Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler

Consider this book a small break in transmission. One can read only so much about 1930s and 1940s Europe without respite.

Like the work of many good and bad writers, a Tyler book is something you slip into, she has her template. I continue to be amazed as what she does with it.

Every book is about the most ordinary people living the most ordinary lives, drab humdrum lives. Every book is hauntingly sad. But Tyler’s touch is so deft, where other writers stamp their words on the page, making sure they are noticed, Tyler’s float. And every now and then one suddenly stops and thinks, yes, that was the meaning of life just there, not trumpetted and fanfared – hel-lo reader, are you paying attention, I’m going to say something important now – but just a sentence, towards the bottom of a page, easy enough to miss altogether as you advance to the next.

There is always humour in her books.

Anne Tyler loves people. She loves her characters, she is effortlessly all of them. The main character, a male, whose downer of a life is managing to spiral even further down, or a teenage girl, it doesn’t matter, they are all intensely real and intensely characters; that is to say, you can picture them all clearly in your mind’s eye. So many writers can’t do that at all, it’s not to be taken for granted to find one that can give you this vision.

She writes novels, but they are sparing of words. There is no padding.

There is something of the Lucy-Charlie Brown relationship between the reader – Charlie – and the books – Lucy. Every time the reader hopes against hope, that this is the one, the one that’s going to end up happily ever after. It never is. I don’t mean by this that the boy never gets the girl, or the girl the boy, but that however the specific story goes, you will be left with the same emptiness inside. Boys cry when they read Anne Tyler. But despite that, Tyler doesn’t want her characters to give up, she certainly wouldn’t want the reader to either.

Her books are never judgemental of anybody or anything. They are never political. They contain no messages. They are simply as finely crafted observations of the absurd nature of the human condition as one could ever read.

2 thoughts on “Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler

  1. I can’t help feeling that there’s some implicit criticism of Knausgård here. Or am I being oversensitive? Please answer before I write a six-volume novel about my feelings.

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