Friday, 3 February 2017

world war z

On Saturday 13th August I finished World War Z by Max Brooks, which I liked a lot - probably one of my favourite reads for quite a while.

In response to someone - I think John Anscombe - writing on Facebook about his favourite books of 2016 and asking for ours, I wrote: 'To my surprise, I think it was World War Z - An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks. Thoughtful and well-written (and not gory) - and, from all that I have been able to find out, his use of an oral history structure is an almost unique approach to the novel form, and works so naturally and well that it's definitely in the "I can't believe this has hardly ever been done before" category.'

He had thought through different kinds of implications and possibilities of what might happen, and part of taking different witnesses from different parts of the world was to illustrate those.

I was so interested in the structure - not least wondering if or how often it had been done before - that I tweeted asking about it to some folk (Backlisted podcast, Andy Miller, Sarah P), and it was shared further, and I got an interesting set of suggestions. (That's one of the kind of things that Twitter is quite good for, and which shows that Twitter can be good and helpful...) There were few exactly along the same lines (which I described as 'Like Studs Terkel? Multi-voice collage of interview transcriptions, telling one story.', and Sarah P replied with 'Kind of like the novel version of a film pretending to be a documentary?', which was quite right too), but a range of different suggestions on a spectrum covering epistolary, multi-voice, multi-source and/or multi-viewpoint (most of these not really what I was after, and some didn't quite get what I was after at all) - some of which I'd read myself, like Dracula and Stand On Zanzibar. I also mentioned that I was after something else, along the same lines: 'Also seeking fantasy written as if it were a later popular history/biog. (Not Silmarillionish.)'. I didn't get so much along those lines. The latter in particular was a kind of structure I've thought I'd like to write a fantasy novel in, though of course I never will.

Suggestions (some with a range of caveats and more or less enthusiasm, or recommended more than once, which I'll not preserve here) included: Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home; House Mother Normal by B S Johnson; House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski; Lucy Adlington's Pelly D/Cherry Heaven; The Age of Wire & String by Ben Marcus (not for the faint-hearted, apparently); Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; A S Byatt's Possession (which I've read); Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban; Graham Swift's Last Orders; S E Craythorne's How You See Me (a one-sided epistolary novel); the new Naomi Alderman (not yet out then); The True History of The Kelly Gang; Boy Wonder by James Robert Baker (out of print, but got a couple of recommendations and seemed to be the most like the kind of thing); Group Portrait with Lady by Heinrich Boll; The Book Thief; Kenneth Fearing's Clark Gifford's Body; Ryan Gattis's All Involved; Ulverton; Chuck Palahniuk's Rant; Jake Arnott's The Long Firm; Faulkner's As I Lay Dying; A Brief History Of Seven Killings; Where'd You Go, Bernadette?; Life Of Pi; Little Big Man by Thomas Berger.

Very much, it turns out, the kind of thing that you think *surely* has been done more often, but it turns out hasn't really.