When I came home from my visit to the British Council this time, I had (Ruth Rendell writing as) Barbara Vine’s The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, which I was tempted to read first. Somehow, I was drawn to The Editor’s Wife by Clare Chambers– by the cover design, the type, everything else. I relished every minute that I spent reading it, a journey that eventful and relaxing at the same time. Straight off, I was reminded of an aspect that this work shares with Anita Shreve’s All He Ever Wanted – a woman writer narrating in a man’s voice. Although Anita Shreve spoke about her initial reservations about narrating in a man’s voice, Clare does not say anything about this feature. Yet, I was constantly aware of this peculiarity (!), for I would pause and think at many places to detect anything that betrays this fact. But I found nothing at all that even remotely suggested a female persona in the entire narrative.
I read the book, leisurely and over a few days, which gave me the chance to ruminate on the characters and events, and also anticipate what was to follow with a fair degree of anxiety and hope. I felt the dreams and desires, pain, despair and frustration of the main characters as the story unfolded. The wit, insight and outlook of the author, coming through her characters, have a beauty and the power to stimulate thinking. And, like an anxiously optimistic teen, I felt nice and blissful about the ending.
The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Barbara Vine was a real thriller. It is no murder mystery or anything of the sort, yet her brilliant writing kept me glued to the book. Again, I read it not at a vigorous pace, savouring every bit of it. This book made me think about the legitimacy, while writing a novel, of drawing from one’s own life’s happenings and the people one lives with and meets, and, even if that is allowed, how much one can extract without the work becoming entirely or hugely autobiographical, or at least without forfeiting the right to be called a work of fiction.