Quiet novels

I’ve recently come to appreciate the beauty and wonderment of the quiet novel. I don’t know whether it’s a sign that I’m getting older (that’s older by the way, not old), or whether I’ve just read some really good ones recently, but the quiet novel is definitely growing in my esteem.

By quiet, I mean the books that move you deeply but when pushed to describe what happened, you can’t come up with any actual events. That’s not entirely true, I mean, obviously things happen in the book, but the focus is more on the state of the human condition (at the risk of sounding like a complete wanker); they are all about feels and emotions.

I think the first one I read that set this train in motion was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It was just a lovely, quiet story, about relatively normal people, going about their relatively normal existence, but written with extraordinary grace and beauty.

Gilead followed quickly on Brooklyn’s heals and presented me with what I thought at the time was a perfect example of the style (when I read its companion novel, Home, I realised it was possible to improve on perfection). The blurb of Gilead goes like this: “In 1956, towards the end of Reverend John Ames life, he begins a letter to his son…”. I’ll admit, if I hadn’t heard such good things about this book, there is no way I would have picked it up based on its blurb alone. An old reverend, about to die, writing a letter to his son doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner, which goes a long way to illustrating just how great a writer Robinson is, because I pretty much read this is one sitting. I was under the book’s spell within two pages. Nothing I write could possibly do justice to the beauty of this book, so I’m not going to try and explain it, plus I would probably just end up gushing, suffice to say, there’s no great intrigue or mystery, no car chases or violence, just people whose lives, in the right hands, have become a captivating and moving story. Gilead is just a beautiful book and, combined with the even greater beauty of Home, has earned Marilynne Robinson a handprint in my personal walk of fame.

Ok, enough Robinson fangirling. Some of the other quiet novels that I have loved are 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I’d love to hear about some of the quiet novels that you have loved.

4 replies »

  1. I haven’t heard of this book (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) or writer until now. but I will certainly look for it on good old amazon etc. Thank you.
    I have lately started watching quieter films – Bringing up Baby (for example) and reading similar books (Slow Waltz at Ceder Bend). I think it is a reaction to the violent and fast paced world we live in.


  2. I’m a great lover of quiet novels, and a writer of them too, fruitlessly seeking an agent for my latest story, one I’m afraid can’t be heard in such a loud market. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is high on my list, too. But I think Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orna Jewett is my favorite. Almost anything by Willa Cather will be exquisitely quiet, too. I’m so glad to have found others who can go to that beautiful place where nothing, and yet somehow everything, happens.


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