The bloating of North American portion sizes over the past few decades is stunning. Young was one of the first researchers to study this phenomenon, a...moreThe bloating of North American portion sizes over the past few decades is stunning. Young was one of the first researchers to study this phenomenon, and her first chapter is a stomach-turning eye-opener, complete with a timeline. Her actual program for portion control seems eminently sensible, though I wish she'd put more emphasis on consumer culture's investment in bigger=better in *everything*. In addition, some of her advice -- buy single-serving packages, skip econo-sizes -- is pretty irresponsible in terms of environmental considerations.
This book is a great companion to Wansink's Mindless Eating, especially because it offers practical approaches to downsizing our consumption habits.(less)
As he was walking towards Victoria Station Benet renewed his guilty misery (60).
That, in a nutshell, captures the affectless, unpunctuated tone *and*...moreAs he was walking towards Victoria Station Benet renewed his guilty misery (60).
That, in a nutshell, captures the affectless, unpunctuated tone *and* the sticky emotional content of this book.
This is such an odd book that I don't know what to say about it, let alone where to begin. There isn't a plot in any traditional sense of causality, but there is a sequence of events, though some of the most important ones (and their actors) remain untold. These events and their actors are, roughly, thus: a group of friends, assembled over the years by a man now dead, gathers at his estate, now in the hands of his nephew Benet, in the English countryside for the wedding of two of their own. The night before, a note from the bride-to-be is found, calling off the ceremony. People return to London, or stay in the country, and there is *a lot* of anguish, though no one ever seems to do anything. Then Benet's mysterious servant Jackson unravels the mystery, reunites the former bride-to-be with her Australian lover, and everyone else pairs off -- though still within the confines of the group -- in unexpected ways. Along the way, Jackson is fired by an obscurely jealous Benet, but the two are reunited as everyone else gets married or something.
I love Murdoch. Her ability to relate the events and storms and *bright flashes* of human thought is unparalleled, as is her uncanny capacity to make thought sensuous and sensory impressions, thoughtful. It's as if she writes from the very level of nerves, from within a tangle of ganglia, where thought and emotion and sensory information all exist as snaps of electricity. Her talents, however, go misused in this particular book; they're wasted on people of little consequence who obsess over very low stakes. About halfway through, I had to stop reading and wonder aloud if the reader *really, truly* is supposed to care that a wedding got called off. Are those seriously the stakes here?
...yes, those are the stakes. I don't know what to make of that. Shakespeare's comedies, of course, follow such silly contrivances and sequences, too, but I can't help feeling that their status as *plays* makes the difference. As plays, the events and the characters are intrinsically external, outside the reader/viewer, ready to be performed, but the novel's interiority, *especially* in Murdoch's hands, works against readerly sympathy (let alone identification) in this case. The effect might be different were any of the characters to *do* something about the anguish, "darkness", "hatred", that they all claim to feel.
I am also unsympathetic -- to put it kindly -- towards the novel's milieu. Many of the characters profess interest in what they call mysticism, and they have the moneyed leisure to pursue these interests. One, the least interesting of the lot, is a woman named Mildred. Though Mildred wants to be ordained as an Anglican priest, she also worships at the Indian Gallery of the British Museum: Mildred dreams of glowing birds flying in darkness, of cobras stretching out their hoods, and dear Ganesh, and dear Ganga, Ganges. Buddha incarnate in Vishnu. So Shiva with Parvati, Shiva dancing in a wheel of fire, Krishna with his milkmaids giving himself to each. She had not discussed 'worship of idols' with Lucas. She felt, emanating from the images, these live beings, a profound warmth of passion, of love, that of the gods themselves but also of their numberless worshippers. In India, at every street corner, the god with garlands round his neck. This was religion, the giving away of oneself, the realisation of how small, like to a grain of dust, one was in the vast misery of the world.... (207) Um. The orientalist *awfulness* of this can't be rendered, not by direct quotation, not by my summary. The museum as an archive of British colonial looting, transformed into one loony woman's personal temple...I have no words.
Nor do I know quite what to make of the (traditionally English and terribly nasty) classism espoused and embodied by these characters. On his first return to the country since the wedding's cancellation, Benet realizes that he "must" put in an appearance: He had no business in the village. But suddenly it occurred to him that he precisely *had* business in the village, he must *show his face*. He must let them *look at him*, and *pity* him, and get their *sympathising* over with. (66) This book is *not* set in 1875 (or 1935), when such patronizing attitudes were, though never forgivable, at least widespread. Benet's out-of-proportion sense of his own importance doesn't just baffle me; it irritates and *pains* me.
As protagonist, the reader unfortunately spends a lot of time in Benet's head. It is a deeply unpleasant place: But what now also disturbed him, paining him so, was Jackson. Perhaps he might have consoled himself by reflecting that Jackson had no right to interfere with the problems of others and might even, in doing so, make all sorts of serious mistakes. Jackson, a servant, should not, leaving his post, have run away to sort out chaotic love affairs, and in doing so dabble in impertinent deceptions! (200) Jackson is just about the only sympathetic soul in the book; he is also, and I don't think this is a coincidence, the most *underwritten*. He has one name, variable ages, and might be an instantiation of Jesus or god or something. He works hard in a book where *no one* worries about a farthing; he is exhausted when no one else does anything but ring up the others and ask for news. I remain ignorant of just what his dilemma was, but I'd like to think it was whether or not to poison the lot of them at their next pretentious, self-aggrandizing dinner party.
For all that, this book abounds with Murdoch's lovely and *creepy* turns of phrase, as in: "Beneath their soft loving voices their thoughts ran to and fro like mice" (236). There is a lonely horse in a pasture between the two estates whom I quite liked.
However, no one reflects, no one strives, everyone wails and tears their hair over trivialities and wallows in nasty, unreconstructed prejudice. I think it's cruel (and pointless) to chalk the novel's flaws up to Murdoch's Alzheimer's; we should all be able to write half so well at our healthiest. The flaws, rather, emanate from an anachronistic, and never to be mourned as it passes, milieu of the idle and the selfish. Becoming trapped in their nervous systems was both unpleasant and unenlightening, but more than anything, it was just...pointless.
I need to re-read Murdoch's The Philosopher's Pupil and The Sea, the Sea. Both knocked my metaphysical and sensuous socks off and they might help wash my memory clean of this experience. (less)
In grade seven, my teacher-frenemy loaned this to me; I remember being absorbed and freaked-out in equal measure, and I'd love to read it again. I sus...moreIn grade seven, my teacher-frenemy loaned this to me; I remember being absorbed and freaked-out in equal measure, and I'd love to read it again. I suspect my perspective has changed quite a bit.(less)
One of those books, like Boston's "Green Knowe" series, that I read so deeply as a kid that the story wove itself into my brain on a fundamental, near...moreOne of those books, like Boston's "Green Knowe" series, that I read so deeply as a kid that the story wove itself into my brain on a fundamental, nearly mythic, level.
Must get another copy -- the one I read in the school library had pale blue type. It was gorgeous.(less)
Self-loathing and petty nastiness abound in this messily (hastily?) written book. Despite occasionally wonderful touches, particularly those that conc...moreSelf-loathing and petty nastiness abound in this messily (hastily?) written book. Despite occasionally wonderful touches, particularly those that concern the history of the wedding industry and Savage's mom, the bulk of this is a rancid mixture of straw men, heteronormative longing, and unwarranted self-congratulation.(less)
I love this book. Lodge manages to animate what would be, in lesser hands, cardboard stereotypes -- the humanist, the semiotician, the poststructurali...moreI love this book. Lodge manages to animate what would be, in lesser hands, cardboard stereotypes -- the humanist, the semiotician, the poststructuralist -- into vivid, hilarious, eminently *moving* characters. The novel, structured like a medieval romance, sees them all on a whirlwind world tour of academic conferences, tracing the rise and fall of their fortunes. Some of the best humor comes, I think, from sympathy and identification with others' flaws, and Lodge proves that proposal amply.(less)
I can't believe I still own this -- I borrowed liberated it from my father when I was still in my teens. In later years, Wilson became quite the react...moreI can't believe I still own this -- I borrowed liberated it from my father when I was still in my teens. In later years, Wilson became quite the reactionary blowhard, but this study, written in 1940, is more intellectually generous. Its naive admiration of Trotsky is, in retrospect, almost touching, and it stands as a pretty comprehensive, beautifully written overview of philosophical socialism.(less)
If I read this today, I'd probably be exasperated by Barth's metafic twitches and techniques, but I found this dazzling when I first read it as a wee,...moreIf I read this today, I'd probably be exasperated by Barth's metafic twitches and techniques, but I found this dazzling when I first read it as a wee, pretentious little thing. It's still dazzling, but my tastes have changed utterly.(less)
It's Pinsent, okay? At any rate, it'd be difficult to resist back-cover copy like this: He's a scandal and a shame to all God-fearing folk--and he's o...moreIt's Pinsent, okay? At any rate, it'd be difficult to resist back-cover copy like this: He's a scandal and a shame to all God-fearing folk--and he's out to enjoy every sinful step on his non-stop path to perdition.(less)