile Meloy
  • Stasiland: Stories from behind the Berlin Wall—Anna Funder
  • Seven Types of Ambiguity—Elliot Perlman

Sex with cousins: are you for or against? I only ask because the first two books I read this month, Maile Meloy’s Liars and Saints and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, answer the question with a resounding affirmative. (It’s a long story, but in Liars and Saints, the couple in question is under the impression that they’re actually uncle and niece, rather than cousins—and even that doesn’t stop ’em! Crikey!) People are always plighting their troth to and/or screwing their cousins in Hardy and Austen, but I’d always presumed that this was because of no watercoolers, or speed-dating, or college dances; what is so dispiriting about Liars and Saints and How I Live Now is that they are set in the present, or even in the near-future, in the case of the latter book. No offense to my cousins—or, indeed, to Believer readers who prefer to keep things in the family—but is that really all we have to look forward to?

I know that when it comes to subconscious sexual deviation there’s no such thing as coincidence, but I swear I haven’t been scouring the bookshops for novels about the acceptable face of incest. I picked up Liars and Saints because it’s been blurbed by both Helen Fielding and Philip Roth, and though I enjoyed the book, that conjunction set up an expectation that couldn’t ever be fulfilled: sometimes blurbs can be too successful. I was hoping for something bubbly and yet achingly world-weary, something diverting and yet full of lacerating and unforgettable insights about the human condition, something that was fun while being at the same time no fun at all, in a bracing sort of a way, something that cheered me up while making me want to hang myself. In short, I wanted Roth and Fielding to have cowritten the book, and poor Maile Meloy couldn’t deliver. Liars and Saints is a fresh, sweet-natured first novel, but it’s no Nathan Zuckerman’s Diary. (Cigarettes—23, attacks of Weltschmerz—141, etc.)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Nick Hornby is the author of five books, most recently Songbook. He lives in north London.


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