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message 1: by David (last edited Feb 14, 2011 06:24PM) (new)

David (nullnvoid) PACING: No strong preference either way. But the pace should be slow enough to allow for some meaningful characterizations and detail. Not many people can do Hemingway. Sometimes not even Hemingway.

STORYLINE: Not too self-serious. No 'silliness.' Not a fan of melodrama or stories that rely to heavily on coincidence or strange happenstance. No bloated Victorian narratives. Psychological elements take precedence over action or plot. Characterization is more important than getting from A to Z.

FRAME: I am a fan of 'bleak' frames (perhaps with sardonic humor). Nothing too lighthearted or frivolous. No fantastical or magical realism framing please. No aridity or intellectual show-offiness (i.e., Pynchon, Gaddis). The narrative must have life and be populated by passionate, volatile human beings. (For an example of the cold, robotic, overly cerebral characters I hate, see the characters of Simone de Beauvoir's The Mandarins or the narrator of The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul.)

CHARACTERIZATION: Perspective doesn't matter. Can be unlikable but not irritating. Usually not a fan of heavy-dialect narrators or stream-of-consciousness (Faulkner can get away with it, but not many other people).

message 2: by karen, future RA queen (last edited Feb 14, 2011 06:32PM) (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
this is perfect, but a tough one. i keep being about to type a title and then remembering how it would violate at least one criterion.

the best i can do right now is to recommend patrick hamilton? he has been called the urban thomas hardy, but he does not do the coincidence thing you claim to hate. he is generally bleak, but skates the edge of melodrama - i think you should be fine. his writing is dense with a lot of internal access. he does melancholy and missed opportunities well.

i also recommend dawn powell to you, but you know that. i am not done thinking for you yet - this one is going to be fun.

message 3: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal (kidsisyphus) I'm surprised you haven't read more Ishiguro, David. He might flirt with what you term the 'bloated Victorian narrative,' but he's got the psychological elements and bleakness down. Maybe check out Never Let Me Go (unless, cinephile that you are, you've already seen the movie, in which case...).

message 4: by Greg (last edited Feb 15, 2011 04:39PM) (new)

Greg | 117 comments I think David already read at least one Patrick Hamilton. The first thing that came to mind was Ingeborg Bachmann, she reminds me of a less misanthropic Thomas Bernhard type.

message 5: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) man, David you could be describing my preferences to a T.

and for that reason, I have one suggestion:

Graham Greene!

message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) I love Ingeborg Bachman.

and I am also thinking of Javier Marias.

message 7: by David (new)

David (nullnvoid) Yes, I loved Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude, and I own Hangover Square.

I haven't read Ishiguro or Javier Marias.

I've never heard of Ingeborg Bachmann.

And Graham Greene? Don't know if I'm ready. Yet.

message 8: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
i like the unconsoled by ishiguro best, so i think david should read any one EXCEPT that.

message 9: by Greg (last edited Feb 15, 2011 04:41PM) (new)

message 10: by David (last edited Feb 14, 2011 06:48PM) (new)

David (nullnvoid) Thanks for all these suggestions, people. I will look them over in due time.

message 11: by Greg (new)

Greg | 117 comments I think he would like Unconsoled.

message 12: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) he should read Bachmann cause she's a chick.

message 13: by David (new)

David (nullnvoid) Ingeborg is a broad's name? Poor thing.

message 14: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
really machado?? i mean, i love him like crazy, but he is not really one for dense characterization. except maybe in helena. but i think everyone should read him.

message 15: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) et oui. Austrian.

message 16: by Greg (new)

Greg | 117 comments And she died in a spectacularly ironic manner.

message 17: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) yes, awful...

electrocuted, no?

message 18: by Greg (new)

Greg | 117 comments Fell asleep smoking and burned to death, but she had at least one character in a story die in the same way.

message 19: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) oh, that is awful.

there is a different woman who died from electrocution then, I have to think who that was now... think she was Latin American.

message 20: by Bill (new)

Bill | 21 comments i've never heard of bachmann. what's a good novel of hers to start with?

message 21: by Greg (new)

Greg | 117 comments Last Living Words is a good collection of short stories with a touch of her poetry (shameless review plug:,
The only longer work of hers I've read so far is The Book of Franza which I found very good, but it's apparently the second in a series, I haven't read the first one yet, but I think it's a thematic rather than narrative series (shameless review plug 2:

message 22: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) I've only so far read her stories, which I love.

message 23: by Greg (new)

Greg | 117 comments Max Frisch might be worth checking out, I don't have much experience with him, but I'm Not Stiller had that bleak European feel to it.

message 24: by Bill (new)

Bill | 21 comments thanks greg...i'll have to get those. good reviews got two like votes out of the deal so shameless review plugs obviously work.

message 25: by karen, future RA queen (last edited Feb 15, 2011 05:21PM) (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
i pipe up with Heinrich Boll in the new melville house editions. i only read a couple of stories for my book club, but i think you would like them. for the same reasons of dense, european bleakness.

message 26: by Mir (new)

Mir | 191 comments If you like writing from the first half of the century, perhaps Rebecca West or Elizabeth Bowen?

More recent, maybe Carol Goodman, though I've only read one of hers.

message 27: by karen, future RA queen (last edited Feb 15, 2011 05:57PM) (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
this just came in today, and you might like it. but it is brand new, so i know nothing about it except despite its being nyrb, it made me think of you.


message 28: by Mir (new)

Mir | 191 comments I'm currently reading Time Must Have a Stop, that might fit your criteria. It perhaps seems a little intellectual by today's standards, but I don't think was intended that way. It is pretty much all characterization.

message 29: by Flannery, html whiz (new)

Flannery (flannabanana) | 63 comments Mod
In an effort to have all the recommended books and authors easily accessible next to the query above, here is a list of books and authors that weren't linked above:

Never Let Me Go
To the Lighthouse
The Slaves of Solitude
Hangover Square
The Unconsoled
Last Living Words: The Ingeborg Bachmann Reader
The Book of Franza & Requiem for Fanny Goldmann

Patrick Hamilton
Kazuo Ishiguro
Graham Greene
Javier Marías
Rebecca West
Elizabeth Bowen
Carol Goodman

And now, back to regularly scheduled programming...

message 30: by Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse) (last edited Feb 15, 2011 07:56PM) (new)

Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse) | 72 comments Coetzee?

NVM, you've got him on your read list (at least I see you ranked him highly!).

ETA: How about Stephen Wright's Meditations In Green or Going Native? bleak - edging toward harsh, sardonic, psychological, gorgeously written without being anything close to a bloated "Victorian."

message 31: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
there is always Half of a Yellow Sunwhich is one of my favorites. it satisfies your need for bleak (it is biafra, after all), she (yes, SHE, it's about time you let a lady-writer into your life) is not at all showy or experimental. nor is she melodramatic. the only thing that may turn you off is that it is not strongly psychological. the situation carries the novel, but it is not plot-driven - it is most certainly filled with passionate and volatile human beings.i don't recall there being any dialect in it, but it seems likely that there is. (but nothing like the way book of the night women is. also a fantastic book, but maybe not for you.) it is just a finely wrought novel about a historical atrocity that manages to show the effects on a number of different characters equally well.

message 32: by Jen (new)

Jen (missonethousandspringblossoms) | 60 comments I want to say A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan but cannot remember if there is dialect? Karen?

message 33: by Brian R. (new)

Brian R. Mcdonald Little Bee fits most of the OP's criteria. Bleakish, psychological, medium pacing, strong characterization. I didn't like several of he characters to the point where it affected my enjoyment negatively, but YMMV. One of the two narrators starts out a little dialecty but it eases up in the later bits.

message 34: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
i went to check, and we are sold out.... i have never read it. others??

message 35: by Jen (new)

Jen (missonethousandspringblossoms) | 60 comments PACING: Slower

STORYLINE: Not silly. Lots of psychological activity as the main character deals with a plague outbreak and is the sheriff and undertaker.

FRAME: Bleak. Stark. Creepy...Dancing with death and madness.
CHARACTERIZATION: The only second person voice I have ever read that really works without being obnoxious.

I gave it five stars, but we don't much agree, except on maybe True Grit. But Mike gave it five as well and I think Donald read it and liked it as well.

message 36: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
wait - that's for the o'nan?

message 37: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
A Prayer for the Dying

i add a link!

message 38: by David (new)

David (nullnvoid) Thank you for your comments/recommendations, everyone! I will give them all due consideration and report back.

(I started The Naked and the Dead quite a few years ago but never made it past the half-way point.)

message 39: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) I was just about to post:
I wonder how many of these books David is even going to go near?

message 40: by David (new)

David (nullnvoid) I already purchased two of them, Ms. Negative Nancy! But I'm not saying which until after I've read them...

message 41: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) ah, Mr Suspenseful, you surprise me!

message 42: by David (new)

David (david_giltinan) | 9 comments I will join the chorus in support of Ingeborg Bachmann. The Thirtieth Year might be a decent place to start.

You might also like Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, which I just recommended on a different thread.

I don't know if you've read anything by Howard Norman; I think he fits your criteria pretty well, and I really liked The Museum Guard: Picador USA Reading Group Guides and The Bird Artist

And it would be remiss of me not to plug the under-appreciated The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: A Novel.

message 43: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) Okay, I am adding all those books to my own to-read list Mr Giltinan as I love DK's criteria and Bachmann as well.
(even though this wasn't meant for me, thanks for weighing in).

message 44: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
david won't read howard norman because he is canaaaadian. but i like him, too. kurkov is also very good - and the other books with those characters are being rereleased as we speak.

message 45: by David (new)

David (david_giltinan) | 9 comments I believe that Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio. He moved to Canada only after dropping out of high school (this doesn't seem like something wikipedia would lie about).

This should not be construed as an endorsement of anyone's refusal to consider whole nations when it comes to the choice of author. Howard Norman is a terrific author and would be worth trying even if he had been born and raised in the Vatican, or whatever that island is in the Pacific where the descendants of Fletcher Christian keep getting in trouble for their incestuous ways..

message 46: by karen, future RA queen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 1315 comments Mod
yeah, kowalski!!

message 47: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) This should not be construed as an endorsement of anyone's refusal to consider whole nations when it comes to the choice of author...

yes, let's bear that in mind when it comes to the nation of Norway, sir Giltinan!


message 48: by Greg (new)

Greg | 117 comments I think the one Craig Nova book I read might also fit into your criteria. It was Incandescence.

message 49: by David (new)

David (david_giltinan) | 9 comments That Norway crack was essentially a low blow, Madame Chairwoman, since you well know that my brain is going to have to focus on the intricacies of French for the next 4 months or so.

You are, of course, right. Which makes it all the more galling.

message 50: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) haha!

(or: jaja in Norwegian)

I can't wait to speak French with you, some day...

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