The Pickup is an uncomplicated love story that leaves a tangled set of impressions. Though flawed in several minor ways, it is an extraordinary book that will reverberate with me for some time.
This is my first of Gordimer’s novels and I took great pleasure in her unfussy, almost-poetic, precise use of language. It is the novel of a meticulous craftsperson. A fragment remains with me: “…for the past has no wholeness, it has been etiolated by revised explanations of it, trampled over by hindsight – all their lives”. As Gordimer says later in her narrative, that is “like a sentence, a statement, that seems to have been written [for her] long before [she] came into existence…”
Beyond the love story there are layers that explore liberalism, alienation, poverty and consumerism. For a penetrating appraisal of The Pickup, I’ll divert you to J. M. Coetzee:
Not just an interesting book, in fact, but an astonishing one: it is hard to conceive of a more sympathetic, more intimate introduction to the lives of ordinary Muslims than we are given here, and from the hand of a Jewish writer too.
I’ll be reading more of Gordimer’s work over the next twelve months. Thanks to Michelle whose comment encouraged me to read The Pickup, which is her very favorite Gordimer novel.
About a fortnight ago I asked for help. In response to writer Maureen Johnson’s convincing polemic against the way that publishers and critics present female writers I asked, “Can you add to the list of female writers I ought to be reading?”
Johnson listed several that revealed new possibilities:
Edna Ferber, Diana Wynne Jones, Kate Chopin, Patricia Highsmith, Miles Franklin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Virginia Woolf, Marianne Robinson, Lorrie Ann Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary McCarthy, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edwidge Danticat.
In the comments to my post, readers made some great suggestions. These are too good to be buried in comments, so I list them below. There’ll be some we know and love, and others that offer an opportunity for discovery.