A few weeks back I found myself listening to The Readers podcast with interest as they discussed the relative merits of reading confronting books rather than more comforting choices. It gave me a lot to consider as I am not averse to picking up novels with grim or controversial subject matter that others might shy away from. I think it is something to do with curiosity and a desire to try and understand how the mind works and why people behave the way they do. I find it interesting to read reviews that say things like "this book was accomplished, it was thought-provoking, but I cannot say I enjoyed it". Is it possible to enjoy passing time with a book if the plot is about a topic that makes you uneasy in real life?
All this made me think of this excellent book I read a few months ago that tackles the horrible subject of child abduction. This one came to my attention when it was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction earlier this year.
Bonnie Nadzam has written a really powerful character study in David Lamb. Many comparisons have been made between this book and Nabokov's Lolita, but
other than the basic plotline I didn't find them to be all that similar.
Lamb lacks the overtly sexual tones present in its predecessor, which makes for a more ambiguous read. I was often unsure to what extent he truly believed he was doing the right thing by Tommie, even when it was startlingly clear to the reader that his actions were deplorable. It is both fascinating and chilling to watch the situation snowball out of control as Lamb gets a buzz from his power and manipulation. A strong sense of foreboding builds as events progress, and I had absolutely no idea how things were going to end for Lamb and Tommie.
As a reader I am usually drawn to vivid characterisation and tight plot first, and language and prose second. But I cannot stress enough how beautiful Nadzam's writing is. I was seriously impressed by her lyrical turns of phrase. The book is peppered with descriptive passages that are absolutely gorgeous, drawing a lush picture of the isolated countryside around Lamb's cabin. It is a really accomplished novel, and even more so considering this is her debut.
I think this is a perfect example of how books can be 'confronting' in subject matter but at the same time be enjoyable to read, thanks to the lovely way it is written. How do you feel about reading 'confronting' books? Do you have any to recommend to me?
I was grateful to receive a copy this book for review from Netgalley via Random House UK.