(10/10) Far more than the memoirs of a half-remembered author, Earthly Paradise is a collection of memories and experiences that speak to every part o(10/10) Far more than the memoirs of a half-remembered author, Earthly Paradise is a collection of memories and experiences that speak to every part of life with both sensual and intellectual brilliance. There's an erotic undercurrent to the most innocent of memories, supplied by Colette's lush prose and teasing hints as to the scandals of her life. And there's no shortage of witticisms, some of which I actually laughed at.
If you're interested in reading an autobiographical modernist narrative that deals with issues of memory and eroticism, I would reccomend Colette over Proust any day of the week. It's a couple thousand pages shorter, much more readable, and a lot kinder to everyone involved. Or maybe it's just the lack of dinner parties I prefer.
I came to this book via Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, and only belatedly realized that it's in part a compilation of Colette's various autobiographical works. I'm really interested in reading all of the books it draws on now, as well as Colette's fiction. So like any great book, this one just leads me to countless more books. Not that I'm complaining....more
(7/10) Plagued by the Nightingale seems to take place in some kind of misty dream version of France, an inescapable hamlet where everyone is related a(7/10) Plagued by the Nightingale seems to take place in some kind of misty dream version of France, an inescapable hamlet where everyone is related and nothing happens until someone abruptly dies or gets married. It's homely but also unhomely, in the Freudian sense. Boyle's prose creates a kind of strange veil between the reader and the story. All of the characters seem to be overflowing with emotion, often unreasonably so, and yet it all unfolds at a bit of a remove.
In some ways this is very much an American modernist novel, while in other ways it fits comfortably into Henry James' American-in-Europe milieu. The setting it depicts seems to almost exist outside of time, marked by the central characters' endless and repetitive passions, squabbles, and harsh intimations. That makes Plagued by the Nightingale sound much more dramatic than it is. These passions and heartbreaks are conveyed by tiny gestures and passing remarks that are obsessed over by all.
This makes it a frequently irritating book to read, and I'm still not sure if I would consider it a good novel as such. It achieves a fascinating narrative effect, but judged on conventional merits the characters are weak and the plot repetitive. The climax hinges on a choice between exciting rebellion and familial loyalty, the crux of many romance plotlines, but here both choices ultimately seem a bit of a drag. Still, that seems only appropriate. The novel is striking not because it makes you fall in love with the characters but because it alienates you from them. In this Boyle may, despite the old-fashioned storyline, have been quite ahead of her time....more
(8/10) Moreso than perhaps any other book, The Great Gatsby has been framed as the mythical Great American Novel, a central work from which the countr(8/10) Moreso than perhaps any other book, The Great Gatsby has been framed as the mythical Great American Novel, a central work from which the country's identity unfolds. In fact, it's a minor miracle that I got through a decade of high school and university English without having to read it before now. It's a weird novel to be revered so -- not because it's bad, but because it's not an obviously important tour de force. Instead it's more of a light social satire with a bitter ending. Asked to evaluate it in a vacuum, I would probably describe it as a somewhat less clever version of The Age of Innocence set in the 1920s. It's a tricky novel to nail down, with the way it obscures its most important plot points and treats the seemingly trivial in great detail.
But in the end that triviality is kind of the point, with the society it depicts using that narrative stratgy writ large, afraid to examine anything but the surface details and latest gossip. That's something that hasn't chnaged in the past century. We also haven't lost figures like Gatsby, all mirrors and performances with only a vague vacuum at the centre, who we see everywhere from the desperate tabloid celebrity to the insecure class clown.
So there are some pretty trenchant and important themes and ideas at play. With that said, I found the novel in itself a bit trying to read -- like Proust (which seems an obvious influence), something that's trivial for satirical effect is still trivial. In the end I ended up more interested in the half-hearted attempt at romance between Nick and Jordan than the more prominent business with Gatsby and Daisy. This is not the Great American Novel, whatever nor is it even the best novel like it, but it's still a nice read and a telling evocation of its era....more
(7/10) Great concept, so-so execution. I love the idea of reinterpreting literary authors as graphic novelists, and would love to see more done with i(7/10) Great concept, so-so execution. I love the idea of reinterpreting literary authors as graphic novelists, and would love to see more done with it. The Left Bank Gang appears at first to be just an exploration of that idea, with our (for some reason) canine authors wandering around Paris, acting like we generally expect our modernist icons to act. And then it turns into a pomo crime story, and I love a promo crime story as much as the next guy (in fact, significantly more than the next guy) but it feels like a strange direction to turn. The reinterpretation of these authors gets pushed to the background by all of the plot loops and twists, and in the end it feels like it could have been about any four lowlifes in Paris, and Hemingway and company are just what would sell best. Don't get me wrong, it's all right for what it is, it's just not what I really wanted it to be....more
(10/10) We is mainly talked about today in terms of its relation to the two most famous dystopian novels, 1984 and Brave New World, and how Huxley and(10/10) We is mainly talked about today in terms of its relation to the two most famous dystopian novels, 1984 and Brave New World, and how Huxley and Orwell either ripped Zamyatin off or reinterpreted his ideas into something better. But what really deserves attention, much more so than the political commentary, is the sheer feat of writing that We is. Written in beautiful, dense modernist languages, with characters much deeper and more human than either of the above-mentioned novels, We is a great novel before it is a great political statement. And that statement is not simply against the Soviet system, as many would argue: it is against modernity and all its vulgarities, the immense mechanization of mankind that took place in both capitalist and communist countries. As the plot grows more complex and chaotic, the novel retreats inward, eventually becoming a jumbled mass of sensation that seems to perfectly express the kind of society, and by extension the type of literature, Zamyatin supports: natural, emotional, imperfect, and beautiful....more
(8/10) This novel was strange. Perhaps I would understand its strangeness more if I was Russian, perhaps not. Petersburg is the story of a city, which(8/10) This novel was strange. Perhaps I would understand its strangeness more if I was Russian, perhaps not. Petersburg is the story of a city, which is best told through a father and son of warring but equally delusional pretensions. The plot and the writing get more cyclical and self-involved as the novel goes on, becoming less of a narrative and more of a frothing, overheated experience. I'm still not sure whether I would reccomend this, but it's certainly unique, and I'm sure a few more dedicated tries at it would unlock the secret to everything. Its elusiveness makes it one for hardcore modernists only, but those hardcore modernists will love this one to death....more
(10/10) There's pretty much nothing new to say about Heart of Darkness: it, more than perhaps any text this side of Hamlet has been explicated and exc(10/10) There's pretty much nothing new to say about Heart of Darkness: it, more than perhaps any text this side of Hamlet has been explicated and excavated to death by legions of critics and fans. Unlike most such standard-bearer texts, its reputation is quite contentious, as is its relation to its subject of colonialism, which it both criticizes and unwittingly supports at the same time. It seems like almost an impossible burden to lay on slow slim a novel.
But sitting down with it, absent all the fuss, Heart of Darkness is still enough to sweep you away. To read it is to enter into a dark jungle of the mind, where nothing is very clear except for the raw emotiosn that seem to saturate the air. Conrad creates an atmosphere where madness seems like not just an understandable but even a rational response, and then gives us the terrible end result of that madness in Kurtz. Historically, this novel is crucial as a transition from realist fiction to its modernist successors, as well as for a more progressive but still deeply problematic perspective on colonialism. But the actual artifact is enough to make you forget all that. It is, after a century of cultural absorption, still a shocking axe wound of a book....more
(8/10) A landmark work in modernist poetry, Trilogy can be read as H.D.'s attempt to compose a new kind of religion, one that is polysemous, mystical(8/10) A landmark work in modernist poetry, Trilogy can be read as H.D.'s attempt to compose a new kind of religion, one that is polysemous, mystical and distinctly feminist. It's also a kind of attempt to reconcile all of the various mythologies over the years and the traumatic experience of the Blitz into one succinct story, celebrating the spiritual while eviscerating dogmatism. And on top of all this H.D. mounts a defense of the poet in a society of war. It's a lot to tackle, and sometimes the weight of the meaning damages the verse, but on the whole H. D. manages to succeed in all her ambitions, which is pretty remarkable. The perfect book for praying to the goddess you have a vague feeling is out there....more
(7/10) The Grapes of Wrath is an attempt at writing the story of not a single group of characters, but a mass of humankind. And it's a mass that's suf(7/10) The Grapes of Wrath is an attempt at writing the story of not a single group of characters, but a mass of humankind. And it's a mass that's suffered more dramatic events and more personal tragedies than the protagonists of even the most melodramatic novels: the crushed working class of the 1930s. The novel does this in two ways: through a kind of exemplar family, the famous Joads, and through more poetic attempts to capture common experiences and the mass movement of people.
Of course, both strands of the story are equally didactic, with Steinbeck's socialist beliefs shining through. This isn't neccesarily a bad thing, but didactic fiction can be done better than the cudgel-like approach Steinbeck takes here. This is more pronounced in the Joad sections, which tended to repeat the same points and one-dimensional characterizations over and over again. The collective chapters interspersed between the main plot were a lot more enjoyable and quite powerful, and I found myself wishing that the whole novel had been written in this experimental, communal voice which is soemthing that still seems new and shocking. Maybe that's just because Steinbeck turns his prose cannon up to full blast during these sections, but I thought it worked. Of course, the lure of conventionality is hard to resist, and Steinbeck should probably be applauded for just meeting it halfway.
This is a moving read, in parts, but it's also very much a book of its times -- the boisterous, populist leftism that was maybe not the most aesthetically refined thing in the world, but something we could probably use a lot more of. An important novel, but perhaps not a great one....more
(9/10) Djuna Barnes writes amazing sentences. The main joy in reading Nightwood is marvelling at her grasp of the English language and being willingly(9/10) Djuna Barnes writes amazing sentences. The main joy in reading Nightwood is marvelling at her grasp of the English language and being willingly swept up in the currents of her prose until you realize you missed the plot five miles back. There's a lot in this book that I just completely failed to grasp, and I think I need to return to it when I'm a better reader, but even I can appreciate the beauty here....more
(8/10) Celine is like the anti-Proust. Against Proust's sprawling sentences and chapters Celine offers quick choppy phrases and 168 chapters, some of(8/10) Celine is like the anti-Proust. Against Proust's sprawling sentences and chapters Celine offers quick choppy phrases and 168 chapters, some of which are only a page long. The book also has a pessimistic working-class viewpoint that is distinctly at odds with the great rememberer. This just goes to show how two seemingly opposite works can emerge from the same context -- or maybe these contexts determine what is considered the opposite ends of the literary spectrum.
Anyways, as to the actual book it's pretty good, managing to be both humorous and intensely dark. The story is essentially young Ferdinand's attempts to find a place in the world, consisting of numerous episodes of him finding a new job or situation, building up hope, and having that hope be inevitably crushed. The highlight is definitely the passage around the middle of the book, where Ferdinand attends a school in England where he decides to become a mute. In these passages Celine conjures up a tranquil but sad atmosphere that is intensely moving. In the end the novel starts to seem a little formulaic, and the grimness of the setting can become almost cartoonishly exaggerated.
Celine's work seems to be a kind of literary cult classic, forgotten by most but held up by a few as the greatest literature of the 20th century. From this book at least I don't think Celine is as great as people like John Dolan say, but he still deserves to be read more....more
(9/10) Absolutely amazing prose, drawing on equal parts beauty and brutality, a style that seems a precursor to some of my favourite authors (McCarthy(9/10) Absolutely amazing prose, drawing on equal parts beauty and brutality, a style that seems a precursor to some of my favourite authors (McCarthy is the first one that comes to mind). This is most heightened during the story of Joe Christmas's life, an absolutely masterful piece of storyline. The rest of the novel isn't half bad either -- it just looks a little pale compared to the intensity of Christmas's (and later Hightower's) backstories. Still, even in its weakest parts Faulkner's relentless style elevates this above the standard Let's-Talk-About-Race tract this could have been. I've gotta read more Faulkner....more
(8/10) Proust's In Search of Lost Time is undoubtedly a literary milestone, and not just because of its size -- basically the entire modernist movemen(8/10) Proust's In Search of Lost Time is undoubtedly a literary milestone, and not just because of its size -- basically the entire modernist movement is contained in this long novel. Of course, by the fourth volume it's started feeling like more of a slog than a masterpiece, especially all of the dinner party scenes. The long tangents on love, memory, and human emotion are great. The continued slimy antics of the desperate narrator are great. But the high society bits just feel like ho-hum artistocratic satire to me, and it's disappointing that an artist like Proust who has such a great grasp of the human condition would devote so much of his book to flat caricatures. Maybe there's just something about it that I'm not getting. There's something about Proust that I just can't penetrate. (Insert gay joke here). I realize that I've spent most of my review justifying why this is only getting 8/10, which is kinda messed up, so I feel like I should state that this is a good book and I intend to keep reading ISoLT, if mainly for the sake of completionism, just one that I had a hard time enjoying sometimes....more
(9/10) More Proust! This volume focuses rather heavily on high society, full of long dinner party sequences that can sometimes approach the interminal(9/10) More Proust! This volume focuses rather heavily on high society, full of long dinner party sequences that can sometimes approach the interminal (much like Proust's paragraphs). I do find these parties the weaker part of Proust, but they still have his characteristic wit and gift of human observations, all funelled through a loathsome narrator. The eloquence of the narrator is somewhat deceitful, and his pithy observations about humankind are set up in such a way that it takes you a while to start questioning whether he isn't just projecting his own screwed-up psychosexuality onto the world. The highlights, for me, are the descriptions of the narrator and his friends in love. Our unnamed protagonist goes through a couple more idealized women, whereas his friend Saint-Loup has arather amusing relationship with an ex-prostitute. Fun times in turn-of-the-century Paris....more
(8/10) This is a story of two books for me, really: a beautifully-written story about a confused and apathetic young man, and several dozen pages abou(8/10) This is a story of two books for me, really: a beautifully-written story about a confused and apathetic young man, and several dozen pages about a bunch of people I couldn't keep track of. I suspect that this is due to rushing through it for a class, and if I went in and took my time I'd be able to glean more from Jacob's Room. Even if this isn't true, the parts with the titular Jacob are worth the price of admission....more