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Baker's Dozen

A Life Turning Pages: Robert Forster's Favourite Books
Aug Stone , April 8th, 2020 09:22

The Go-Betweens founder takes Aug Stone through his 'eclectic even to himself' reading tastes


Caleb Carr - The Alienist
I knew nothing about Caleb Carr. I had an Australian friend at that time who was working at Tower Books down in the Village [in NY] and he was organizing events. He recommended it and I read it. It's New York again, but 1890s Manhattan. He gets it perfectly. The story's incredible. The murders, catching a murderer. And the characters - the young, enthusiastic narrator, living with his aunt, and then there's the older detective. I find that writers who write books set in the past often over-research, and what they do in their historical novels is show you their research. You get all this information you don't need, that they can't help themselves but put in. Like 'on the radio at that time...' and then list about ten things, or a character will go somewhere and... it's overdone, you know? But what I like about The Alienist - besides the dialogue and action, it's beautifully written - is that Caleb Carr gets this right. It's like 'I'm going back to the 1890s but I'm not going to show you all my mountains of research. I'm just going to weave it in, so you'll feel comfortable in the story and you'll always know where you are'. He does that very, very well. The atmosphere of the book - the mixture of humor and horror - is really good. It was a lovely experience reading that book. I've re-read it since and I just go into it and let it take me all the way through.