Well, I can’t complain. Although I found the audio version of Barbara Kingsolver’s work very tedious listening, I don’t think there’s any question of the sophisticated storytelling in The Lacuna.

(After 5 hours of listening, I realized that I wasn’t going to adjust to her delivery style, but I did continue listening and tried to separate my disappointment in her reading style from the novel itself: it really is a fine work.)

As an introduction to this author’s works, this might not be the place to start (unless you are accustomed to long, multi-layered literary works and inherently appreciate their complexity). You might prefer to start with The Bean Trees or Pigs in Heaven.

But readers familiar with the style exhibited in Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible (also shortlisted for the Orange Prize previously), will likely appreciate the depth and expanse of The Lacuna. (It’s not, however, a tale to be rushed. It’s one to start when you know you can renew it from the library, or when you don’t have other reads competing for your attention.)

So I can’t complain that The Lacuna has captured the 2010 Orange Prize.

But I do rather wish I’d been surprised.

I wanted Monique Roffey‘s The White Woman on the Green Bicycle to win. It feels like the jury made a “safe” choice, choosing Barbara Kingsolver’s novel instead, drawing a name which many readers would recognize; I’d have liked to have seen them take a chance, and put forth a writer who has published only two books.

But just because it was a “safe” choice (and perhaps that’s only my perception of it), doesn’t mean it wasn’t also a “good” choice. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my MRE Authors and I’m pleased to have her work recognized.

For a bit of fun last night, I picked through the Good Fiction Guide (Ed. Jane Rogers 2nd ed. OUP, 2005) and followed the paths of the three shortlisted writers included therein.

[Note: For those who are unfamiliar with this addictive volume, there is a section at the front which is dedicated to theme reading. Here, writers focus on a specific theme about which they’re knowledgeable, suggesting 12 titles that readers would do well to seek out (more on these theme lists in coming weeks: I love them) and giving a bit of history. And the back of the book, by far the larger section in the volume, is arranged alphabetically by author’s last name, with brief descriptions of their writing, a couple of specific title recommendations (not always the ones you’d expect), and a short list of other writers whose work you might also enjoy whose work has some similarity with the writer being discussed.]

The part that I found especially fun was the way in which the other reading recommendations often do have some overlap but always also suggest at least one new name so that you can’t resist flipping the pages to check out “just one more”. That, to me, is just like reading should be, one good book leading to another to another to another to…

Here are the three recommendations that were listed with Barbara Kingsolver: Gloria Naylor, Ellen Gilchrist, and Louise Erdrich.

And here are some of the other names to which these are linked, as you follow along from recommendation to recommendation: E. Annie Proulx, Jane Smiley, William Faulkner, Toni Cade Bambara, Ntokaze Shange, Eudora Welty, Carol Shields, Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, and David Guterson. What do you

(I know, I know: I should read Faulkner. And Ntokaze Shange. And I did hear a really interesting interview with David Guterson last summer that made me want to read something of his. The others I have enjoyed.)

As for Hilary Mantel, here are the three recommendations that were listed with her name: Lesley Glaister, Jane Rogers, and Deborah Moggach. And, following along from these recommendations were these writers: Anne Fine, Penelope Lively, Margaret Forster, Nina Bawden, Margaret Drabble, Jane Gardam, Penelope Lively, Peter Dickinson, Susan Hill, and Mary Wesley.

(Here’s the list which with I’m least familiar, needing to fill gaps with Anne Fine and Peter Dickinson, Susan Hill and Mary Wesley, and Jane Rogers, although the latter has gotten very close to the top of my reading pile on many occasions, whereas the others I’ve brushed up against but never taken serious steps towards.)

And, finally, the three names linked with Lorrie Moore: Amy Bloom, Alice Munro, and Anne Tyler. And, linked with these writers, some classic choices: Colette, Anton Chekhov, Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Bishop, Katherine Mansfield, John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Updike, Christina Stead, and Italo Calvino.

(Some of these I know very well, whereas others, like Cheever and Updike and Carver, I have only a passing familiarity — for instance, a few stories, a few essays — with their work.)

It’s fun, isn’t it?! If you haven’t already had a look at The Good Fiction Guide, turn over a fresh page in your TBR notebook and get prepared to make a chunk of new additions to your list. And even though of course anybody making a list invites controversy and discussion, this book is as good a fiction guide as any and, for my purposes, a little better than some.

Which writers here could be contenders for your Must Read Everything list?

Which ones have I missed out on, for whom you think I’d be printing out a chronological list of works if only I just gave one of their books a try?