Oddly enough, The Count of Monte Cristo is based on a true story; a shoemaker was accused of being a spy by jealous friends, who he later exacted revenge on in incredibly imaginative ways. However, Dumas’ convoluted story of vengeance reads much better, with more twists and turns than the average-sized garden maze. Merchant sailor Edmond Dantès is deprived of his career and fianceé and thrown in jail. Of course, he escapes with the help of a fellow inmate, somehow becomes fabulously wealthy and unleashes serious mayhem.
In the terrifyingly-near future, there is a film called ‘Infinite Jest’. It is the best film ever – so good in fact that anyone who watches it will do so until they die, but at least they die happy. In Boston, the residents of a halfway house and a nearby school are on the search for the film. That’s the plot… well, sort of. ‘Infinite Jest’ is incredibly long (well over a thousand pages), features dozens of subplots and a few hundred pages of footnotes. Only a writer as gifted as David Foster Wallace had the talent and brio to carry it off, and carry it off with the illusion of effortlessness.
Somewhat unkindly referred to as ‘Harry Potter and the Priceless Work of Art’, Tartt’s much anticipated third novel tells the story of Theo Decker, whose mother is killed in a terrorist attack on an art gallery, which Theo survives, taking a priceless painting of a goldfinch with him. At 800 pages, it’s not a short read, but Tartt packs a lot in. Theo moves to Las Vegas with his feckless father, makes some shady friends and grows up to be a thoroughly dysfunctional individual. That, and the painting, leads Theo to some interesting conclusions.
Not quite fiction, not quite the whole truth, Gregory David Roberts weaves a tale to make a long winter evening seem much, much shorter. Page-turning at a rate that’ll give you paper cuts on your thumbs, ‘Shantaram’ is the story of a daring prison escape, a convict fleeing to India, cholera, firestorms, love, a short spell for the narrator/author as an extra in several Bollywood movies and a subsequent spell in Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison.
Neil Gaiman is the master of referencing and cross-referencing. In a past life, he may have been the Best Librarian Ever. Thankfully for us (but not for libraries everywhere) Gaiman is a writer with an incredible imagination and huge capacity for retaining historical and cultural tidbits, which he then incorporates into his work. ‘Sandman’ is a ten volume graphic novel about the Dream King as he encounters his six brothers and sisters (Death, Destruction, Delirium, Despair, Destiny and Desire) and journeys through all the realms of possibility. There are real people and events woven in with the fiction – rest assured, it’s nowhere near as confusing as it sounds.
Sarah Waldron @The_Licentiate