the very first time
The first novel is a curious thing. (I've never written one myself, sorry, so I am speaking here only as a curious reader.)
If I was an editor handed a first novel, would I edit out the rawness? The parts that appear over-written but, given the context and the rawness of emotion, those dramatically paused sentences that actually seem wrong in a right way? Would I suggest that the story arc be less obvious, less naive? Instead, suggest that it assumes a more deceptively meandering form so that when the pages towards the end literally thin out, the reader would not be so conscious that the story is reaching a point of conflict that will, no doubt, be resolved?
Oh lucky thing I'm also not an editor!
Still, it is equally hard to be a curious reader nowadays.
The reviews give out the whole deal. The hype that surrounds each book reaches you through the newspapers/blogs, word of mouth, bookcovers that try too hard, and fancy displays in bookstores - that now ubiquitous top 10 shelf. But I was curious when I picked up Khaled Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner, mostly because it was about Afghanistan, and I know next to nothing about that country.
And like any good read, while a large part of the novel is set in and the characters are all from Afghanistan, its specific political turmoil is enhanced, not reduced, by the common stories of love, jealousy, shame and absolution. For me, where The Kite Runner rises above the pitfalls of a first novel is most clearly seen in its powerful yet sensitive telling of shame. The shame of betrayal. The shame of cowardice. The shame of un-love. This is no niggly guilty feeling, but the overwhelming, stricken fear that you are not who you appear to be, and that one day, what or who you truly are cannot be hidden, not even from your dream life.
*If you prefer to read this in a group and talk about it with random folks and reading clubs, The Kite Runner is also a recommended book for the Read Singapore season.