For one who professes distaste for biography/autobiography, I’ve been reading a lot of it lately. But it was easy to make an exception in this case.
I’For one who professes distaste for biography/autobiography, I’ve been reading a lot of it lately. But it was easy to make an exception in this case.
I’ve read Anton Chekhov’s letters, a form of writing which might distinguish itself from autobiography by being both more honest and of greater literary worth. Letters are, after all – or where when people used to write then, at any rate – small literary gifts. I had a friend who used to send me letters hand-written and tied with a ribbon in a bow. They insisted upon being read in a special place with some degree of devotion. The experience is the very opposite of receiving an email and scanning it while logging onto facebook.
So when I saw this book half-price at The London Review Bookshop, I had to buy it, fully expecting it to add to my reading of Anton’s letters.
The book does not pretend to be more than it is: various pieces published over a period and now cobbled together. If you are expecting the book itself as a whole to be some sort of technical triumph, a remastering of the very idea of The Book, it isn’t. It’s a cobbled together collection of bits and pieces. But what marvellous bits and pieces they are.
I guess like others here, my first thought was not as good as...that's the trouble with creating a perfect work of art, one is haunted by it forever.
MI guess like others here, my first thought was not as good as...that's the trouble with creating a perfect work of art, one is haunted by it forever.
May I say this is 'not as good' but still SO, SO very good, that we are talking about giving this nine stars out of five, where we might have given Sukhanov ten.
Maybe the very big difference, the thing that makes one intuitively side with Sukhanov is that this novel has no one great character, rather, a group share centre stage equally. If you ask me, this just goes to show Grushin can do both of these constructions equally well. I think I was greedy to sink myself into a big character, the way one is greedy in one's younger years to be immersed in the enormity of The Russian Novel. The longer the better. The bigger the better. But you grow up and the finesse with which Grushin manages the five or so main characters of this book is a treat to behold. She is such a skilled craftsman, both in use of language and structure without ever losing sight of the story and the characters: you CAN have all of this, the idea that technique is something we have now in modern literature instead of story and character is shown by this writer to be ludicrous.
.....Much later after finishing this wonderful book.
I did talk a few people into reading this. The first, Margaret, who has read many, many books over .....Much later after finishing this wonderful book.
I did talk a few people into reading this. The first, Margaret, who has read many, many books over the decades immediately declared that she could call it the best book she's ever read too. Phew. I was afraid I was not overselling it, but creating a situation where expectation could not equal experience.
The review is here, unchanged since I first put it on GR:
Frayn is on record as regretting his fate - to be an all-rounder inspired in limitless ways. If he were only a translator or columnist, only a novelisFrayn is on record as regretting his fate - to be an all-rounder inspired in limitless ways. If he were only a translator or columnist, only a novelist or philosopher, only a playwright his talents in any of these would see him more highly regarded than he is today for being wonderful at all of them. He would make more money too. If only he lived in a period where a man was admired for talent that went in many directions, instead of in a period in which specialisation is worshipped and we view with suspicion those who are constitutionally unable to live the narrow life, or think the narrow thoughts, that result from specialisation.
This collection of writings about his theatre work, both his own plays and his translations, being a renowned Chekhov translator in particular, spans his career from the very beginning. And I do mean very beginning, with hilariously charming accounts of his productions as a small boy in which he took on all roles - writer, producer, set designer and maker, cast maker in the case of his puppets. The diversity is astonishing, from his discussions of the difficulties in developing his farces to a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the history that inspired one of my favorites, Copenhagen. Throughout, however, two things stood out for me.
Over the last few weeks I’ve read The Luzhin Defense, followed by Bluebeard and then Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Originally I was going to wriOver the last few weeks I’ve read The Luzhin Defense, followed by Bluebeard and then Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Originally I was going to write some stuff here about the central characters and compare them with the original Outsider. I was going to say things like this:
Maybe it is a contradiction in terms, to put 3 books about outsiders in the same review, but I can’t stop myself.
We have here a chess player, a doctor who might or might not have murdered a wife and a chickenhead. They all share a trait lacking in the original Outsider: they are all able to induce a sympathetic response from the reader. I don’t believe we have any capacity to understand Camus’s Outsider and without that, how can we have sympathy? It is easy to empathise with the others, however apart they may be from our own lives. It is impossible for Camus to put us in the shoes of his Outsider. It IS possible to become the crazy chess player, the murderous doctor, the mentally deficient chickenhead. Indeed it is Dick’s great strength that his characters slip into you; no matter that they are hypothetical consequences of a hypothetical world.
I can’t help wondering how I would have felt about Nabokov if I’d read him last instead of first. I thought he was getting away with being clever and ornate at the time. But to read the spare prose of Frisch next made me question this. And sharing with Dick the suffering of his characters meant I started wondering if Nabokov really had a clue what he was writing about. He says things that hit the mark for sure and his general thesis that chess saves the hero’s life until his dogooder wife-to-be starts interfering is completely faithful to the real world. I would scarcely be the only chess player to associate with Luzhin’s discovery of the game, a discovery that means life is suddenly tolerable. But something makes me distrust Nabokov’s potrayal of the Outsider, and I’m tired of trying to figure out what it is.
That’s the sort of thing I was going to say.
But I’d rather read. Consider me a goodreads outsider. ...more
How puerile can I get? Somebody was asking me the other day, and I think this tells the story. I read the first eight hundred thousand, three hundredHow puerile can I get? Somebody was asking me the other day, and I think this tells the story. I read the first eight hundred thousand, three hundred and sixty-three pages of War and Peace, stopping exactly twenty pages before the end. I wished to make the point, Count Lev Nikolayevich, I hope you are listening to this, that I could have finished it but chose not to.
So, hmmm. Pretty puerile indeed.
Good call, kiddo, I thought to myself a few weeks ago when I saw the movie, The Last Station. One can be puerile and oh-so-right....more