Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2013, pt.11: Lisa Tuttle

Pleasures of Reading: 2013 
by Lisa Tuttle 

More and more I find myself turning to crime/mystery novels rather than science fiction or fantasy when reading for pleasure. One of my best new discoveries this year was from 2008, Night of the Mi’raj by Zoë Ferraris (published in America as Finding Nouf.) I bought it several years ago on a recommendation from Gwyneth Jones, but it got lost amongst the many piles of unread books in the house until I came across it again at the perfect, serendipitous moment. It may be unfair to classify this one as a genre novel, because although it is about a detective investigating a crime, the unusual setting (Saudi Arabia) and the fact that the detective is an unmarried Muslim male who needs the help of a woman to whom he is not related in order to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of another woman from a wealthy, powerful Arab family is more important than “whodunit.” As well as being a good read, it offers insight into another culture, and is quite a profound look at the politics of gender.

Sharyn McCrumb – my other happy discovery – also combines a satisfying, convincing tale of detection with deeper, thought-provoking issues – many of them involving differences between men and women -- in If Ever I Return, my Peggy-O, a potent time-capsule set in 1986 but looking back to the ‘60s and Viet Nam. What a treat: there’s a whole list of her other books I look forward to reading.

 I ordered a copy of Elizabeth Hand’s Available Dark earlier this year, just as soon as it was published in the U.K. I had not expected there to be a follow-up to Generation Loss, her first novel about Cass Neary, a burnt-out photographer and low-life wreck from the punk era who winds up in the middle of a crime scene and then, although her own behaviour can be criminal, becomes a sort of detective in pursuit of answers, but there is a brilliant inevitability to Available Dark, which is possibly even weirder and darker and certainly just as compelling as the first book.

 Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran is the sequel I’ve been waiting for ever since I read City of the Dead (aka Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead) a couple of years ago. I picked that up because it was set in New Orleans (post-Katrina) and sounded different. It certainly was. Mystery readers of more classical tastes, in which every strange event turns out to have a rational explanation, may not approve, but the crossing of literary genre boundaries made me love it. The author plays with the whole idea of what it is to be a detective, and Bohemian Highway (set mainly in California, with flash-backs to earlier times in New York) is possibly even better than the first book. My one complaint is the cliff-hanger ending, with volume three nowhere in sight. That’s the risk with reading a book the same year you buy it, instead of storing it away to mature and develop offspring.

 Much as I loved all of the above, and a couple of oldies I can’t quite believe it has taken me so long to get around to reading, especially because they really are every bit as great and essential as I’d been told (Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann and Little, Big by John Crowley), my book of the year is We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I won’t even say anything more about it except: Read it, if you haven’t already.

Lisa Tuttle is the author of numerous novels and short story collections. She has also published nonfiction and more than a dozen books for younger readers. In 1974 she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and, in 1987, the BSFA award in the short fiction category. Aqueduct Press published her novella My Death in 2008 (which is now available as an ebook). Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she has made her home in a remote rural region of Scotland for the last twenty years.

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