My wife and I, when we both enjoyed A Stranger in the Earth by Marcel Theroux, were both surprised. We had not thought about it, read reviews, seen it in Blogcritics posts or the NY Times Book Review. Besides, it was published in 1998.
The surprise was that un-modern game I have played all my life, rooting in bargain bins, used bookstores, Salvation Army outlets and library fairs. The game is to find and collect books, after tearing apart the bins and straining your eyes along racks of books or sneezing your way through old cardboard boxes of paperbacks. Once in a great while a treasure appears. Slightly more often an enjoyable book pops out . This one I found in the $1 bin in the Target Store after much rooting. It was one of the enjoyable ones.
Let’s cut to the chase. A country lad raised by an Edwardian grandfather (bumpkin, as it were) leaves for a job on a small newspaper in London that is his uncle’s on the death of gramps. Is he ready for London of 1998? Hardly. He was schooled at home and dressed in “sensible” Edwardian wear, complete with cape. Dickensian characters pour out of newsrooms, shops and sidestreets. It is London.
He goes to work for his Uncle’s South London Bugle, where young people plan to move up to better, more glamorous jobs or grow old
Turns out that he can write, he manages to make friends and even girlfriends, and function in the metropolis. He changes and the paper changes. Friends change. Characters grow, and grow likeable and real. Going home to the country village becomes impossible. His life is now in London as a journalist.
Where is the mystery? How many chase scenes and shoot outs?. Well, none. Sorry. Let us call this “a slice of life in modern London”. As Horace thinks, “… But who understands the daily calvaries of a million unhappy people, and the fairytale reversals that make their wan lives bearable?” The man doesn’t solve mysteries except for inklings about the heart and of life.
It is a book of stories, newspaper and otherwise, and of characters that do some breathing on their own and some growing. All this is a lot for a first novel. We liked it, both of us for once agreeing on contemporary literature. Amazing.
He is the first son of Paul Theroux, the famous writer, and was born in Uganda in ’68 . I have always wanted to read Paul Theroux, the master with the interesting sounding books. I never could. His son learned and excelled. Give him a try with this, his first novel, or his later work, The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes, which now rates highly on our want list.Powered by Sidelines