I enthusiastically signed up for the Back to the Classics 2015 challenge hosted at http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogsp... since last year’s challengI enthusiastically signed up for the Back to the Classics 2015 challenge hosted at http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogsp... since last year’s challenge was a really fun and effective way to get to some of those titles that have been languishing on my TBR. This was the first book I read for the 2015 challenge, filling the category of “20th Century Classic” and also ticking yet another book off the Modern Language 20th century best of list. I can see why the writing in the book is admired, O’Hara is able to convey a lot with few words, but I just didn’t care about any of the characters or what happened to them. In some ways, this book, with its exposure of small town conformity and hypocrisy, was similar to Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street, which I liked a lot more. Maybe this was because Carol in Main Street is a much more sympathetic character than Julian English, the protagonist (or maybe antihero) of Appointment in Samarra. The book is also quite frank about sex, especially given that it was published in the 30’s.
The story is told in an indirect way, with detours in the backgrounds of peripheral characters interspersed within the main plot. Julian seemingly has everything going for him. He is in his late twenties, from the right family, moderately wealthy, well married, well liked etc. But one evening, he publicly insults another member at the country club and this sets off his downward spiral from respectability to persona non-grata in the town. What makes Julian do it? The book really doesn’t answer that question overtly. Is it snobbery? Is it jealousy? Does he have a death wish? Does he feel trapped in his conventional, middle class life? Is it the fact that his business and his marriage aren’t quite as ideal as they seem? Is there a history of mental illness in his family, bad blood? Or is it his alcoholism?
Or maybe it is none of the above, since the title of the book indicates that one cannot outrun one’s fate. Throughout the book, Julian has chances to redeem himself, but he consistently chooses paths that only further ensnare him so that ultimately he feels he has only one way out. ...more
It is so bittersweet to say goodbye to this series, although the real tears were shed in the third movement when so many were lost to the war, eitherIt is so bittersweet to say goodbye to this series, although the real tears were shed in the third movement when so many were lost to the war, either directly or indirectly. The fourth movement corresponds to winter and naturally death and there are many who bow out of the dance in these last three volumes. But of course, Widermerpool lives on, right up almost to the very end. How could he not? He is oddly both chameleon-like as he inveigles his way into leftist politics, publishing, knighthood and finally a bizarre cult and stolidly unchanging in his manner of advancing his will-to-power ambition.
Not unnaturally, given that this is the twilight of his years, Nick Jenkins grows perhaps more melancholy and reflexive; there are echoes of most the previous books here: Mr. Deacon’s works are now in vogue and successful as he never was in his lifetime, St. John Clark’s novels being proposed for film, Trelawney’s philosophies reincarnated by a cult of hippies…and the very end is in fact reminiscent of the beginning, with Nick observing a bonfire, which harkens back to the men over a brazier which opened the first book, A Question of Upbringing.
I will probably revisit my ratings later and upgrade to 5 stars. For the series total, I would easily give the full five stars. As a whole, it truly is amazing....more
“After a little while Bill said: ‘Well, it was a swell fiesta.’ ‘Yes,’ I said: ‘something doing all the time.’ ‘You wouldn’t believe it . It’s like a w“After a little while Bill said: ‘Well, it was a swell fiesta.’ ‘Yes,’ I said: ‘something doing all the time.’ ‘You wouldn’t believe it . It’s like a wonderful nightmare.’”
That is how I think of this book, a wonderful nightmare. Jake is an ex-pat reporter in Paris who is in love with Brett (Lady Ashley) who maybe loves him back, but he has this war wound that makes him impotent. Then again, that is maybe why Brett loves Jake. He is neutered. Brett, Jake and Robert who loves Brett too and Mike, who is Brett’s fiancé all go to Pamplona for the bull fights. And that is where the nightmare starts. Tensions mount, incalculable amounts of alcohol are consumed, punches are thrown, feelings are hurt, even more alcohol is drunk and then everyone goes home.
I read A Farewell to Arms in High School for Junior Year English, when I was probably too young to appreciate it and The Old Man and Sea, which I hated, and read only under duress in college only because there was nothing else available, not even the back of a cereal box. So I decided to approach this book less with the attitude that I hate Hemingway and more with the idea that I would try to accept it on its own terms. So I ended up enjoying it more or less. I do think that Hemingway is a fantastic renderer of place. I have never been to Pamplona, but I have a clear picture of it in my reader’s mind now. I remember in high school discussing A Farewell to Arms. In the middle of the book, the male protagonist swims across the river and the discussion was about how this was a baptismal symbol, yadda yadda yadda. At the time I thought something to the effect of “surely sometimes a river is just a river”. But what with the sexual imagery of the matador impaling the bull on his sword and the last image of the The Sun Also Rises with the traffic cop raising his baton, I am pretty sure that the river was intentionally placed, as was the baton, as was the sword.
The Sun Also Rises was my choice for the “American Classic” category of the Back to the Classics 2014 challenge hosted at http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogsp... . Also, this book is listed on the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century list, which I am slowly working through. ...more
This book is on the Modern Language 20th century best of list, so I would have eventually read it anyway, but the reason I picked it up sooner ratherThis book is on the Modern Language 20th century best of list, so I would have eventually read it anyway, but the reason I picked it up sooner rather than later was due to the one episode of the wonderful Radio 4 program (and podcast http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/... ) A Good Read which aired on March 26, 2013. The host and the two guests were all charmed by the book and most certainly my reading of the book was colored by their opinions.
Kim is an adventure story set in India and what is now Pakistan. Kim is an orphaned Irish boy who grew up in the streets of Lahore; he is more comfortable in the ways of the “natives”, whether they be Hindus, Muslims or Jains or low or high caste, than that of the European. In the first chapter, Kim meets the a Tibetan lama and becomes his chela (disciple or apprentice) and they take to traveling the “Great Road” (the Grand Trunk Road, which is still traveled as a main thoroughfare in Pakistan and India) on a holy quest. Along the way, Kim’s true origins are discovered by some Sahibs (whites) who feel it is their duty to “civilize” him. Kim also comes to the attention of certain players of the “Great Game”, which is basically the proxy wars between European powers to control the sub-continent. The British want to use Kim and his ability to ingratiate himself into any levels of Indian society with his familiarity of local languages and customs as a spy in their machinations. All the while, Kim ponders who and what he is. About half way through the book he says, “Hai Mai! I go from one place to another as it might be a kick-ball. It is my Kismet. No man can escape his Kismet. But I am to pray to Bibi Miriam and I am a Sahib. He looked at his boots ruefully, No; I am Kim. This is the great world and I am only Kim. He considered his own identity, a thing he had never done before, till his head swam. He was one insignificant person in all this roaring whirl of India, going southward to he know not what fate.” However, Kim never forgets his lama; their friendship was for me the most touching aspect of the story.
The book was occasionally difficult to read because Kipling opted to render spoken Urdu, Hindi, etc. into archaic English (lots of thees and thous, forsooth, hither, etc.) and occasionally magic is implied…I think. But I was able to follow and enjoy the story. Like with other children’s classics (The Secret Garden comes to mind), the reader must accept that it was written in a certain time and place in history. I thought it was interesting to learn that Kipling, who was born in India, left the country when he was 6 and only returned at 16, whereas when the book begins, Kim is about 8 and it ends when he is about 16, more or less Kipling’s “missing years” when he was (unhappily) sent a way to school in England. It is as if he chose to fill that unhappier time with a romanticized tale of what might have been, had he been allowed to stay in India. ...more
I opted to read From Here to Eternity for the Classic about War category of the “2014 Back to the Classics Challenge” hosted by Karen at http://karensI opted to read From Here to Eternity for the Classic about War category of the “2014 Back to the Classics Challenge” hosted by Karen at http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogsp.... However, I think possibly I have inadvertently blown the challenge in this case, because this book isn’t about war, although the attack on Pearl Harbor does happen near the end, but rather about the peacetime army at a time when many thousands of men enlisted because as a result of the Great Depression they had no other means of support or employment.
The two main characters are Warden, a non-commissioned officer and Prewitt, an enlisted man; both like to think of themselves as “thirty year men”, i.e. career soldiers. They function as counterpoints in the novel: Prewitt refuses to play any game necessary to get by, instead he stubbornly and tragically stays true to his own vision of right and wrong. Warden, on the other hand, is the ultimate fixer; he manipulates everyone around him, from the enlisted men down up to his company commander. Yet Warden and Prewitt recognize something in each other, some mutual bond. From Here to Eternity is essentially a character novel, so there is not that much in the way of plot. However when it comes to characterization, it hits it out of the park and transcends the time and place of the book. I know/have known people like Prewitt and Warden, particularly Prewitt. His inability to compromise, to play politics to get ahead in the long term, is very familiar. The irony and tragedy resulting from this personality type is still relevant today, it is just clothed in different forms compared to back in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
This is also a very uncensored novel; the men, regardless of rank, think about sex pretty much all the time whether it is a prostitute, a shack job, or in the case of Warden, an affair with his commander’s wife. The army wasn’t integrated in the 1940’s and racial and sexual slurs abound. The men fight verbally and physically, spit out teeth and smile and jump back in to the fray. When they get paid, they pay their debts to the 20 percent men, from whom they borrowed in the previous month and then blow it all on booze, gambling and prostitutes so they have to borrow more to make it through the month, rinse and repeat. It can make for tough reading at times for a 21st century reader.
The reader has to get used to Jones’ style of writing and intentional misspellings and lack of punctuation (company is “compny”, “didn’t” is “didnt”.) The stylization is just an affectation, I think, but the spelling and punctuation does give the dialogue a flavor of how people really speak, which I found to be effective. In all, I was really pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed losing myself in this book and the world it creates, warts and all.
The completion of this book also means I get to check another book off of the Modern Library’s list “100 best English-language novels of the 20th century”, which is always gratifying. ...more
Finnegans Wake makes Ulysses look like a Dick and Jane book. The last few pages of the library copy I read were badly bent and wrinkled…perhaps the reFinnegans Wake makes Ulysses look like a Dick and Jane book. The last few pages of the library copy I read were badly bent and wrinkled…perhaps the result of being thrown against a wall? Just a guess. I read the book along with William Tindall’s reader’s guide as well as in conjunction with the Literary Disco read along here on goodreads, but I think the real key to FW is Joyce’s brain, and since no reader has access to this, any interpretation is only a guess. Most of the time I found it infuriating and impenetrable, which made the occasional moments of comprehension sublime. ...more
It is significant that all three of the books that comprise the third volume in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time all take place during the 6 yearIt is significant that all three of the books that comprise the third volume in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time all take place during the 6 years of WWII. I don’t know if it is my growing familiarity with the Powell’s style or what, but I was able to really see the humor in this set. In particular the scene between two colonels regarding the correct definition of a butt of sherry was both hilarious and absurd. This volume is also quite moving as some characters are permanently sidelined from the dance as a consequence of war. I am entering the home stretch now. 3 more books/1 volume and I am done!...more
This type of noir fiction has been parodied and copied so often it was hard to take it seriously at first. I thought about how when I finally saw theThis type of noir fiction has been parodied and copied so often it was hard to take it seriously at first. I thought about how when I finally saw the movie "Psycho" and thought, “is that all there is to a murder in the shower?” But it sort of grew on me: the clipped dialogue, the cross and the double cross; which is really saying something, because the book is only about 100 pages long. The story is not in any way salacious, but it is very frank in its treatment of raw sexuality. Banned in Boston…what up Boston? First Forever Amber and now this too? I had no idea Boston used to be so conservative. ...more
And so the Dance continues as Nick moves in to his 30’s, meets his wife and adds her large family to his ever orbiting friends and acquaintances whileAnd so the Dance continues as Nick moves in to his 30’s, meets his wife and adds her large family to his ever orbiting friends and acquaintances while Europe edges ever closer to world war. This volume also provides an interesting glimpse of Nick’s parents and his childhood and introduces composer Hugh Moreland who briefly supplants Barnaby, the painter, as Nick’s companion about town. There is quite a bit of musing about “Will” and action versus inaction. Someone probably wrote a dissertation on this. I don’t want to think that hard, but I found myself thinking that Windmerpoole (forever turning up like a bad penny) is the perfect example of this idea. He asserts his will over everything; bulldozes through life. I am enjoying this series immensely and already plan to read Invitation to the Dance by Hilary Spurling when I finely finish all the books. Only 6 more to go!...more
Reading Angle of Repose reminded me a bit of the Little House books, had they been told from Ma and Pa’s perspective and if Ma had been an East CoastReading Angle of Repose reminded me a bit of the Little House books, had they been told from Ma and Pa’s perspective and if Ma had been an East Coast bluestocking and Pa an idealistic engineer. Maybe I am wrong, but even as a kid I felt there was a subtle whiff of failure following the Ingalls as they moved from one place to the next in the books.
Using the letters of a real-life author and illustrator called Susan Burling Ward in the novel, who moved West with her husband in the late 1800’s, Stegner crafts a fictional family history punctuated by the hardships of a peripatetic frontier life and the burden that disappointed dreams and dashed hopes can place on a marriage.
By using Susan’s grandson as the historian/narrator Stegner also provides a juxtaposition of the Victorian era and the politically charged 1970’s as well as subtle commentary on the emancipation of women and the opening of the West. Most poignantly, the novel shows a man physically and metaphorically trapped, seeking to escape by delving into his family’s history, not able to see or not wanting to admit his own inability to forgive....more
This volume comprises the first three books in Powell’s 12 book opus: 9 more to go before I can cross this off my Modern Library list. I have seen theThis volume comprises the first three books in Powell’s 12 book opus: 9 more to go before I can cross this off my Modern Library list. I have seen the TV miniseries and I thought it deathly dull. Luckily for me, the books are better, in particular the first and the third. Volume 1 has an elegiac quality, as our narrator, Nicholas, recounts the dance with the benefit of hindsight. The first novel begins with Nick’s years at boarding school just after the end of WWI, introducing three boys he will continue to encounter on and off as the story progresses.
Nick is referring to Kenneth Widmerpool in the following quote, but this theme of ever circulating connections is the leitmotif running though all three of the books: “He was merely one single instance among many, of the fact that certain acquaintances remain firmly fixed within this or that person’s particular orbit; a law which seems to lead inexorably to the conclusion that the often repeated saying that people can ‘choose their friends’ is true only in a most strictly limited degree.” Later as the reader catches up with Nick in his late 20’s early 30’s when he and his peers begin to settle down personally and professionally, he writes: “But, in a sense nothing in life is planned-or everything is-because in the dance every step is ultimately the corollary of the step before; the consequence of being the kind of person one chances to be”.
England between the wars, like Rome under Augustus or England under Elizabeth I, is such a rich and dynamic time period, sure to be continually mined for fictional fodder. Nick who is not rich, but definitely upper middle class (there is quite a bit of subtle class consciousness throughout) chronicles the shifts in art, fashion and politics of his generation as he moves between debutant balls, house parties, capitalist industrialists and Marxist bohemians, always observing and trying to find his place and make sense of the world. ...more
The birth of 20th century America encapsulated in one slim novel: The Magnificent Ambersons chronicles the rise and fall of one family in three generaThe birth of 20th century America encapsulated in one slim novel: The Magnificent Ambersons chronicles the rise and fall of one family in three generations while mirroring the social, financial and demographic upheavals of the Midwest at the turn of the century. “Life and money both behave like loose quicksilver in a nest of cracks” rings just as true now as it did then. ...more
I think it is telling the real life counterparts for Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, who seem to thrive on chaos and “kicks”, both died before they weI think it is telling the real life counterparts for Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, who seem to thrive on chaos and “kicks”, both died before they were 50. I had always assume “beat” had something to do with jazz or music, but really it comes from “beaten”, as in worn out, short of money, dead tired. I expected not to like this book, since my 20’s are long behind me, but I was pleasantly surprised; though some of the observations and dialogue are dated and occasionally cringe inducing now, it is an honest, wild, occasionally poetic, and enthusiastic effort. 55 years after its first publication, On the Road can be interpreted in different ways depending upon the reader regardless of Kerouac’s original intent. I have no interest in reading anything further by Kerouac, but I am glad I read this....more
For some reason I thought this book would be sentimental. It isn’t; it is actually bit dark and unsettling. The writing and characterization is repetiFor some reason I thought this book would be sentimental. It isn’t; it is actually bit dark and unsettling. The writing and characterization is repetitive and spare, allowing the reader to draw her own conclusions about Miss Brodie and the six impressionable girls who become her followers. Another one I can now tick off as “read” from the Modern Library’s 100 best list. ...more
Reminiscent of Godsford Park (so much so, I wonder if it wasn’t an influence on Altman) or Upstairs Downstairs; Loving is a slice of life look at WWIIReminiscent of Godsford Park (so much so, I wonder if it wasn’t an influence on Altman) or Upstairs Downstairs; Loving is a slice of life look at WWII era landed gentry and their servants. The servants have their own pecking order as they polish the silver, make the beds, embezzle and gossip. The masters complain about the help, yet can’t function without them (10 servants in the house for two adults and two children?). Most of the characters are English, who consider the Irish savages and are avoiding the war in neutral Ireland, feeling occasionally ashamed for it (for avoiding the war, not hating the Irish). Not much happens, otherwise. It took me a while to realize that the book is supposed to be funny. ...more
I read this for a blog “read along”. Bowen is sometimes compared to Virginia Woolf, whom I like. But I found this book was a bit too finely wrought. BI read this for a blog “read along”. Bowen is sometimes compared to Virginia Woolf, whom I like. But I found this book was a bit too finely wrought. Bowen has long passages explaining, “this is how one feels”, which irritated me. I could follow the story, but sometimes it was like the characters were speaking in code and I am still not exactly sure what happened when Portia goes to the seaside in the middle part of the book. The story centers on Portia, an orphaned, naive 16 year old who is sent to live with her half brother and his wife in London in the 1930’s. Neither the brother nor the sister-in-law particularly wants her around, and because Portia thinks and feels too much, she clings to anyone who shows her the slightest affection. ...more
Lawrence describes landscapes beautifully; people, not so much. He expounds upon his characters' feelings so extensively that I can’t follow if they aLawrence describes landscapes beautifully; people, not so much. He expounds upon his characters' feelings so extensively that I can’t follow if they are meant to be happy or sad or what. This drives me nuts. Sons and Lovers was, for me, more accessible that Women in Love and The Rainbow (thank GOD). However, I can’t say as I liked it. Apparently largely autobiographical, the novel is primarily the story of Paul Morel, a man who loves his mother so much he can’t commit to anyone else. ...more