I’ve never owned a failing record shop, lived in London, stalled out in my thirties, possessed an extensive (and somewhat pedantic) knowledge of music. And yet the narrator in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, Rob Fleming, is one of the most baldly honest male voices I’ve ever read. His unadorned confessional of love and ego ring true with the internal dialogue of my teens, in all its insecurity, self-centered paranoia, and general bafflement at the happenings of the world around me and to me. Rediscovering this voice through Rob, most definitely past his teens, is no knock on him but rather a reminder that no matter how old we get, there will always be more growing up to do.
Annie Proulx's story of Quoyle (his last name- the first is never given) begins so pathetic and sad that I hope you won't begrudge me for spoiling that it gets better. The Shipping News is like a poem spun out into novel form: Quoyle retreats with a broken life and heart to the town of his ancestors in bitterly cold Newfoundland, where Proulx herself has ties. It's in this ailing fishing town that she, with jeweled prose and delicate control, has set a metamorphosis of loss and shame by the redemptive power of human connections, even as such healing comes from people who are deeply wounded themselves.
It's a shame that Pale Fire is overshadowed by Nabokov's lyrical masterpiece Lolita, but not so surprising given its complexity, which can be disorienting at times. Approach the book like a puzzle: the main body of the book is ostensibly a 999-line poem written by fictional poet John Shade (led by the gorgeous lines 'I am the shadow of the waxwing slain // by the false azure in the windowpane') but the real 'story' happens in the rambling, incoherent appendix compiled by Shade's obsessive admirer/stalker Charles Kinbote, which takes up three-quarters of the book's length. Or, perhaps the story happens somewhere in between? Pale Fire is Nabokov's fullest treatment of his recurrent themes of delusion, manipulation, desire, exile. For my money it's this book, not Lolita, that is the best proof of Nabokov's raw genius.