Always with the tax

In a mostly positive review of Tobias Hill’s The Cryptographer, A.S. Byatt says the protagonist, a tax inspector, is “gloriously present, to herself as to the reader.”

The only novel I’ve read in which a tax inspector plays a primary role is Peter Carey’s aptly named The Tax Inspector, which is set in Australia and has its moments, but is, evidently, not Carey’s best work.

Speaking of Carey, the folks at the The Literary Saloon are eager to read his latest novel, which is based on the Ern Malley hoax.

When Thomas Hardy died 75 years ago, he left instructions for the executors of his will to destroy his notes and private papers. Most were burned, but Hardy’s second wife saved 12 volumes of his notebooks. The BBC reported last week that one of the notebooks is set to be published. The publication will contain information and sources on which Hardy based some of his fictional works. A Hardy scholar is quoted by the BBC as saying that the notebook “marks a change in direction from the more romanticised tone of his earlier works to a harder, more realistic one.” (Via That Rabbit Girl.)

If you’re a fan of Iain Banks, you can take the Guardian’s author quiz to win free copies of each of his books.

Carol Shields returns to Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means and discovers that, while she’d originally seen the protagonists’ situations as “girlishly jolly”:

Each of the [girls] is in peril, each frightened by a direct question concerning her raison d’être (that daunting phrase they are just beginning to hear).

Their slenderness lies not so much in their means as in their half-perceived notions about what their lives will become and their overestimation of their power in the world. They are fearless and frightened at the same time, as only the very young can be, and they are as heartless in spirit as they are merry in mode.

The first chapter of Alan Lightman’s latest novel, Reunion, is excerpted in The New York Times Book Review this week.

Steve at splinters doesn’t care much for the new BBC British documentary, The Story of the Novel. [From John Alvey: “Sorry to quibble but Channel 4, which is doing the Story of the Novel, ain’t the BBC. Britain does have other TV channels. Channel 4 is one of them.”]

Apropos of nothing, has everyone read John Barth’s The End of the Road? I read it some years back, the summer before I started law school, and I’m planning to return to it soon. Do pick it up. Jonathan Lethem has said that his As She Climbed Across the Table owes a deep debt to the Barth book:

Meaning to set a novel on a college campus, I’d undertaken that year to read as many novels with academic settings as I could stand. That’s what led me to The End of the Road. Thus, because it was read as a part of the ‘research’ on settings, I’d falsely recalled that the influence of Barth’s book was mainly on the setting of Table (pun half-intended). In fact, the campus setting of Road is almost incidental to the book, and seems anyway not to have infiltrated mine. … No, Barth’s influence is much more fundamental–in fact it seems strange to me now that I could have even felt I had a book to write, as opposed to a scrap of plot and a few conceits, before reading Road. So much of my book transmutes Barth’s that it’s a little scary.

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