Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How to Win Influential Friends, Get Crazy Novels Published and Become the New Kafka; MISLAID/THE WALLCREEPER by Nell Zink (4Th Estate, PS20)

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How to Win Influential Friends, Get Crazy Novels Published and Become the New Kafka; MISLAID/THE WALLCREEPER by Nell Zink (4Th Estate, PS20)

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHANNA THOMAS-CORR

A BRICKLAYER, a waitress, a secretary, a translator, a birdwatcher and now, apparently, the new Kafka. At the age of 50 Nell Zink has become the improbable darling of the literary world. Her backstory is so strange it threatens to overshadow the reception of her two very strange works of fiction.

Virginia-raised but living in Bad Belzig in Germany, Zink got into a "weird pen-pal relationship" with Jonathan Franzen. She would send him five emails a day, initially about birdwatching and later about her frustrated attempts at fiction. He found her talented but too much and encouraged her to distil her ambition into something more contained; she wrote The Wallcreeper for his amusement in three weeks. (There are plenty of surprising overlapping themes with Franzen's forthcoming novel Purity, by the way.) After that failed to secure a major publisher she wrote Mislaid (also in three weeks) as an attempt to do just that. It worked.

Mislaid is a wacky romp that opens in 1960s Virginia and centres on the fallout of an imprudent marriage between a lesbian student, Peggy, and her gay poetry professor, Lee, a cash-poor Southern aristocrat who commutes to his lectures in a canoe. After a decade of domestic drudgery she runs away with their three-yearold daughter, leaving their nine-yearold son in the care of Lee. To avoid detection she steals the birth certificate of a dead black girl named Karen and poses as the girl's African-American mother (never mind that her daughter is blonde-haired and blue-eyed; everyone accepts her as an "anemic black child"). Finally, the two halves of the broken family are reunited in a episode involving frat boys, drug busts and date-rape.

The Wallcreeper is still more zany -- possibly the only book you'll read that combines dubstep music, drugs, birdwatching and adultery with ecoterrorism. …

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