Sunday, 14 March 2010

Review: 'Noah's Compass' by Anne Tyler

I've read most of Anne Tyler's novels several times over, so when I found her latest, 'Noah's Compass', in the library I couldn't wait to get started.

Personally I hate to know too much about a plot before I begin reading. What I enjoy is travelling alongside the characters, seeing how events unfold. So, in case you're looking forward to reading this one yourself, all I'm going to say about the plot of 'Noah's Compass' is that former teacher, Liam Pennywell, has a gap in his memory. His frustrations with this problem lead him to become involved in a new relationship and a period of reflecting on what he's achieved in his past sixty years. Will he take this chance of new love? Well, obviously I'm not going to tell you. Meanwhile all around him the women in his life are absorbed with their own day to day issues, from youngest daughter Kitty, to no-nonsense ex-wife Barbara, to bossy sister Julia. Liam is often at odds with himself and with his family - an out of step man, whom his daughters refer to as Mr Magoo.

Liam views one of his three daughters as having 'a low-key nature'. And this novel has a low-key nature too. No complex twists and turns of plot, no big action scenes, but a character driven novel about the quiet stories that make up the substance of most people's lives. This is what Anne Tyler excels at.

Fans of Anne Tyler will probably recognise echoes from previous novels. Living alone, Liam has built a lifestyle that needs minimum maintenance, a little like Macon in 'The Accidental Tourist'. Liam has a sense of being slightly absent from his own life, rather like Rebecca in 'Back When We Were Grownups'. But in 'Noah's Compass' there are also new dilemmas to be faced, resulting in a book that has perhaps a sadder tone than some of her others. The trademark humour and wit are still there, and as ever the author has a sharp eye for the idiosyncrasies and faults that make us human. I know her quirky characters are not everyone's cup of tea, but I always feel right at home with them. Certainly they are not the most active or decisive of individuals, and Liam has the air of a bystander in life, propelled forwards only by events outside his own control.

Of Anne Tyler's eighteen novels, I have to say I think 'Breathing Lessons' and 'Ladder of Years' are hard to surpass. But I found 'Noah's Compass' as satisfying as any of her later novels, and when the paperback comes out I will definitely buy it to read again.

Interviews with Anne Tyler are notoriously hard to find, but I came across this one at Writer's Digest.


Teresa Ashby said...

Great review - this is the one Anne Tyler book I haven't read yet (and I always keep her books to read again, she is a writer I admire so much). I'll get it when it comes out in paperback.
I agree wholeheartedy about Ladder of Years and Breathing Lessons - those are my two favourites. Thanks for posting the link to the interview - I'm now off to have a read!

Suzanne Jones said...

Terrific review. And thanks for the link.

Joanna said...

I really want to read this now! Thanks so much for a fantastic review.

Joanne Fox said...

Whenever I read Anne Tyler's books I always feel like visiting those places she writes about. Baltimore, Ocean City, and quiet Maryland towns where not too much ever happens!