“I write essays about life with a chronic medical problem,” I tell the editor when we meet at a literary event. I don’t go into the details—that I was born with a neurological condition, hydrocephalus, which is treated with a device called a shunt. Periodically the shunt malfunctions and I get headaches and other strange symptoms that only brain surgery can alleviate. During those times, having hydrocephalus is frightening and painful, but when the shunt is working, as it is this evening at the bookstore, I barely think about it—that is, outside the context of my writing.
“We publish pieces on disability,” the editor says, handing me his card. I thank him and walk away. I don’t want to leave a bad first impression by saying something contradictory.
But I don’t have a disability, I think to myself. Or do I?
‘These buildings are the tombstones of the dreams and lives that were lived here. It’s a huge cemetery of dreams, if not of people.” From the top of an old Soviet apartment block, Serhii Plokhy looks over Pripyat. “On the one hand it looks like a normal city; on the other hand you see windows without glass, streets without people and town squares taken over by forests.” Now the ghost town is used by the Ukrainian army for sniper practice and has also become a tourist attraction.
Whatever a writer has in mind while writing, a novel sinks or swims according to its merits. There were stories in The Distance Home that I wanted more of, and others I wanted less of, and I sometimes wished the book had been written as a memoir. Freed of the burden of plotting, the sheer, raw power of this family’s story – so unusual in its context and emblematic in its agonies – might have been plumbed to its depths. The moments when that was achieved made me yearn for more.
Every book of Fforde’s seems to be a cause for celebration and a source of pleasure for many people, and for good reason. “Early Riser” may not be my favorite of his novels, but I laughed and had fun. As long as he keeps his literary party going, I’ll keep dropping in.
Sadie Jones’s fourth novel revisits the themes of isolation, shame and estrangement that we’ve come to look for in the work of this provocative and astute writer.
Mr Dreyer says he considered calling the book “The Last Word”, but decided against: “There’s no rule without an exception (well, mostly), there’s no thought without an afterthought (at least for me), there’s always something you meant to say but forgot to say. There’s no last word, only the next word.” This is what to look for in a language book: authority without arrogance. There is always more to learn.