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A Love of Reading: Reviews of Contemporary Fiction

by Robert Adams

Robert Adams’ A Love of Reading introduces 18 novels published, for the most part, over the last 10 years. Adams first delivered these reviews to packed theatres in Montreal and Toronto. Chapters on Maguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk, translated into English in 1991, and Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, published in 1964, prove exceptions to the rules of recentness and Englishness.

The chatty reviews tend toward the exclamatory and obtrusively personal. Discussing Shyam Selvadurai’s Cinnamon Gardens, Adams proclaims, “I admired so much about the novel.” Adjectives accumulate in attempts to convey satisfaction – “What colourful detail, what clean prose!” – but amid copious plot summaries, reasons for enthusiasm never become clear. Of the last scene of Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Adams exalts: “how beautiful and how moving in its triumph of the human spirit.” All these novels flatten into sameness beneath Adams’ descriptions.

Each chapter includes a potted history applicable to the book under discussion: Sri Lankan politics; the history of Poland; gothic literature; trench warfare. This information is intended as context, yet more important issues of fictional voice, political affiliation, and representation are never raised.

Adams fails to draw any connection between the books, even when several novels on the roster share similar concerns, such as religious delusion or scenes of torture. However, he does often cite parallels between novels and the Bible. Both Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong and Louis de Bernière’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin make Adams think of King David. Again, such analogies demonstrate sameness everywhere, instead of particularity and difference.

For those who have read the novels, A Love of Reading will serve to refresh details of plot. They will not provide insight into the secret workings of contemporary fiction.