Ignored upon publication, initially receiving mixed reviews yet lauded over the coming decades, For my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
Ignored upon publication, initially receiving mixed reviews yet lauded over the coming decades, John Edward Williams's novel Stoner only recently achieved a merge between praise and sales. A great deal has recently been written about the novel, much of it seemingly as part of publisher Viking's attempt at generating sales: while I liked Julian Barnes's article (and Barnes himself as an author), I would prefer seeing a non-Viking-published writer pen an article titled: "The Must-Read Novel of 2013," particularly when the superlative title nonetheless allows its author to state it is not a great novel but one that is "substantially good" (using Williams's own description of the work). Praise and sales aside, the work has received justified criticism, often for its depiction of its antagonists and its protagonist.
Though I genuinely enjoyed the work, I had one major difficulty: William Stoner relinquishing his wonderful ties with toddler daughter, allowing his mean wife to so easily destroy their relationship, the only bond he's formed at that stage in his life. The scenes of Stoner studying with his daughter at her little desk are heartwarming, and with an attachment so tight I find it difficult to believe that he would so easily let go. Worse, however, is that if he can let go, leaving his daughter in the claws of her Cruella de Ville mother, I find it difficult to respect him. A recent father with a strong attachment to my little guy, I'd kill anyone in a blind fury who would dare intervene in our bond. My feelings at this point in the novel were so strong I almost disliked the work and was prepared to approach the rest of it with critical faculties on high alert. I was, however, utterly sucked in to the academic Lomax incident that immediately followed. A great authorly move to insert that sequence here, detracting us from Stoner giving up on his daughter.
Though I bought his courtship and marriage to the villainous Edith Elaine Bostwick, I was uncomfortable with his marrying someone who so clearly, to the reader at least, didn't care for him. Clearly well-to-do, she did not need the marriage, and I read her giving in to the union because she and her family did not believe another opportunity for marriage would come around. Stoner himself married out of lust, though the narrator claims he loved her, which I am suspicious about. His love for his daughter was undeniable, as was his passion for Katherine Driscoll, but his love for Edith is questionable....more
A Separate Peace was turned down by several US publishers before finding a home with the large UK publishing house Secker & Warburg. Perhaps the British sensibilities of the 1950s, not long since devastated by the war, recognized many of the topical aspects of the boarding school amid war conflict. Or perhaps the boarding school experience, being so much more common at the time in the UK, made it more accessible to the general reading public. Whatever it was that helped launch the eventually popular American novel overseas, what appeals to me most in A Separate Peace is not the plot nor the teen anxieties, however extreme, but the chaos of structured life bowled over by war. International conflicts only highlight the natural conflicts found in closer communities, and the sad reality that these boys are being educated and trained in the civilized world of boarding school only to be released to their death as soldiers. This reality is more devastating than the plot-entwined tragedy our protagonist encounters. Moreover there is a striking contrast between living such an isolated existence when all focus, your own included, is on international conflict.
Protagonist Gene Forrester experiences a series of personal tragedies as he slowly discovers his interpretation of reality is flawed. Believing that friend Phinneas ("Finny") is threatened by and attempting to subvert his own successes, Gene fights a passive battle that generates anxiety and guilt, not to mention tragedy. The notion of a skewed concept on reality is effective within a reality that is experiences a world at war. If such incredible, large-scale devastation is possible, then so are the infinitesimal conflicts between recent friends.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the novel, and the ideas of a shifting view of reality is what raises it to its level. Granted the plotting and central themes are well developed and tightly woven into the fabric of the novel, it is these secondary elements that make the core so much more evocative....more
Perhaps the most notable member of the group of experimental authors practicing the tenets of the NouveFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Perhaps the most notable member of the group of experimental authors practicing the tenets of the Nouveau Roman (New Novel), Alain Robbe-Grillet's first novel is a fascinating, fun and frustrating murder mystery. It deals with a detective by the name of Wallas who is sent to an unnamed town to investigate the murder of Economics Professor Daniel Dupont. The murder is believed to be linked to a series of eight other murders occurring across the country over the past eight days, each at precisely 7:30 P.M. What's different about this particular murder is that there is no body, and moreover, unknown to Wallas but revealed early to the reader, is that Dupont is in fact not dead.
There are many wonderful aspects to this novel. The setting itself is incredibly well designed, and the nameless town becomes a familiar geography. Characters are colourful, at times comical and often pathetic, like the detective Wallas who is cursed with poor phrenological features which he suspects are linked to his constant failings, while he roams the streets almost at a loss as to how to investigate. The premise that his career is to be judged on the merits of whether or not he can solve a murder that never happened is masterful tragic irony. His fate is perfectly summed up by the fact that he regularly pauses in his investigations to search for a pencil eraser that he remembers well but that may not even exist. Erasers are plentiful throughout the novel, from the pencil erasers to more subtle suggestions, such as pervasive forgetfulness, changing or replacing facts and even actual events, along with the conspiracies that these nine murders were part of a series of hits conducted by hit-men, or "erasers."
The novel contains a number of recurring elements, from notions of duality to the idea that everything and everyone is mirrored. Wallas has an uncanny resemblance to the main suspect in this case, and is constantly being mistaken for that other, shadowy individual. People and objects have their twins and their alternates, as do events which are constantly repeating themselves. It is almost as though the novel is only one link from a never-ending cycle. The bar that opens and closes the novel is described as an aquarium, so that all its inhabitants are fish living in a glass bowl, swimming around in eternal circles....more
Despite being a great novel, I was slightly disappointed with John Fowles's The Collector. The novel teFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Despite being a great novel, I was slightly disappointed with John Fowles's The Collector. The novel tells the story of social outcast butterfly collector Frederick Clegg who, after having come into a considerable sum of money, kidnaps young art student Miranda and keeps her captive in his basement. The first part of the book is told through Clegg's point of view, while the second is told through Miranda's, with a brief return to Clegg at the end.
The novel is great in its treatment of character and how it plays with the readers' sympathies. Clegg is an unusual kidnapper as he does nothing to hurt Miranda, but rather fawns over her, tolerates her every mood and does his best to please her, though with the exception of giving her her freedom. Despite being clearly disturbed and doing something terribly wrong, he is not "evil" the way in which we imagine kidnappers to be. During his narrative we grow to like Miranda, who is a spunky and intelligent twenty year-old. I was rooting for her to get the best of Clegg in their little game of outwitting each other, or rather of Miranda trying to outwit Clegg's obsessively careful game of warden. I found the first part fascinating because, though I was rooting for Miranda, it was all told through Clegg's point of view.
Jarring is the point of view shift half-way through, yet it is meant to be jarring (like this sentence). Now we are reading Miranda's journal, and our impression of her soon changes drastically. She is an unbelievably arrogant woman who thinks highly of herself and looks down without hesitation on others, including Clegg. Like Clegg she too is the collector of the title, as she collects and examines and catalogues the people around her. Of course there is no physical collecting on her part, though she has learned to keep herself captive amid her arrogant and narrow world view; there's no pinning of wings and keeping anything under glass, yet her sharp mind and sense of self allows her to pin people metaphorically, and examine them through the glass of her eyes. While I was still rooting for her to escape since Clegg's crime is greater and more accessible, she was no longer the spunky Miranda that we meet through Clegg's point of view.
My disappointment in the novel is fairly basic. I was so involved with Clegg's point of view that the switch to Miranda was not overly welcome. While I did get into Miranda's story, it lumbered on and became a little repetitive. Fowles makes his arguments clear and there was no need to have so many lengthy spiels in her diary, or so many scenes devoted to Miranda's playboy mentor G.P. Once I'd finished the novel, however, I found myself liking it more than when I was reading these sequences, at times wanting them to end quickly. With The Collector Fowles has given us a fascinating read incorporating two characters that are simultaneously likeable and despicable, and a finish which, though a little predictable for our time, is nonetheless quite disturbing....more
Robin Maugham's The Servant is best remembered by Harold Pinter's 1963 film adaptation, also titled The Servant, directed by Joseph Losey. The film isRobin Maugham's The Servant is best remembered by Harold Pinter's 1963 film adaptation, also titled The Servant, directed by Joseph Losey. The film is quite different in content and approach, mainly because it was produced during a very different era. Maugham's novel is a grim depiction of post-war London; a squalid city where both the privileged and unprivileged must struggle to carve a place for themselves in society. Rules have changed, however, as the world has turned upside down.
As with F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the story of Tony and his relationship with his manservant Hugo Barrett is told through the point of view of an observer, an old army buddy of Tony's. It is through Richard's eyes that we witness Tony's steady decline. Unlike The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway, however, Richard understands Tony's background and is aware of his current dilemma, and tries actively to intervene and change the course of Tony's descent.
The novel opens with newly retired yet still young World War II army officer Richard Merton beginning a new job at a publishing firm. Not particularly a literary man, the job is an attempt at remaining productive and a functioning member of modern society. The war is over and the officer's previous role has become obsolete.
The Servant is well conceived and well written. It is a short book with a plot so simple that there appears to be no plot at all. The progression of character decline is believable and Richard is a straight character with some subtly revealed flaws. What Maugham is expressing about post-war London is that society has transformed so intensely that the world seems to have turned upside down. Servants act like masters and masters lose control over their desires, becoming themselves enslaved. There is a powerful scene when Tony, defending his overly generous attitude toward his manservant, accuses Richard of hypocrisy when the latter explains that the flaw in military reunions is that the officers are separated from the average soldier. Richard argues that there is equality among men rather than among those of rank, though he refuses to believe that one's manservant can be on equal footing with the homeowner.