Monday, 2 August 2010

The 1p Book Review: Anne Tyler - The Amateur Marriage

The 1p Book Review will be another regular feature on The Dabbler. The strange ways of internet commerce have meant that countless secondhand books can be bought online for £0.01 plus postage. The Dabbler will be recommending some of the out-of-print, forgotten or neglected gems that can be yours, at the time of writing, for a penny.

For the debut instalment, Nige recommends Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage.

Nick Hornby has called Tyler 'the best line-and-length novelist in the world' (this, I should explain for American readers, is a cricketing term which applies to bowlers who reliably land the ball close to the batsman and in line with the stumps) - and she does indeed have the solid, reliable virtues that so many of today's novelists woefully lack. All those virtues are evident in The Amateur Marriage.

Her characters come alive in a way few writers manage - yes, they are drawn from a repertory company that gets replayed with variations, but each of them is someone you would know if you met them on the street. In the old phrase, they 'walk off the page'. Her psychological insights are often startlingly acute. She creates, with minimal fuss, an entirely credible world around her characters and deftly manages a narrative that is essentially driven by who they are. The Amateur Marriage works by particularly clever and subtle manipulation of point of view, across a series of vignettes that cover six decades. Tyler is, as John Updike once said, 'not just good, but wickedly good'.

Her masterpiece, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, is surely up there with the greats, but she is probably underrated because her subject matter is too close to 'ordinary' people's experience, her books are too popular, and she works in a disciplined way on a narrow canvas (but so did Jane Austen). Oh and she does write rather too much - but The Amateur Marriage is not one to be missed.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is also available for 1p here.

If you would like to recommend any books (fiction or non) that can be bought for 1p (or 1 cent?), send your nomination and justification to

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