Currently Reading: The Comfort of Lies
There are two things that I look for in a novel, the first being engaging characters. To me, the most important thing is not the plot or storyline or even the writing style. First and foremost, a good book has to have complex and thoughtfully unique figures. Personalities that draw the reader in be it in a good way or bad way. The Comfort of Lies alternates between the viewpoints of three women all of whom are connected by a little girl. Tia is the girl's birth mother. She gave her daughter up for adoption after having conceived her while participating in an affair with a married man. Juliette is that man's wife who finds out about Savannah years after her birth and subsequent adoption. Caroline is Savannah's adoptive mother. She had in the past only communicated with Tia via letters, but finds herself face to face with her daughter's mother after being contacted by Juliette. These three women could not be more different however, their motives are all similar at the core. Doing what is best for Savannah.
One of the things that makes this story so dramatic is that you don't particularly like any of the three women. Whether you are reading from their perspective or whether you are seeing them through another woman's eyes, their flaws are glaring and personalities infuriating at times. I don't know that I rooted for any one of them throughout the book, but still, there was something engaging about each one. The one commonality is that they are all mothers, yet they each approach motherhood from a different angle. Tia longs to be present in her daughter's life. Caroline is wondering if she is even cut out to be a mother at all. Juliette finds herself feeling as if she should be a mother figure in Savannah's life despite having two teenage boys of her own.
I love books written in this form because you really get more out of the story than when the narrator is just one person. You get to see how characteristics appear on the surface as well as their motivations beneath the facade each person projects. I had an idea about a book once where each chapter was told from a different point of view, but was really all about the same day in the same general area. Characters would pop up in other peoples' stories and you would feel a brief sense of recognition despite the current narrator's lack of a deep relationship with that other person. Alas, I think it may have already been done. And in a movie too. Ah well. Perhaps just reading about characters and not writing about characters is my destiny. I'll leave the actual doing to the professionals.
Now I'm sure you are all wondering what that other thing is that I look for in a good book. I won't pontificate on it too much, but that other thing is the use of good words. And by use, I mean appropriate and necessary. Too many authors out there try to sound all academic and whatnot by littering their novels with giant words that no one understands. That, I cannot stand. No, it is more about sprinkling intriguing vocabulary in the most surprising places and only when it serves a purpose. I was first introduced to my favorite word, lugubrious, when reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Since then, I have managed to increase my vocabulary all while experiencing words as they should be, as tools used to convey a thought, feeling or purpose within a meaningful context. Some other notables are ostensible, perambulations, nacreous and for some odd reason, loquacious. I don't know why, but that last one just makes me smile.
So in conclusion, captivating characters + memorable words = awesome reading. I love it when I can use math to make my point!
After you are done reading The Comfort of Lies, I have a couple other recommendations from my recent reading which follow my awesome book equation. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson and That's Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson both provide some excellent food for thought. Enjoy!