Of Mice And Men (1937) is simultaneously macho and sentimental, like fans weeping in the stands after FA Cup fourth-round replay defeats. American Rust (2009) is another tale of fraternal loyalty and protectiveness, but with just enough clenched-fist menace to stop it being schmaltzy. There’s an ominous sense of place in both too: they’re set in those maddening, financially bereft areas where the only entertainment is throwing buckets at raccoons.
The best Gothic novels are the ones that are creepy – as creepy as your dad’s friend with the velour shirts and ankle jewellery – but don’t indulge in exaggerated, here’s-a-skeleton-crawling-with-snakes macabre. The Sound And The Fury (1929) and The Loney (2014) both have a subtle sense of peril and aren’t too clunkingly Gothic with their entirely plausible characters and scenarios.
Two high-stakes classics from the time before Making A Murderer turned courtroom drama into a lot of fat men grandstanding in a converted canteen. The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1987) and The Submission (2012) are both propelled by legal cases, so there’s the entertainment, but are ultimately essential (and withering) commentaries on the American culture of the time: boastful Eighties materialism, and frenzied post-9/11 panic.
Mislaid (2015) is how To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) could have turned out if Harper Lee had written it while clutching a still-warm English Literature degree. Both books tackle race and gender relations in the American South, and generate sympathy by framing adult relations through children’s eyes, but Zink inserts a streak of irreverent humour and some meta trickiness that drags Mockingbird into our snarky Twittering times.
Marcel Proust was an anxious weirdo who spent 14 years writing the In Search of Lost Time series (1913-1927) – a load of novels featuring snobs and bores frittering away their lives with meaningless parties and engagements. Imagine writing a seven-volume epic and not managing to make a single character likable. It’s an undeniable achievement. The similarities with modern-day writer Karl Ove Knausgaard are obvious. The silverfox Norseman’s My Struggle series (2008-2011) has an epic scope and a comparable obsession with nostalgia and memory. Both books are guaranteed to annoy you.
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