I guess it’s impossible not to mention Nabokov on this one. For an obvious reason in terms of a review, and a less obvious one in terms of something I won’t share. But if you read this one, you’ll see.
It’s Nabokov, but specifically Pale Fire. By way of Paul Theroux. In this book, we have the main narrative written and narrated by a brilliant research doctor, Norton, at the end of his career. According to the primary material of the text, he is renowned for having discovered a little to a kind of immortality in a Micronesian island people gained by eating a specific type of turtle. This research, for which he won a Nobel Prize 30 years earlier, is the source of his fame and career. But also the extratext in this novel tells us that he has just been arrested, charged, and convicted of sexual abuse.
The bulk of the novel is the narrative from childhood forward, but it is heavily edited and annotated by a somewhat mysterious figure named Ron, a colleague and friend of the doctor. These notes contain a lot of bibliographic data, footnotes for other works, some extra details left out, and various other tidbits.
The story comes all the way up to the modern day of the text (2001 or so).
This novel is very different in story from Yanagihara’s more famous novel A Little Life but it’s quite similar in its tone and narrative style. It’s stark, but rich; it’s strange, but affecting. It’s a first person account throughout, with two different narrators going back a forth in a very uneven proportion. But it works.
It’s also half the length. I wouldn’t read this instead of her other book, because they’re too different for that, but if you’re interested in a book playing around with form, unreliable narration, and some interesting questions of morality (great and small). It’s also got turtles in it.
Also, it oddly feels like a mid-1990s book, but it’s definitely from 2013.