I'd actually bought this sweet-looking little novel and had it waiting on the shelf for its very right moment. There is something I like very much about a book that measures up at a very compact 7.5" x 5...Crown Octavo perhaps, and with just 192 pages it is already promising an intense,condensed but hopefully fulfilling reading experience.
Oddly I still can't decide whether Tinkers by Paul Harding lived up to those expectations or not, and that's not to damn the Pulitzer prizewinner with faint praise either. I'm just thinking that perhaps, like Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and from whom this book gets a ringing endorsement, I need to choose the right reading moment for books like this, and perhaps I didn't.
I do also notice that the other 'ringing endorsements come from Barry Unsworth( 'a work of great power and originality') and Elizabeth McCracken ('read this book and marvel') who in this interview are revealed to be Paul Harding's teachers...I assume of creative writing, along with Marilynne Robinson ('truly remarkable'). Can I say I really wish publishers wouldn't do that... surely better to seek out some disinterested voices??
Or perhaps the book didn't bowl me over because I spent too long trying to decide where I'd seen those dandelion seeds before...
Critic Peter Scott finds the book astounding for all its foibles...
'This is a difficult novel; narrators and narrative are unreliable, the syntax is complicated, while the plot, such as it is, jumps around so much as to elude any easy attempts at identifying a temporal progression of events.'
Tinkers consists of the observations and recollections of a dying man, George, a watch and clock-repairer, and it's hard not to sink into every cliche going here as I try and describe the book ...about time standing still... about the last hours of a life ticking away, about rewinding time in order to reflect on the past, all of which does actually seem to happen.
There is much for George to recall, the life of his father, 'an itinerant peddler' who, suffering from epilepsy, walks out on his family and starts a new life elsewhere.
Any sense of plot is largely absent and that's all fine, I like the challenge of what Peter Scott calls a 'difficult novel', where what happens is not all that happens if that makes any sense, books that meander like this...and indeed there is purpose in George's meanderings and Paul Harding has done something very clever in imagining the fragmented nature of the mind of a dying person and also in his descriptions of epileptic seizures.
But like Gilead which I think, after early misgivings, in the end I was persuaded into liking by many of you who argued so powerfully for the elements I had missed, well I'm now going to ask for your help withTinkers.
What have I missed here??
Why am I not looking at the book a few months after I've read it and thinking 'wow' that was extraordinary??
Why didn't I rush it onto my shelf for special books about death and dying??
It's sad I know but I do have one, it's my day job after all, and glancing across now I can see a range of books on there that have left me moved and with the certainty I will read them over and again...
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Held by the Sea by Jane Darke, Meghan O'Rourke's deeply moving The Long Goodbye or Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. And now I see that these are all memoirs, the real and excruciating pain of loss and so perhaps I am expecting the wrong emotional things entirely of this book.
You know how unsettled I feel when a book that has received such wide acclaim just won't tick the boxes for me, especially when I have given it time and read slowly, so I'm really hoping any of you who may have read it can shed some light.
I'd love to know how this worked for you... where did its brilliance shine through for you ... if you were 'astounded' like Peter Scott, why??
And if you haven't read it perhaps you might one day, and if so please come back and let us know what you think.