Calling this "three novels" seems a bit misleading, because of the trio only Soft Soap is long enough to be described that way. But the other two areCalling this "three novels" seems a bit misleading, because of the trio only Soft Soap is long enough to be described that way. But the other two are still very good long stories. Laarmans, the protagonist of all them, is at times Bartleby-esque and at times a bit of Monsieur Hulot as he moves across the years of the three stories from his entry into business to his resigned later life. It's unfortunate this book is out of print, and that only Elsschot's superb novel Cheese and his earlier Villa des Roses (which I found less compelling) are available — his pared down, fast-paced style seems one that would resonate for many contemporary readers....more
The author is a friend, I admit, but I genuinely enjoyed this novel. It's a great blend of small town rural noir crime and the campus novel — the tediThe author is a friend, I admit, but I genuinely enjoyed this novel. It's a great blend of small town rural noir crime and the campus novel — the tedium and frustration of academic administration takes on quite the sinister edge. It's impressive that Laura Ellen Scott's novels are each very different from one another, but in each of them her skill at developing characters complex enough to be engaging and (sometimes) sympathetic, yet odd enough to be compelling, stands out in all of them....more
A very direct, short novel about the inevitable consequences facing a character for whom promotion and advancement up the ladder of bureaucratic ranksA very direct, short novel about the inevitable consequences facing a character for whom promotion and advancement up the ladder of bureaucratic ranks becomes the embodiment of religious faith and devotion. As well as the longed-for shaking off of his own humble origins and family shame. While the narration is earnest, there's a constant bleak, tragic humor in the protagonist's subjugation of his own desires and happiness to a monkish degree. In a way Respected Sir is an anti-Bartleby, centered on a clerkish character who is unable to say he would prefer not to because any denial could endanger his next promotion. But in the understated awareness of how class prejudice limits the options of even talented, successful lives, Naguib's character Othman is no less trapped by a machine than Melville's Bartleby....more
N is a big, complicated alternate history of WWII in Australia told in multiple modes and styles from the Pynchonesque to magical realism to insertedN is a big, complicated alternate history of WWII in Australia told in multiple modes and styles from the Pynchonesque to magical realism to inserted documents to slapstick(ish) comedy.* It's set in the past but very much engaged with the present as the large cast of characters (politicians, artists, soldiers, spies) get caught up in the incremental creep of fascism and oppression accepted one moment's expediency at a time. The juxtaposition of voices, styles, and experiences creates a panoramic sense but Scott never loses the intimate, individual presense and pathos of his characters despite so many moving parts to keep track of and to keep the reader engaged. As others have noted elsewhere, it does get a bit too “tidy” at the end, tying things up perhaps more insistently than I felt like I needed, but that approach took on a gravitas of its own that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, so I wouldn’t call it a complaint.
It isn't the easiest book to get your hands on in the US but it's worth the effort (and interlibrary loan was able to find it for me). I'd love to see a US publisher bring it over (that's you, editor friends). I suspect an equivalent novel written about the US or UK instead of Australia would get far more attention, acclaim, and international republication, which is a shame.
* In particular, there's a cameo by Douglas MacArthur that manages to turn one of his most famous lines into an absolutely hilarious gag. I laughed so hard I got some funny looks on the subway....more
I've seen many reviews complaining about the narrator's voice and her passivity in the face of such cruel constraints on her life, but the voice didn'I've seen many reviews complaining about the narrator's voice and her passivity in the face of such cruel constraints on her life, but the voice didn't trouble me. She's a character torn between wanting to know and wanting to not know, and the circling, dodging manner in which she tells her story embodied that well. What surprised (but shouldn't have, when I've read most of Ishiguro's novels) is what this book wasn't: I expected more science fiction, but got instead a novel built on a science fiction premise but more concerned with the inner consequences of life in that world. So while there are many, many contexts I'd like to know more about in Ruth's England, the frustration of not getting that was exciting in its own way, forcing me to reckon with a limited individual experience versus the more familiar comprehensive worldbuilding beyond a character's ken. BUT: without spoiling, I hope, I was really disappointed by the choice to abandon that limited view toward the end of the book in what felt like a really unfortunate concession to making the novel tidier and more typical. The infodumping felt a bit cheap and too convenient, because it seemed so entirely unnecessary for a novel gaining its power from the tense limits of constrained knowledge....more