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With all the elements of a penny dreadful – orphans, double-crossing, madness and pornography – this Victorian tale could have sunk to the level of picaresque pastiche, but while much ink has been spilled on Waters’s lesbian characters it is her ability to summon up the past in palpable, brooding detail that is her most striking characteristic.
This is a novel that seems easy to categorise but doesn’t fit into any obvious genre.
Proof that the Great American Novel (see Philip Roth, above right) is still worth aiming for.
Fingersmith By Sarah Waters VIRAGO, 2002 A Dickensian story with a pink twist.
A simple core – a mother’s attempts to reunite her disparate children for a family Christmas – burgeons into a story about the complexities wrought on the American dream by pharmaceuticals, sexuality and shyster capitalism.
Through the Lambert family Franzen conjures up a modern Everyman with ordinary lives teetering on the edge of bathos, tragedy or triumph.
Through her six-year-old eyes and later as a student she recounts the experience of both the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq and she does so with both seriousness and charm.
As well as defining a moment in time, it also proved that Obama can write as winningly as he talks. By Jonathan Franzen FOURTH ESTATE, 2001 A big book in size, theme and ambitions, The Corrections put Jonathan Franzen in the vanguard of America’s bright young novelists.This is documentary writing of rare quality and intelligence.White Teeth By Zadie Smith HAMISH HAMILTON, 2000 White Teeth put multiculturalism on the literary map and made it fashionable to boot.At 65, an age at which many novelists have said their piece, he started American Pastoral, the first part of a trilogy (with I Married a Communist and concluding with The Human Stain) that examines just how far the politics, social changes and political correctness of post-war America have eroded the promised land of his youth.The books – and in particular this last volume – powered by Roth’s autograph mixture of rage, sex and moral indignation, amount to one of the great achievements of American letters.
Take care to remember the differences between this and Fix Fic, especially if the work the fic springs from is a member of the Deconstructor Fleet. "Think about what it's like having all your lover's friends constantly undermining you.