I was in Singapore, en route to Russia, when I finished reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It is, as Linda Grant says in her introduction, an iI was in Singapore, en route to Russia, when I finished reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It is, as Linda Grant says in her introduction, an important book, one to be shared with generations to come, not least because it warns against the dangers of totalitarianism, or any kind of -ism, really.
The book follows the fortunes of the Shaposhnikov Family during World War II – Viktor, a physicist and member of the Academy of Sciences, his wife Lyudmila, their daughter Nadya, and Lyudmila’s son Tolya by her first marriage. But it is much, much more than this: it is a moving meditation on the sufferings of a people in war, and an exposé of the excesses of any regime that seeks to impose absolute power over its people.
I've now finished reading this wonderful book for the fourth time and have written and scheduled my blog post about the last chapter Penelope, for pubI've now finished reading this wonderful book for the fourth time and have written and scheduled my blog post about the last chapter Penelope, for publication on June 16th 2010, Bloomsday. To see my unpacking of each chapter, month by month as I read it, visit http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com and scroll down to the tag: Ulysses (Disordered thoughts of an amateur) or http://tinyurl.com/25vsrqh I'm going to tackle Finnegan's Wake next......more
I really enjoyed reading Petersburg by Andrei Bely. It’s quite long, but it never loses momentum because of the central element in its plot: a young mI really enjoyed reading Petersburg by Andrei Bely. It’s quite long, but it never loses momentum because of the central element in its plot: a young man who’s become mixed up with radical elements at university has been entrusted with a bomb – to kill his own father, who’s a powerful bureaucrat in 1905 Petersburg. And Petersburg – like the rest of Russia – is in political turmoil…
First published in Russia in 1916, Petersburg was (according to Wikipedia) said by Vladimir Nabokov to be one of the ‘four greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose’. I’ve read the other three too: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time a.k.a. Remembrance of Things Past. Petersburg is one of these four because it’s an early modernist novel ( pre-dating Joyce), but apparently it’s also a ‘Symbolist’ work.
Wikipedia came once more to my rescue to explain that:
Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic styles which were attempts to represent reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. Symbolism was a reaction in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams.
What this means is that Symbolist authors were keen to write ’in a very metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning and were hostile to ‘plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description’.
Bely was one of the ‘Second Generation’ of Russian Symbolists (after Dostoyevsky and Ibsen) and reading Petersburg is a strange, disorientating – but also curiously enchanting – experience. It’s vaguely reminiscent of reading Gerald Murnane’s Inland in the way that the narrative swirls back and forth in time and place, and the intrusive narrator plays with the reader, forever reminding us that this is fiction. The narrator also launches into philosophical and spiritual asides, not to mention prophetic commentaries on the state of the nation. There are fleeting allusions, scraps of dialogue overheard or interrupted, and rhythmic patterns and repetitions as well. All these techniques were unorthodox for their time.
Sinclair Lewis was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. The citation reads for his vigorous and graphic art of desSinclair Lewis was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. The citation reads for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters. His most well-known novels are Main Street (1920) and Babbit (1922).
Main Street ruffled more than a few feathers in small town America when it was first published in 1920, and I expect it has the same effect on some readers today, nearly a century later. Sinclair Lewis wrote this savage satire as an indictment of small town life in the early 20th century – a time when prairie life was patriotically idealised as wholesome and honorable. But Lewis saw small towns as claustrophobic, narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, mean-spirited and conformist. He labelled the power of small town life to inculcate its citizenry with enervating shallow values as ‘The Village Virus’, and the focus of the story is whether the outsider Carol will succumb to Main Street, or not. The choice of Carol as the central character means that Main Street also explores the same territory of female aspirations and limited career choices as Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900), and this adds interest to Lewis’s primary critique.
**spoiler alert** This is fabulous! The fifties superbly evoked, just as those of us who weren't really there 'remember' it. It matches my childhood m**spoiler alert** This is fabulous! The fifties superbly evoked, just as those of us who weren't really there 'remember' it. It matches my childhood memories and the TV images I've seen satirised: a time of innocence, limited choices, community life and over-reactions to sexual scandals. A time when women lived so differently that maybe - out of pity - one might well choose to stay with a drunk. Engine driving is celebrated here as never before, and I'll never think of it as unskilled again. The tragedy of a heart attack at the wheel can't happen today because there are safety mechanisms in place, but there is still potential for human error and its corollary - skill and bravery. Likewise today there are still bad marriages and their impact on children, and there's a need for women to choose between charming adventurous types and the sensible boring ones! Carroll's writing style in sheer poetry in some passages, a great writer indeed. ...more
In a Jolley novel, every character, every plot development, every page is what it seems, and yet not what it seems. An Innocent Gentleman seems at firIn a Jolley novel, every character, every plot development, every page is what it seems, and yet not what it seems. An Innocent Gentleman seems at first such a simple story, mere domestic happenings against a backdrop of WW2 which seems remote and irrelevant. But then the oddity of events piles up, and the irony of the title provokes one puzzle after another. Who can the innocent gentleman be if it certainly isn’t Mr Hawthorn? Is anybody innocent in this complex web of relationships, seemingly played out in the dull suburbs of the Midlands? For more, and a link to an excellent professional review, see http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/200......more
This book is excellent for a generalist reader who wants to know what philosophy is about. It covers all the major thinkers in philosophy, summarisingThis book is excellent for a generalist reader who wants to know what philosophy is about. It covers all the major thinkers in philosophy, summarising their ideas in graphics and easy-to-comprehend flowcharts, and explaining further in the text. Artworks often accompany the text and it's bright, colourful and cheerful, as DK books usually are. Some philosophers depending on their importance get 3 double page spreads, and others get only one single page but the overall effect is a broad overview of how philosophy works. I particularly like the before/after context box on the LHS of each philosopher that shows how each 'new' philosophy builds on the ideas of philosophers of the past, and then becomes the building blocks for philosophy of the future. Page references also make it easy to go these before/after references and refresh the memory about the main points. I also liked the way the book is divided into eras: the Ancient World; the Medieval World; the Renaissance and the Age of Reason; the Age of Revolution; The Modern World; and Contemporary Philosophy. These periods made sense to me intellectually and provided a framework for each grouping of philosophers so that I could see how they belonged in a certain social, political and historical context. Serious philosophers may look at this book and object to its simplifications, and certainly in the case of philosophers that I have read in the original it is clear even to me that a few pages cannot possibly convey the complexities of any philosophical theory. In some cases limitations, contradictions or controversies have been noted, but in others it is up to the alert reader to join the dots herself. In the case of Rousseau, for example, whose Emile I have read, The Philosophy Book makes no mention of how absurdly sexist Rousseau's ideas about education are, nor does it point on Rousseau's page to Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women which was a response to it. But on Wollstonecraft's page the connection to Rousseau is is noted. To read the rest of my review please visit http://anzlitlovers.com/2014/09/28/th......more
A Dance to the Music of Time is a delicious book: I am loving every minute of reading it. Originally comprising 12 separate novels published from 1951A Dance to the Music of Time is a delicious book: I am loving every minute of reading it. Originally comprising 12 separate novels published from 1951 to 1975 it now comes in four volumes and I’ve only read the first volume so far, but I am hooked.
Sometimes compared to Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Lost Time), Anthony Powell’s masterpiece might also be called a comedy of manners. It is much easier to read than Proust, and not just because the sentences are shorter: it’s more amusing, less angst-ridden, and the ‘Britishness’ of its subtle ironies is part of its charm.
A clumsy summary might make this work seem like a soap-opera, so I shan’t try except to say that the novels follow the fortunes of a group of young men through their adolescence and adulthood, from the immediate post WW1 period to the early 1970s. It begins when Jenkins, Templer, Stringham and Widmerpool are in the same house at Eton, and it moves on as they muddle their desultory way through and out of university and then into careers of one sort or another. They muddle into and out of relationships too: love, business, artistic and so on. Along the way there is a veritable cavalcade of eccentric and sometimes dubious characters from all walks of life.
The only thing thing I've ever read about the break-up of the former Yugoslavia that makes any sense. Hall travels through the country just as it is fThe only thing thing I've ever read about the break-up of the former Yugoslavia that makes any sense. Hall travels through the country just as it is falling apart, bewildered by how people who had lived side-by-side for decades could turn on each other the way they did. He offers a comprehensible brief history of the country's strategic position which explains why they have been invaded so many times and why they have held onto past enmities so long. It's easy to read and hard to put down. Highly recommended. ...more
I read this a long time ago, and didn't find it easy to read, but oh! so very worthwhile when I finally made it to Europe and could see the places heI read this a long time ago, and didn't find it easy to read, but oh! so very worthwhile when I finally made it to Europe and could see the places he was writing about. It really makes a difference when you are tramping through all those palaces when you understand the political purpose and symbolism behind the architecture and gardens. I summarised each chapter as I read, but I'm not going to regurgitate that here. What I remember is all sorts of odd things - here's just one example: how the British nearly lost their war with France because they were a (fledgling) democracy: the barons cut down the royal forests for timber, and then when they needed trees with long straight trunks to make masts with, there weren't any left. The French had no such problem because their king ruled like a god and all his forests were intact. Just writing this makes me want to read it again!...more
You don’t have to be an election tragic to enjoy Jessica Rudd’s new book. It may be set in the drama of elections in Canberra, but it’s chick lit. ChiYou don’t have to be an election tragic to enjoy Jessica Rudd’s new book. It may be set in the drama of elections in Canberra, but it’s chick lit. Chick-lit for career women; for those with an interest in current affairs; and for anyone interested in what goes on behind the scenes, behind the 10-second news grab and behind the polished performances we see in the media. As the blurb tells us, it’s Bridget Jones on the campaign trail, and it’s as funny as Bridget Jones’s Diary is said to be.
I haven’t read Helen Fielding’s book, but I saw the hilarious film starring Renée Zellweger instead. Campaign Ruby is actually the first chick-lit I’ve ever read – and will probably be the last - but I enjoyed it. It is so well-written that it manages to transcend the silliness of the genre to become an entertaining insight into modern politics in Australia.