George Eliot is one of the great names of English literature, which is why I was a bit embarrassed to have reached 50 - with an English degree - withoGeorge Eliot is one of the great names of English literature, which is why I was a bit embarrassed to have reached 50 - with an English degree - without having read anything of hers. Coward that I am, I chose her shortest book. I was right to do so. George Eliot ain't all that good.
Heresy? So what? 'Silas Marner' is a decent enough story, and short enough, but Eliot's plotting is all wrong. Major plot points are covered so scantily that it's easy to miss them, while minor irrelevancies go on for page after page. The characters are stock Victorian, with a whiff of sentimentality that makes the book completely of its time and now thoroughly dated. The conflicts are resolved far too easily too.
From reading Silas Marner, it's easy to see why Eliot was so popular for the Victorians. What's harder to understand is why her reputation survived that sentimental era....more
Joyce: genius or charlatan? Ulysses: greatest "novel of the 20th Century" (Anthony Burgess) or literary fraud?
You can back up any of these statements,Joyce: genius or charlatan? Ulysses: greatest "novel of the 20th Century" (Anthony Burgess) or literary fraud?
You can back up any of these statements, but there is no question that Ulysses is one of the hardest books to read in the English language. At times it defies comprehension, and at times Joyce deliberately makes it more difficult than it needs to be. For instance, the last 60 pages, where Molly Bloom is finally heard giving her side of her husband's story, is rendered in a single, unpunctuated sentence. I can't think of a single justification for that, except to create a barrier between author and reader. This is Joyce getting self-conscious about his own genius.
But Joyce is a genius. It's impossible to write a book like Ulysses without genius. Joyce challenges our idea of narrative, meaning and the purpose of story-telling. The day-long odyssey of Bloom and Daedalus is a celebration of the heroism of the mundane, in an era when the admiration of traditional heroism had led the world into the cataclysm of World War I. Joyce's idea was taken up by a generation of authors, so even if Ulysses isn't a good novel, it's unquestionably a great one.
Oh, but it's hard work. It took Joyce seven years to write Ulysses, and anyone who truly wishes to understand it should take six months and possibly a year to read it. There are passages that defy comprehension, and Joyce challenges the reader to stay with him. Most of us can't. Some of the prose is poetically beautiful and points towards the modernist poetry of especially TS Eliot. In reading it, I felt I learned more about literature than I did about the human condition, and I can't say I enjoyed the experience, but I felt better for understanding it and even a bit sad for realising that I'll never reach those intellectual heights....more
Q. When does a book become a classic? A. When the number of people claiming to have read it exceeds the number who actually have. Moby Dick’s reputatiQ. When does a book become a classic? A. When the number of people claiming to have read it exceeds the number who actually have. Moby Dick’s reputation probably rests on this fact (‘fact’; noun: baseless, opinionated assertion made up on the spot and published on the internet), because Moby Dick isn’t a very good novel and isn’t even the novel I and probably you thought it was. As we all know, the story is of one man’s obsessive pursuit of one whale. We know this if we’ve seen John Huston’s 1956 film, not Melville’s 1851 novel, because the novel is actually an interesting, fictionalised account of a whaling voyage, fleshed out with interminable descriptions of whaling procedures that at times make it read like a technical manual. Every now and then Melville inserts a chapter to explain some technical term he’s used in the previous chapter and has realised his readership might not understand but he’s damned if he’s going to go to the bother of a second draft. Right at the end, the fatal encounter with Moby Dick is tacked on, in terms so circumlocutory that it’s hard to work out what is happening and who, if anyone, survives (those pesky details are all cleared up in the epilogue). Nor is it much of a psychological thriller. Ahab is barely mentioned in the first three-quarters of the book, and the only clue to his monomaniacal obsession comes from Melville always describing him as “the monomaniacal Ahab”. What happened to 'show-don't-tell', Herm? It could be a great novel, but it’s actually crude and unsophisticated, which explains why it was such a flop when published. ...more