**spoiler alert** I don't hate this novel, but having read it twice within the past year, I'm still not at all sold on it either. Assuming that my pro...more**spoiler alert** I don't hate this novel, but having read it twice within the past year, I'm still not at all sold on it either. Assuming that my prof would be able to convince me of its power and beauty, I went into my second read with a high-heart and a yearning to think of this as a radical intervention in representations of gay male desire. Alas, I came out of class even more opposed to such a notion than when I went in. Maurice is sometimes quite well-written and incredibly poignant--I think of the scene between Maurice and his mother, when she ignores his 'illicit' kiss because she wants to mean as much as she once had to him. Other times, I have to confess that I find the prose to reek of a lazy Jane Austen--in fact, the book feels at times like Jane Austen had written Brideshead Revisited in a creative slump (if Austen *could* be bad).
People are right to remind me that, whoopee, the book refuses to conclude gay love with tragedy, therein making it palatable to a post-sexology audience; however, I'm deeply deeply troubled by the inflections of class in the novel. Alec follows a long literary tradition of equating the lower-classes--particularly servants--with the body; Alec literally seems to be a body, open for use, at times (re: the "Come" scene with Maurice at the window). The dichotomy of the novel is not between hetero- and homo-sexual identities, but rather between the mind and the body, that great Western philosophical split. So Clive and Maurice inhabit the Greek aesthetic model of male-male love, the "children of the sun," while Maurice and Alec seem to embody the practice of the theory, wherein a social subordinate is penetrated and 'trained.' I don't mean to say that there is a necessarily exploitative undercurrent to Maurice's desire, but that Forster's decision to exemplify the relationship *through* class plays into troubling social hegemonies. Not to mention I feel that the book is significantly weaker in terms of pacing and style once Clive 'comes out' as straight.
In any case, it's a book of its time. The cultural traces of Freud and sexology haunt the text, and Forster does stage some intriguing fractures in this history; however, the writing is hit-or-miss, the plot frequently plods, and the politics are only very minutely radical--mostly, there's a disturbing retrenching of the status quo. Call me back once I've read Howard's End this summer, and we can talk Forster again.(less)
I was hesitant to give this one 5-stars because there were a number of times where I found myself so furious with Nick Guest, the tryingly snobbish ae...moreI was hesitant to give this one 5-stars because there were a number of times where I found myself so furious with Nick Guest, the tryingly snobbish aesthete of the novel, that I needed to take a step back from the book and recognize that I don't *have* to be as awfully distanced from people as he is, simply because I'm more or less an American analog to him. I had to remind myself that having trouble identifying with the protagonist does not a bad book make, and of course, this is actually a quite astoundingly-written, immaculately imagined novel of the implosions of the gay 80s in Thatcherite England.
Haunted by the specters of HIV/AIDS, the political shifts of the period, the sometimes overwhelming perspectival scent of Henry James, and indeed, Thatcher herself, the novel reads often as an elegy--a nostalgic yearning for a kind of innocent past that seems, to my mind, more a castle in the sky for Nick than an actuality suggested by Hollinghurst. But that sense of looking back--particularly to the kind of literary ancestors that resonate with this novel (James, of course, but I certainly hear profound echoes from Forster's Maurice and Waugh's Brideshead)--still spawns an intensely sad desire for a time before the great griefs that eventually subsume the narrative here.
It's not a perfect novel, but damn, it sure is a helluva story with a great writer at the helm. Highly recommended. (less)
The proper rating here would be four-and-a-half stars, I think; I positively gorged on Barnes' wit and flashy prose, but I think the only thing that h...moreThe proper rating here would be four-and-a-half stars, I think; I positively gorged on Barnes' wit and flashy prose, but I think the only thing that held me back from a full five-star rating was that, despite my intellectual engagement with the 'novel' (short story collection?), I often felt a bit detached from his characters. There wasn't the emotional resonance there, except perhaps in his sort of 'discourse' on love ("Parenthesis") and in the absolutely riveting chapter, "The Visitors."
That said, this was a biting, quick-paced, fascinating collection of loosely-intertwined vignettes; some rooted in fiction, some in history, some in a sort of 'essay' style, but most often, these shorts were a blend of all three. In that way, I suppose Barnes would be called a post-modernist (I don't know much about him, but that I picked this up on recommendation from a favorite professor), because the central myth he's revising here is that of Noah's Ark--which is the story that ties everything together, even if only through vague allusions (for instance, "The Visitors" is set on a cruise ship, where the passengers enter in pairs, imagined as if on Noah's Ark--and then of course, without spoiling too much, there's the question of who 'deserves' to be on the cruise by way of nationality). The first tale, and it seems the most remembered in other reviews, is a very straightforward reimagining of Noah's Ark; Noah is, somewhat expectedly, a drunkard and tyrant; his daughters-in-law are naughty 'loose women' (one of whom gets the unicorn tossed overboard, after her indiscretions with it are discovered); the ark itself, and its passengers, are made vividly, and sometimes disturbingly, real in a very tangible, fleshy sense. All told through the eyes of the 'stowaway'--a woodworm. It's often laugh-out-loud hilarious; blasphemous (which I love); and Barnes writing--despite that loose 'pomo' label--is so engaging and inviting that the book quickly became a page turner.
Of the others, I've mentioned "The Visitors"--a tale of terrorism aboard a cruise ship--and there are also tales of catastrophe ("Shipwreck") and what it means to turn catastrophe into art (part II of that same story); a mock-vision of Heaven's inevitable fallibility ("The Dream"); two stories in which characters take pilgrimages to Ararat to discover the wreckage of the Ark, which are again loosely interconnected in a very light, winking way ("The Mountain" and "Project Ararat"); and even a translation of a 16th century trial in which a church attempts to have the woodworm excommunicated ("The Wars of Religion"). As I said, Noah's Ark--or at least the same sort of seafaring search for meaning--pervades each of the stories. Perhaps more importantly, though, Barnes seeks out those 'big' questions that are always so challenging to tackle--why do we look to religion for purpose? Or why is it that we deploy art as a means of organizing our chaos? What is the use of love as a crutch, and what sorts of things constitute love in the contemporary imagination?
Barnes doesn't offer answers here--and really, it's the ambiguities of this collection that leave the reader panting for more. His wonderful sense of humor and his no-nonsense look at these human struggles ultimately make for a provocative--and really fun, frankly--read. Two chapters are, I confess, a bit weaker than the others ("The Survivor," which is incredibly predictable about one-third of the way through, and "Three Simple Stories," which don't have enough substance to grasp onto), but compared to other authors' 'weak' short stories, they would still shine. It's just that within such a strong series of vignettes, these two don't glimmer as brightly as their compatriots. I've noticed many people complain about Barnes' endeavor to "show off" as an author--and certainly, as I said at the beginning of the review, he does have a rather flashy style. I'd say that's actually what makes "The Survivor," for example, so predictable. But I've never understood that qualm with "show off" authors--for what are writers, really, other than magicians, so to speak? They've got their box of tricks, and some tricks flare more vibrantly--some are more subtle. Each has its validity, and Barnes' style does not wear thin in this collection--it was a real joy to read. (less)
I wasn't as ga-ga over this as many have been. Didion's style is spare and haunting; she has a way of grabbing your gut and ripping it open, and then...moreI wasn't as ga-ga over this as many have been. Didion's style is spare and haunting; she has a way of grabbing your gut and ripping it open, and then easing you back into things. That's fucking cool. But I think I came to this book at an inappropriate time--I've not lost anyone close to me, and so I often felt like an outsider, looking in. Not to sound morbid, but perhaps something that will hit me more profoundly at...a later time in my life. Her writing, in any case, is awesome, and seeing her grappling with grief is a really intense and intimate experience. That sense of absolute disorientation after grief made complete sense to me, though not contextualized by death. She has an interesting method, and a beautiful execution. I'm really looking forward to reading The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (less)
Though I wouldn't offer five stars to every essay here, the truly great essays included propel the book to possibly more than five stars. The book is...moreThough I wouldn't offer five stars to every essay here, the truly great essays included propel the book to possibly more than five stars. The book is broken into three sections (I don't have it on hand, so forgive me if I forget titles, specifics), one largely concerned with California, one with the personal, and one on locales--seven places Didion had traveled, or somesuch.
I think on the whole, the latter two sections are more compelling than the first one, though the title essay ("Slouching Towards Bethlehem") is rightfully noted by Didion in the preface as a particularly powerful one. Admittedly, I imagine its impact--as with many essays here, so deeply entrenched in the 60s--would have been far greater at the time of publication, but nonetheless, Didion's biting (but, I think, fair) portrayal of drug and hippie culture navigates conventional reaction to that particular historical moment to present an oft-disturbing and sometimes-alluring portrait of a 'revolutionary' counterculture steeped in crystal and morning hash. As is usual with Didion, she allows the minute events that permeate her vantage point speak for themselves, in the process somehow making the larger picture so much easier to take in. Through Didion's bizarre and minor encounters with a handful of users and losers, it seems strangely clear--in a way it never had before--why the counterculture 'revolution' of the 60s so miserably failed to effect any permanent cultural or political change. Of course Didion's perspective is but one among many, but despite her own leanings and her sometimes manipulative style, I really do find her essays to be relatively balanced, at least if you're not a particularly gullible reader.
"On Keeping a Notebook" is positively inspiring, though I question whether I'd ever be able to maintain one in the way that she evidently does (she calls it a compulsion, and I reckon it'd be a discipline for me). I love her comment, though, about staying on "nodding terms" with the selves we've been over time, and I guess that's why I find the idea so beautiful, though of course Didion's take figures it as a melancholic sort of nostalgia. In fact, it's her capacity to articulate nostalgia, her yearning to adequately capture memory, that makes the collection so frequently breathtaking.
The final essay, "Goodbye to All That," remembering her 20s in New York City, left me emotionally raw. I cried in a coffeeshop as I worked my way through it, perhaps because I'm 23 (the age she opens her reminiscences with) and have been living on my own in a city for nearly a year now; perhaps because Didion so perfectly images youth in a way that avoids sentimentality; perhaps because I'm finally owning up to the fact that, as Didion recalls, my past adds up, my actions do in fact have longterm consequences that begin to reveal themselves to me. Because the sense of possibility that felt so luminous even only a year and a half ago is beginning to dim. It's an essay anyone in their mid-20s and on should read (I wouldn't advise it to those younger, since I probably would have found myself jaded before my time if I'd read it at 18 or 19 or 20).
"On Morality" and the Hawaii essay are real standouts, as well, as are the very first two essays of the collection (whose titles evade me at the moment). I'd say there are maybe three duds in the whole book, though; 90% of it is absolutely stunning. A definite must-read for anyone who doesn't already hate Didion. (less)
A very quick read for my Lesbian Lit course this semester, and one of the very best things I had the opportunity to study this spring. Bechdel manages...moreA very quick read for my Lesbian Lit course this semester, and one of the very best things I had the opportunity to study this spring. Bechdel manages to capture the almost overwhelming complexities of the parent/child dynamic when queerness enters the equation--and here, doubly so, as she recounts her discovery that her father was also gay. Her descriptions of the very antiquarian house and family from which she sprung may not ring particularly intimate for many of us, but the ways in which she illustrates her understanding of this 'strangeness' as her own personal 'normalcy' extends the experience outwards, to basically anyone who has lived in some kind of family setting. The "Fun Home" of the title is in fact a funeral home, which manages to capture, much as Six Feet Under did, the atmosphere of family life that leaves the narrator often paralyzed, awkward, and with a wealth of rich experience at hand.
The illustrations are not ornate, though detailed, and not glamorous or showy, even though there's so much to look for in each frame. There's something almost indescribable about the ways in which the images of this graphic novel complement the content; somehow, she manages to create layers upon layers upon layers of meaning with seemingly very little at hand. But, for instance, in a lovemaking scene, when the image is the sex, and the caption is-not dialogue-but narration of another piece of literature, we've got to draw from our understanding of Bechdel's text, of the text that's being described, of our own sexual experiences, and pull everything together to understand the very simple image that's being presented. It makes these sorts of moments incredibly memorable, poignant particularly for those of us who have experience, not necessarily gayness or lesbian existence, but perhaps simply hardships in discovering our identities, or even just had awkward comprehensions of our sexual beingness, and our parents' influence on that.
I could gush on and on, but I suppose I should say just simply--everyone should read this. It's quick, it's fun, and it manages to capture the search for identity and home that *everyone* has to undergo, even if they aren't lesbians, or their dads aren't gay, or they weren't raised in a funeral home. It's wonderful.(less)
Considering my general disinterest in the Cult of the Straight White Bro Writers of 20th century American fiction, I admit I walked into this slim vol...moreConsidering my general disinterest in the Cult of the Straight White Bro Writers of 20th century American fiction, I admit I walked into this slim volume with trepidation. Needless to say, I emerged unscathed, and in fact, incredibly impressed with the book. I guess Carver's known for his spare prose (which, it's recently been suggested, was due in large part to the genius of a meticulous editor?), and this aspect of the book certainly helped--though actually, it was less the fact of the barebones style so much as the so-convincing-it-felt-nearly-voyeuristic dialogue. These characters are having the conversations you had with your mother or your lover or your kid last week, and that can be a bit disarming at times.
In this sense, too, then, there's not much in the way of 'surprising' narrative, because Carver's attention directs itself predominantly toward tedium rather than Big Events. Emotional crises are hardly few or far between, but they seem so usual as to appear inevitable (and maybe they are). If you're expecting to have a gooey feeling reading these stories because LOVE is in the title, you may want to backtrack and grab Eat, Pray, Love instead, because the love in these stories is more characteristically obsessive, bored, melancholy, downright bizarre (the mute man and his bass fish is the ex. I'm thinking of here), or violent. In the eponymous story, four characters ponder aloud on what makes love 'real' as they get progressively drunker and more emotionally vulnerable: it seems clear that the staid dentist or pediatrician or whatever sort of medical practitioner the one boring dude is the antithesis of all the other tales' portrayals of love. For the urologist/orthopedic surgeon/even-more-pathetic-than-usual-drunkard, love is about finishing your spouse's sentences, or being able to have one drink too many, or sitting and reminiscing about the time you two met on the boardwalk during the sunrise while the seagulls poured champagne down your gullets, etc. etc. Oddly enough, his wife thinks of true love as the man she was with before him, who stalked and threatened to kill her, ultimately offing himself in despair. Neither extreme seems particularly lovely, but perhaps the takeaway is that it's better to feel *something* than to be tied up in mediocrity forever.
Oh, and the booze. The booze! The cigarettes! It was tough to read these stories when I was stuck inside and couldn't smoke along with the characters, so smokers: be warned.(less)
It took ten weeks, but I made it, more or less unscathed, through Ulysses. What hasn't been said about this book? I don't feel any need to try to be o...moreIt took ten weeks, but I made it, more or less unscathed, through Ulysses. What hasn't been said about this book? I don't feel any need to try to be original here; I guess as far as recommending this, you'll either adore it or you'll despise it. The Circe, Nausicaa, and Penelope chapters alone are worth the price/toil of admission. Getting through some chapters, admittedly, proved to be a Herculean task (I won't name names so as not to predispose you on that front), and Joyce's voice/style/narrative technique (whatever you wish to call it, and it seems a bit reductive to say his 'technique' when each section mutates and becomes something entirely other) is, as they say, quite difficult. If you can make it through the first four chapters, you'll have no trouble getting through Ulysses in its entirety, which isn't to say they're the 'hardest' but that by that point, you've either become accustomed to it (and feel that you've already put enough effort in that you need to finish) or you've decided it's the literary equivalent of a barrel of bricks, which it will begin to feel like when you lug it and the Annotated Guide around in your backpack everyday for upwards of two months.
Leopold and Molly Bloom are two of the most distinctive figures in literature--something I'd always heard but somehow assumed couldn't be true because of the way people talk of them. Stephen I'm iffy on; I want to find him alluring, but most I was just ambivalent to or irritated by him. The bit characters pop in and out, are fully-fleshed or never explained, and are often just as fascinating. I'm particularly taken with Mrs. Breen, for some reason. But you'll certainly remember them by the end of it all.
As I said, I don't wish to be pretentious here. I read it for a class, which is likely the only thing that would have forced me to trudge through it--and I'm very glad I was coerced. It's not just one of the most glamorous notches on a lit scholar's belt, but a really fucking great text. Often literally belly-achingly funny; at other moments, it leaves you feeling entirely hollow and pointless. It will make you work, there's no doubt about that, but I do think the payoff justifies the effort. My professor left us with this thought on Ulysses: Joyce refigures the classical hero as a mostly ordinary man who makes it through the day with no great losses or gains, which in itself becomes epic; simply getting by is the great journey of the text. I liked this notion, though there are a million other things to pick up on, and it's something that I think will stick with me for some time to come.(less)
Can't quite speak to why I loved this book. The reviews on here don't appear too kind; likewise, my classmates were befuddled and frustrated by Nightw...moreCan't quite speak to why I loved this book. The reviews on here don't appear too kind; likewise, my classmates were befuddled and frustrated by Nightwood. Admittedly, it's sort of amusing to watch a group of budding-scholars with the arrogance to believe they can dissect any text (after all, this is our training, no?) encounter one that leaves them cross-eyed and faint. Which isn't to say that I wasn't often confused, but that when I realized it was pointless to try and 'answer' what this novel was trying to articulate, I decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Is there a hero of Nightwood? Who knows? Doctor Matthew certainly talks the damn most; but then, I think, Robin Vote (must as with Doctor Matthew) is the flame that all the moth-ciphers of the novel are seduced by. And indeed, I do think of these characters as cipher-figures; they're somewhat like walking ideas, trapped in a script that is not really their own. One quote cut to the quick: Jenny Petherbridge "defiled the very meaning of personality in her passion to be a person." But I think this fits all of the specters of the novel; each is seeking desperately to become a person (re: all of them taking up mantles that are not their own, as Felix and his 'royal lineage' and the 'Doctor' his medical merits), and so fucks everything up entirely.
I'm really curious about the uncensored version that's supposedly available now; Eliot edited much of the explicit sex, I hear, but still I was shocked by the unreserved portrayal of female-female desire. It was sort of exhilarating, because the 'anti-normative' position of homoerotic desire at this historical moment seemed so incidental in the crazed circus of the novel. Certainly not the 'Well of Loneliness' approach, though this novel likewise plays with a narrative of contemporary tragedy (not engendered by gay desire, though, which was nice).
Anyway, you'll likely fall on one side of the spectrum or the other--you'll either be confused and frustrated and possibly want to throw the book across the room; or you'll be invigorated by the stunning prose, the ghostly characters, the rejection of plot-conventions (everyone I know said the problem with this novel was that nothing happens--which I simply don't understand--the novel simply pays obsessive mind to non-events and breezes over more typical novelistic 'happenings'), and the kookiness of it all. In a nutshell, this novel seemed to me what might have happened in V Woolf wrote an Angela Carter novel (which I guess she sort of did, with Orlando). There's a dash of Flannery O'Connor as well. I don't mean to diminish Barnes's achievement in the slightest, but just to provide a quicker reference for those still up in the air as to whether or not it's worth it. I say yes.(less)