The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »
Arthur and Georgeby JULIAN BARNES
One Good Turnby KATE ATKINSON
WARNER: One Good Turn is a sequel to Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, which to my mind puts her at a distinct disadvantage in this face-off, given that with rare exceptions (Godfather II, AfterMASH), sequels are rarely as satisfying as the original. One Good Turn is more T2: Judgment Day than American Pie: Band Camp on the quality scale, but it’s still not as good as Case Histories because Case Histories gets to introduce us to Jackson Brodie (the moral and investigative center of both books), who is going to become one of the enduring characters of our culture, kind of like Stiffler’s mom.
GUILFOILE: I enjoyed Case Histories as well. Nevertheless, Arthur and George was my only horse in this race, as it’s the only book in this year’s tourney I’ve managed to read so far. And I liked it a lot. So, grrrr.
I discovered Barnes because almost 20 years ago I came to love Martin Amis. In college and the years just after, I tore through London Fields and Money and Success and Dead Babies and Time’s Arrow, and I just couldn’t imagine a better writer. As a 21-year-old aspiring novelist, reading London Fields was simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and dispiriting reading experiences I’ve ever had. I remember thinking, This is awesome, and also, I could never do this.
So I started reading Barnes because I heard he was a friend of Amis’s (or he was at the time). There really couldn’t be a more idiotic reason to pick up a bookit would be like reading Wilmer Valderrama’s novels because you so enjoyed Ashton Kutcher’sbut I sort of dug Barnes and kept picking him up. Over the last 10 years, though, Amis has disappointed me over and over (The Information was the last one I liked at all) and I think Barnes has just been consistently good, book after book after book, and every one different from the last. Maybe none of them are as good as London Fields, in my mind, but great nonethelessArthur and George included.
WARNER: Sorry, buddy, Arthur and George’s was a deli near my high school where we’d go for off-campus lunch junior and senior year. The tuna salad gave me salmonella once.
This one is a mismatch for Atkinson.