Monday, 30 November 2009

Noah's Compass (Tyler)

I am a big fan of Anne Tyler's books so I was very excited when I eventually managed to get a copy of her latest book, Noah's compass, from the library this week. This is her 18th novel and it didn't disappoint me.

In the first chapter we meet Liam, who is in the process of downsizing into a new apartment after being made redundant from his job as a teacher. He unpacks, has some dinner, and goes to bed. At the start of the next chapter, he wakes up in hospital, and has no memory of how he got there. It turns out that he failed to lock one of the doors to his new apartment and was attacked by an intruder. Liam is hugely traumatised by the fact that he can't remember the incident and sets out to try to come to terms with it whilst struggling to make sense of his life until the incident and his relationships with his children and ex wife. One of my favourite parts of the book was that when Liam spends time with his grandson who has been given a heavily Christian upbringing by his daughter; Liam helps with biblical colouring books and struggles to answer questions such as how Noah steered the ark (hence the title of the book).

What I love about Anne Tyler's books is the gentle story telling which actually cleverly deals with lots of serious issues. There is always a strong cast of characters and the books give insight into small town American life in a way that is easily accessible for a British reader.

Overall, it wasn't quite my favourite Tyler novel, as it felt a bit "slighter" than some of her other novels; if you haven't read any Tyler before then I'd start with Digging to America or Back when we were grownups. I'd be interested to hear which other Tyler novels people have read and which are you favourites.


  1. I've read only two, "Back when we were grownups" and "Breathing Lessons", but I enjoyed them very much for their fluency, their 'seeing the big things in the small', and other qualities besides.

  2. I've read many of Tyler's novels and agree with you - Digging to America and Back When We Were Grownups were wonderful. Either would be a perfect introduction to her work. Will get to Noah's Compass eventually, I'm sure.

  3. Cornflower - exactly, I think "seeing the big things in the small" sums up Anne Tyler.

    JoAnn - I suspected you might be a Tyler reader :)

  4. I haven't read anything by Anne Tyler but this sounds really interesting, thanks for the review!

  5. What you love about Anne Tyler is what I love too. I've read a fair few of her books, and it's hard to pick a favourite. maybe Dinner at the Homesick Restauranr... or The Clock-Winder...

  6. I love Anne Tyler. I had never heard of her until I was about 19, and I worked as a children's librarian over my summer holidays. One of the other librarians saw I was reading Carol Shields and she said if I loved her, I'd definitely love Anne Tyler. She helped me pick a couple of her books - A Patchwork Planet and Ladder of Years, and since then I've read An Accidental Tourist. I love them all, and I want to read more. I just bought Breathing Lessons which won the Pulitzer so I'm looking forward to that. I think Anne Tyler is massively underrated - she writes about ordinary and makes is significant and beautiful - she reminds me of a modern day Dorothy Whipple. Great post Verity!

  7. Dot - you definitely should give her a go - I think you'd enjoy her.

    Fleurfisher - the clock winder doesn't get mentioned much but I liked it a lot.

    Rachel - of course, there is a big parallel between Tyler and Shields books. You are very lucky if you have only read a few as then there are many more to go :)

  8. I have only read Digging to America, but I'm afraid I wasn't a fan - not enough happens for me. I'm pleased that you enjoyed her new one, but she's not for me.


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