‘Cathedral’ Book Review

Raymond Carver is an American short story writer whose style I admire endlessly. Carver once said: “It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things — a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring — with immense, even startling power.”  Nowhere in his writings is this more evident than in Cathedral, a collection of some of his most memorable and mature writings.

One of my favourite books of all time, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is also one of Carver’s, and he is nothing if not consistent. The very skill alluded to in the quote above flows through all of his stories; the value of a fridge, of a pencil, of a sink, things we would not usually think twice about is captured to astonishing effect and in a way I feel is far more powerful than in any novel where an author may spend pages and pages of description on these objects. It’s his stripped back, simplistic style which makes the characters and their situations come to life so vividly. The placement of ordinary characters into ordinary settings (the American suburbs, a hospital, a lakeside) is a combination which can almost never be seen to work so alarmingly beautifully, and provides ample opportunity for the reader to establish strong connections with the characters in a short period of time, something invaluable to short stories. The immediate empathy the reader has for those within Carver’s stories is difficult to replicate, and makes his technique all the more captivating.

There are not enough words to describe the admiration I have for Carver, and I could not highly enough recommend any of his work, let alone Cathedral. His character-driven narratives captivate and mesmerise in a manner which seems effortless. Carver also once said, “that’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones,” (if I felt able to more amply use this article to string together Raymond Carver quotes, I would) and I feel this to be extremely relevant considering I’ve never known an author to choose more precisely the right words.