Thursday, 31 March 2011

'The Lacuna' (or, why can't I cut and paste?)

I have written a rather epic and fairly mixed review of this novel (which, in passing, somehow manages to include my opinions on most of Kingsolver's work) on Amazon, but I can't work out how to cut and paste it into here (any advice on this would be gratefully accepted) so I'll post the link instead: scroll up (and up) for epic review

However, the purpose of this post is not to showcase my Amazon reviewing, but to ask a question I didn't think it was worth posing on Amazon: basically, although I think both are excellent writers, I seem to have similar problems with some of Kingsolver's work that I have with all of Margaret Atwood's (or at least, all the Atwood novels I've read, which would be Cat's Eye, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, The Penelopiad.) Namely, that obvious morals and obvious symbolism often let down the story as a whole. Of the two, I'm inclined to say Kingsolver is the better writer. Is this horribly controversial?


  1. Yes, I would say that was pretty controversial. ;-)

    When you say 'obvious' do you mean that you think Atwood and Kingsolver are given to cliche? Is moralising in fiction always bad do you think, or only when it's cliched? Hmmm. Personally I think that what makes Atwood a powerful writer is her ability to replicate the essential-ness of our moral lives, our very 'cliched-ness' I suppose. It seems to me that obviousness is not a fault if it acts as a mirror for experience; it's only when it becomes contrived that I have a problem. Personally I find Kingsolver more contrived than Atwood, although I forgive them both to an extent. Have you read Marilynne Robinson? She is the very opposite of obvious. :-)

  2. I think I'd probably have to write an essay on this to explain myself properly! I very much admire Atwood as a writer, but yet have never read a novel of hers I really liked, which is frustrating. I don't think that she is necessarily cliched, but yes, I do have a knee-jerk reaction towards anything I perceive as moralising in fiction, however much I agree with the moral in question, which makes it very hard for me to read anything that I feel is trying to say something too obviously to me, and especially when character complexity (which for me is pretty much *the* thing I look for in fiction, which of course doesn't mean it's what everyone should look for) is compromised because of it.

    Regarding Atwood: I have a feeling her 'Handmaid's Tale' is probably the worst offender for me, but I read it a long time ago, so I'll stick to 'The Blind Assassin', which I read more recently. I enjoyed so much of it, but the newspaper articles scattered throughout were a real sticking-point; I felt they served no purpose other than to show how awful an already labelled-as-bad character was, or how badly treated women were, or Iris in particular was, etc, and these themes were brought out in the rest of the text as well, although more subtly. Kingsolver's similar use of newspapers in The Lacuna is probably what gave me the idea for the comparison in the first place... Of course I'm in complete agreement with Atwood's feminist slant, but I find it difficult when it seems like characters are either being sanctified or demonised, and I feel she has a tendency to do that.

    (You have my reading tastes pegged in one respect though - I'm a big fan of Marilynne Robinson!)