Marilynne Robinson shrugged and thought "Maybe I'll write a book" and then just did it, in longhand, and then she showed it to her friends who lost thMarilynne Robinson shrugged and thought "Maybe I'll write a book" and then just did it, in longhand, and then she showed it to her friends who lost their minds, and one of them was an author whose agent pounced on it and she got a call, like, "This is brilliant, get ready to be famous," and she was like "Oh, okay."
The deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house. We would walk among those great legs, hearing the enthralled and incessant murmurings far above our heads, like children at a funeral.
I wonder how many struggling would-be novelists have read those sentences and just given up. Hopefully enough. “Here’s a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life, waiting for it to form itself,” said the Times instantly. It was nominated for the Pulitzer. It was 25 years before Robinson felt like writing another book.
She's compared to Melville. "I thought that if I could write a book that had only female characters that men understood and liked, then I had every right to like Moby-Dick," she says, and it's hard to find a piece about Robinson that doesn't mention Melville too. This is not because of her symbolism; although housekeeping is a symbol here, it doesn't have the smashing originality or unsubtlety that the Whale does. It's because it's about faith, which is alive and vital to Robinson the way it is to Melville. People who care this urgently are apt to sound radical about it:
In the newness of the world God was a young man, and grew indignant over the slightest things. In the newness of the world God had perhaps not Himself realized the ramifications of certain of His laws, for example, that shock will spend itself in waves; that our images will mimic every gesture, and that shattered they will multiply and mimic every gesture ten, a hundred, or a thousand times.
This isn't dogma; it's actual God, from a person who believes that the Bible is an actual thing. "It must mean something," Robinson says, "and I'm going to find out what." I'm an atheist, so I think the first statement is false, but I find her efforts awe-inspiring.
When you talk about Robinson you talk about Melville, and Emerson and Thoreau thanks to her gorgeous relationship with nature, as quoted above, or the abandoned house in the cleft of the valley. Shirley Jackson doesn't come up as much, which seems odd because We Have Always Lived in the Castle seems like an obvious comparison. They're about houses and outcasts, and also they're both totally kickass....more
There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sac
There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct...the other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community.
Koestler believes in socialism; his question is, if achieving socialism means torturing and murdering a few people, do we throw out the people or socialism? The answer is easy if you ask the people, and here's a book from the people.
It seems like an easy question regardless to me: any system which forces us to ask it is necessarily corrupt. Koestler seems to believe that too: "One cannot build Paradise with concrete," his protagonist says: "No. 1's [Stalin's] regime had besmirched the ideal of the Social state even as some Mediaeval Popes had besmirched the ideal of a Christian Empire."
But as we know, the debate is still alive and thriving today: I followed this book with Guantanamo Diary, which is about exactly the same thing. Once again, a person is tortured for the sake of a system; there are Americans with waterboards who believe that the ends justify the means. Am I comparing post-9/11 America to Stalinist Russia? Yes. How could we not?
The book itself is terrific stuff. Exciting to read and very smart. Midway through, prisoners learn from their coded tapping communication system that someone is shortly to be executed, and they create a drumroll by banging on their doors with their fists as he's dragged down the hall, their only way to acknowledge him. I don't want to get too flowery here, but I don't think I've ever read a scene more powerful.
But speaking of drumrolls, can we talk about the ending? (view spoiler)[It has this perfect, perfect ending: "Rubahov broke off his pacing and listened. The sound of muffled drumming came down the corridor." I got chills all over again, re-reading it just now. But then: it turns out that's not the end at all; there's a whole nother chapter that totally doesn't need to be there. Bummer! Do you like that last chapter? I think he shoulda quit with the drumming. (hide spoiler)]
This is an overwhelming asskicking of a book, one of my favorite reads in recent memory. The answer is that the ends do not justify the means, and if you have to ask the question, you are no longer the good guy.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
No one describes the American West better than Willa Cather. "The grass was the country," she says, "As the water is the sea. The red of the grass madNo one describes the American West better than Willa Cather. "The grass was the country," she says, "As the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of winestains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. and And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running."
There's a lot of running in this beautiful book - running towards or away from that country as its characters try to escape its toil and monotony. That's the action of the plot: who will escape? I was surprised by the answer. There's all this foreshadowing, right? (view spoiler)[Pavel and Peter throw newlyweds to the wolves. A hobo dives into the thresher. There are three suicides in the course of the story: Mr. Shimerda (probably), the hobo, Mr. Cutter who takes his wife with him. Death seems everywhere and I thought for sure it was coming for Ántonia. I liked the ending in all its antidrama: nothing happens. She doesn't escape, she doesn't die; she marries a nice guy and has a bunch of kids and she seems happy. The story plummets into sentimentality here, though, and it was laid on a bit thick. But what to make of the wolves? Are they to make us understand how uncertain Ántonia's happy ending is? (hide spoiler)]
There's an introductory framing story, featuring a grown Jim Burden, that I don't understand at all; it was apparently cut from later editions. The book is straight-forward and short; it would make good high school reading. It dips into sentimentality. But it's beautiful and likable, and I'm a fan.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Here's a quiz: which of the following are real examples of the overwrought chapter titles in Sister Carrie?
a. Convention's Own Tinder-Box: The Eye ThaHere's a quiz: which of the following are real examples of the overwrought chapter titles in Sister Carrie?
a. Convention's Own Tinder-Box: The Eye That Is Green b. Game of Thrones: A Feast for the Crows c. When Waters Engulf Us We Reach For The Stars d. When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King e. Transformers: Dark of the Moon f. In Elf Land Disporting: The Grim World Without g. The Blaze of the Tinder: Flesh Wars With the Flesh h. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
Anyway. This unsexed book is about Carrie, who will not work. She shacks up with a couple of men instead, and there's its revolution: Dreiser doesn't judge her, and (view spoiler)[she won't end up on a train platform. Here is one of the first women who get to fuck and live (hide spoiler)] - although I'm guessing about the fucking. You get the unusual sense that Dreiser may not understand how the birds and bees operate.
He doesn't understand writing terribly well either. Saul Bellow recommends that you not linger over the sentences; they won't reward you. Blaze through the first half as quick as you can. The story builds a grinding momentum, and it's rewarding, but it does take its sweet time. Dreiser can write a book, but he can't write a sentence.
In A New Literary History of America, Farah Jasmine Griffin imagines a meeting between Carrie and Lily Bart of The House of Mirth, and that's a great idea. They have their similarities. They arrive in the city with nothing but their looks. They're painfully sensitive. They both live in unforgiving worlds, but they make different decisions about how to navigate them. Carrie is tougher. She goes much deeper into the world than Lily does; she sees it all, from top to bottom. Griffin thinks she's more groundbreaking. Sister Carrie isn't as good a book as House of Mirth (not many are), but Carrie has something going on.
It ends (view spoiler)[ambiguously. Not for Hurstwood! But for Carrie, who still hasn't done any work. She sees herself mostly through other men, and it's this dude Ames who gives her the final cut: "If I were you," he says, "I'd change." Which is a sick burn. Dreiser seems to dismiss her: "in your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel." She's not exactly passive: she makes most of her more important decisions for herself. She decides. But she doesn't really do, and that's what Ames and Dreiser are mad about: they expect better from her, in sortof a clucking dad way. (hide spoiler)]
It's an odd book. Despite its unsexiness it raised an uproar when it was published; Carrie lives out of wedlock, and worse, and folks were pretty scandalized about what their imaginations filled in. Dreiser hoped that when it "gets to the people, they will understand, because it is a story of real life, of their lives." It was published in 1900 and served as part of the vanguard, with Wharton and Henry James, that dragged novels out of the moralizing 1800s. It has no grace and little subtlety, but it has force.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are two topics novels don't cover well or often: death and parenting. It's logistically hard to experience the first and write about it, and...wThere are two topics novels don't cover well or often: death and parenting. It's logistically hard to experience the first and write about it, and...well, actually the same goes for the second. Here, the mightiest of psychological novelists takes on death itself - not violent death, we have that covered, but the most mundane of all possible death. Slow, painful, boring, annoying death. The only other book I'm aware of to cover it like this is Stoner, which does a nice job with it and nothing else.
It's all terrifying. Tolstoy writes horror as well as anyone: the Battle of Borodino in War & Peace, the discovery of the affair in Anna Karenina, all of The Kreutzer Sonata. And Death of Ivan Ilych will make you re-examine your life choices more than anything since...actually, the last book that shook me like this was The Emperor of All Maladies. That book is also about death.
It is a Christian book. Right there at the end: (view spoiler)[In place of death there was light. "So that's what it is!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What joy!" (hide spoiler)] It's more or less thudding depending on your translation - this is Maude, thudding - and I'll grab my Dreiblatt translation when I get home to compare. But in general I'm not super psyched when Tolstoy gets on his God horse. It changes the flavor of the book, of course: (view spoiler)[here is redemption, light instead of death, and that's not actually what happens because there is no God. So he's failed, at the last minute, to tell the truth. It's the truth to him, and that has value, but it's not the actual truth, and that's still not as good. (hide spoiler)]
I read the translation by Aylmer Maude from 1886 so I could get a sense for the Maudes' work. Constance Garnett was the first major translator of the Russian canon; I've read her version of Turgenev's First Love and thought it was fine. Aylmer and Louise Maude were the second, and I was able to compare Aylmer's work to Ian Dreiblatt's translation; I thought he did a lousy job.
"Why all these sufferings?" And the voice answered, "For no reason - they just are so." - Maude "Why all these tortures?" And the voice answered, "Not for any reason." - Drieblatt
Isn't the second version much colder and starker? And the first, stilted and awkward? I found Maude absolutely grating. Brutal. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
When you're young you think you're the Romeo of every story, but sometimes it turns out you're barely Paris. Turgenev's novella captures not only theWhen you're young you think you're the Romeo of every story, but sometimes it turns out you're barely Paris. Turgenev's novella captures not only the ecstatic shamelessness of first love, but the fogginess of being young in general - that feeling of not understanding the action you're taking part in. 16-year-old Vladimir believes he's competing with other suitors for the affection of his beautiful 21-year-old neighbor Zinaida. Turgenev slowly unveils the real affair.
This was my first Turgenev; I thought it was great. And this Melville House series, "The Art of the Novella," is very nicely done....more
In 1969 a group of male journalists perpetrated one of literary history's lamest hoaxes: they wrote a smut book devoid of literary merit, to prove thaIn 1969 a group of male journalists perpetrated one of literary history's lamest hoaxes: they wrote a smut book devoid of literary merit, to prove that readers are jackoffs. The book was a bestseller, partly due to the fact that they all announced the hoax pretty quickly.
Legend* has it that head smutwriter Mike McGrady edited many chapters because they were too good, which explains why the book has a uniform tone despite its writing by committee, and also why that tone is so shitty. Each journalist contributed a chapter in which mindless femme fatale Gilly (I hate that name) seduces and destroys a different kind of man: a mobster, a rabbi, her own abortionist, a gay guy.
* Legend = Wikipedia
The variety comes in the targets, not the sex; there is no interesting sex here. Unless you like ice cubes in your butt, which a) you do not, and b) that's the first chapter and it might fool you into thinking the rest of the book is going to be more interesting than it is. It is in fact hella boring. So boring, guys. Some guy is indifferently described; Gilly (still hate that name) seduces him; five or so sentences are given over to describing her ass, which is made of magic; they have sex and the dude's like wow, this is great sex I'm having; something unfortunate happens to the guy. You get the impression that the guys writing the book thought these twist endings were hilarious, but they're not. They're dumb.
I hear this book is out of print, so you probably won't ever run across it. If you do, feel free to read up through the ice cube part; you'll get the idea and it's sortof trashy fun. Probably best to take my word for it and not read past that, unless you like being bored. I'm gonna give it two stars instead of one because this would be a great book to have on your shelves; the title and cover are terrific. Great for owning. Not for reading....more
"I'm so tired of old books about tea," said my friend Lauren recently, and I hope she stays the hell away from snobby constipated Henry James. Here he"I'm so tired of old books about tea," said my friend Lauren recently, and I hope she stays the hell away from snobby constipated Henry James. Here he is with the least engaging first sentence in literature:
"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."
Many of the other sentences are also about tea. But it's not all tea; while they drink tea they talk! And talk, and talk. James reminds me of an underperforming coworker whose greatest talent is excuses. He can spin words upon words explaining what's going on, what he's thinking, what his plans are, how his personal affairs have affected his performance, and it all sounds very convincing but at a certain point you're like but what have you done?
It's an apt title because it's a portrait. A beautiful one, full of detail and shading - "recessed and deferred complexities," James Woods calls it - but it doesn't move much. James himself was aware, when he wrote its preface, that it "consisted not at all in any conceit of a 'plot'." And he makes this bizarre decision: when plot arrives - when Isabel chooses a husband, and again when she marries him, and at a momentous later decision - he skips ahead. We don't get to be there for the crucial moments of her life. It feels like looking at a mountain range wreathed in clouds; we see them going up, and we see them coming down, but we never get to see the peaks themselves.
This is frustrating, and yet: I feel like this is one of those books that will be closer in the rearview mirror. It has a distinctive voice and feel. James has insight into how people work. In Colm Toibin's fictionalized biography The Master, he quietly suggests that James benefited from his closetization: he carefully pretended to be someone else throughout his life, and he got very good at pretending to be someone else. He certainly does get deep into Archer's head, and several others.
Not that he shows you everything. He shows you some things in great detail; others stay shrouded. In a way it's a psychological novel; in another way it's more like a mystery, where the crime is her life. The experience of being mystified by Isabel is frustrating; with time, though, I suspect the mystery of Isabel will stick in my head
So, four stars. Three stars for the experience of reading it; five stars, I'm predicting, for having read it. Full of recessed and deferred complexities it is. It might also be one of those books that get better with re-reading. But the question is, how much tea can I stomach?...more
Thomas Hardy writes often about women, with a sympathy that looks a little like contempt. In Far From the Madding Crowd he lays out the options availaThomas Hardy writes often about women, with a sympathy that looks a little like contempt. In Far From the Madding Crowd he lays out the options available to Bathsheba Everdene. (Yes, Katniss is named after her.) Frank Troy is the dashing adventurer, charming and dissipated. He ensnares her in a ferny grove, showing off his swordplay. ("It will not take five minutes," he says, and we picture Hardy snickering.) Boldwood is the older, stolid man, a rural Casaubon, representing security and the abdication of passion. And right in between them is Gabriel Oak, "only an every-day sort of man," the Goldilocks middle.
But Bathsheba doesn't seem well-suited to any of them; even Oak doesn't really attract her. "I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know." She might be better off with none of them. "Though she scarcely knew the divinity's name, Diana was the goddess whom Bathsheba instinctively adored." Diana, the goddess of chastity.
"But a husband - " "Well!" "Why, he'd always be there, as you say; whenever I looked up, there he'd be."
Hardy can be funny. He throws out phrases like "rather deathy," and there are cracks like this: "There is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people look upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been known to fail." Not the most original joke, even back then, but it's still funny.
He's second to none in describing nature. He can set a scene like no one else. Here he describes the countryside in an impending storm:
The moon...had a lurid metallic look. The fields were sallow with impure light, and all were tinged with monochrome, as if beheld through stained glass.
And the scenes he sets in these vivid landscapes are infinitely memorable, too. His books always contain a few gloriously melodramatic setpieces: the audacious climax of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the "too menny" of Jude the Obscure. Here, in addition to the sexy swordplay with Troy, there's a decisive midnight lightning storm, and the long walk of Fanny Robin. This is one of the two reasons I love Hardy: in each book, I know I'll get a few scenes I'll never forget.
The other is the schadenfreude. His books would get glummer as he grew, culminating in the misery porn of Jude the Obscure; Madding Crowd is by comparison light reading. But he's still going to trample your heart.
Earlier authors like Dickens and even Eliot wrote books where every action followed inevitably from the actions of their characters. But for Hardy, again and again, despite the best intentions and noblest natures of his characters, fate throws a wrench in. This is one of the reasons Hardy seems like such a pessimist. (The other is that everybody dies miserable and alone.) The action in Madding Crowd is kicked off by the chance destruction of most of Oak's sheep (discovered in a bloody heap at the base of a cliff, in another of Hardy's vivid images). The action with Boldwood begins with a nonchalant prank. (Which, btw, I didn't really buy; that's a rare case where Hardy's plot manipulation shows.)
So vicissitudes prey on our characters; fate slaps them around. (view spoiler)[And when Bathsheba finally chooses Oak, it's not exactly a happy ending. I mean, compared to Hardy's later work it's ecstatic - only some people die miserable and alone! - but it's ambivalent. "Oak laughed, and Bathsheba smiled (for she never laughed readily now)." The final sentence, given to one of the farmhands: "Since 'tis as 'tis, why, it might have been worse, and I feel my thanks accordingly." Bathsheba has been pretty thoroughly beaten down here; she flees to Oak's solidness, and it might have been worse, but it might have been better too. (hide spoiler)] How happy do you think the ending is?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
All that murder and mystery is just a metaphor for farting in bed. I'm told the genre is "chick noir", and your mileage may vary on that name. It seemAll that murder and mystery is just a metaphor for farting in bed. I'm told the genre is "chick noir", and your mileage may vary on that name. It seems to me like an update on the sensation novel of the 1800s, popularized by Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. These books combined the gothic and romance genres to bring horror into the home: the threat wasn't external but internal, right next to you.
The Girl on the Train is about an alcoholic woman whose husband cheated on her and then left her for his mistress. There's some chicken-and-egg question - did she tumble into alcoholism because he pulled away, kept secrets? Or did he pull away because she drank? That's a story about a real relationship that might seem familiar to some readers. We add in a mystery and ratchet up the drama to make it all fun, but it wouldn't work if it didn't have a real core.
Sensation novels - and books like this one, Gone Girl, and their poor cousin Before I Go To Sleep - are all basically about the messy, disenchanting process of getting to know your life partner. Finding out that he isn't perfect, that he lies, that he's hiding flaws. That he farts in bed.
This one is nicely executed. Rachel makes a fun detective: pathetic, self-pitying, and (borrowing a page from Martin Amis) blackout drunk for a key part of the book. The mystery does a passable job of being mysterious; I had three suspects for most of the book. I dug it, I dig this whole genre, and if you have any other recommendations along these lines I'll take 'em....more
I was suspicious of this book when I was a kid. It's all, "Hey kids, here's a fun story about talking animals," right? And I was like no, this is justI was suspicious of this book when I was a kid. It's all, "Hey kids, here's a fun story about talking animals," right? And I was like no, this is just you banging on about trees. This is a pastoral poem in disguise. It's boring. This book is like the guy who comes into your classroom and sits backwards on a chair all, "Sammy the sock puppet is here to talk about abstinence!" It's like when your mom was like "I froze this banana and it's just as good as a popsicle!" It is not. Mom is full of shit.
More things that are bullshit - Carob - The Berenstain Bears - Mathletes - Sturbridge Village
You can't fool kids, and since I am super immature you can't fool me either: Wind in the Willows is still boring. I'm not saying it's all bad! The parts with Mr. Toad are often pretty entertaining. Poop poop! Lol, I'm on Team Toad. But it's like sitting through Mr. Rogers just to get to the Make-Believe stuff. In between there are just pages and pages of hogwash like this:
"Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties."
And here's what that is: it's booooring.
So, what was bullshit for you when you were a kid? Knowing is half the battle! Now I want a popsicle....more
Nellie Bly was the world's first stunt journalist. She traveled around the world in 72 days to beat Phineas Fogg, she documented the conditions of womNellie Bly was the world's first stunt journalist. She traveled around the world in 72 days to beat Phineas Fogg, she documented the conditions of women factory workers, and she faked insanity to get committed to the notorious Blackwell Island. This is her expose of the conditions there.
It's a great read: brisk, engaging, convincing. She describes with authority and empathy the freezing, starving, beating, choking and waterboarding of the poor women interred there, some of whom are actually crazy and some rapidly being driven so; it's easy to see why reform came immediately after the piece's publication. She also can't resist giggling a little over a handsome doctor she meets there, which is weird but charming.
It's about a hundred pages and it reads quickly. Here's the full text, complete with illustrations. There are also good cheap Kindle versions around....more
Panting and misspelled, Love in Excess is easy to roll your eyes at. But I think it deserves more. It was a blockbuster smash when it was published inPanting and misspelled, Love in Excess is easy to roll your eyes at. But I think it deserves more. It was a blockbuster smash when it was published in 1720, as popular as Robinson Crusoe. It influenced Samuel Richardson and it's much more fun than his work. It was written by a woman and shows women who have their own sexual agendas. It's not great, but it's a good time.
The bodice-ripping plot follows the "exstatick ruiner" Count D'Elmont, so pretty that knickers fly like John Woo's doves in his presence, through a series of amorous intrigues and Elizabethan plot contrivances. All your favorites are here: cross-dressing women who are unrecognizable with pants on; men disguising themselves in order to sneak into lady's chambers; and my personal favorite, that thing where the lights are off so the guy accidentally fucks the wrong lady altogether. (If I had a dollar for every time!)
bodice ripping in progress
D'Elmont is an archetypical rake, whose reformation the book desultorily traces. Like Pamela's Mr. B, he starts off vile enough that you're not likely to root for him to get with Melliora, who is not his wife and whom he nearly succeeds in raping early on. You're more likely to identify with one or more of the many women who cycle in and out of his life. Like Ciamara, who exclaims,
Is this an hour to preach of virtue? - Married - betrothed - engaged by love or law, what hinders but this moment you may be mine, this moment, well improved, might give us joys to baffle a whole age of woe; make us, at once, forget our troubles past, and by its sweet remembrance, scorn those to come.
Fuck it, she says, I want to get laid. And this is the subversive fun of Love in Excess: it frequently turns the tables. Its women are horny, dammit. D'Elmont is a dick, but he's also pretty, and some women try to use him in ways that flip gender expectations. "Few men, how amorous soever themselves, care that the female part of their family should be so," Haywood snarks, but some of her ladies rip their own bodices.
And there is lots of sex, but it does bang on a little too long. When Part Three introduces a whole new batch of characters to excessively love, you're likely to feel a little bit fatigued. But I'm not sure why it's so totally forgotten today. It's much better than plenty of other books from its era. It's not that you shouldn't roll your eyes! Just, y'know, roll 'em with respect....more
"I didn't cry, I was too tired; utterly exhausted, I sat there without doing a thing, sat still and starved." What's staggering about Knut Hamsen's 18"I didn't cry, I was too tired; utterly exhausted, I sat there without doing a thing, sat still and starved." What's staggering about Knut Hamsen's 1890 Hunger is its immediacy - its refusal to look away. It reminds you that the worst thing about starving to death is that you have to be there the whole time, minute after minute, feeling yourself die. It sounds boring. The dying, not the book, the book is great.
Dostovesky is the obvious launching point here. The unhinged writing style and the unhinged protagonist both seemed wicked Dostoevskian. (I was thinking mostly of Crime & Punishment, which also features a poor scholar avoiding his landlady.)
He has this self-destructive quality, right? Or I guess you could call it charity, but it seems more self-sabotaging to me. There are several places where he gets money - pawning his vest, by accident from the store clerk - and every fucking time he throws it away as fast as he can. Orders a steak and barfs it up - gives the money to someone else who's no more poor than he is. And I was like you moron, save it and buy bread and it'll last you like two weeks!
I was mystified by the character of Ylajali. Why did she like him at all? I assumed he was hallucinating her for quite a while. The first time he hangs out with her, he's just finished barfing all over the place! And then what drives her away is when she finds out he hasn't been drunk. I guess it's also when she finds out he's even poorer than she is? But how could she have missed that? I just didn't really get it.
I had to look up Kristiania to learn that it's now Oslo, which has a restaurant called Ylajali situated at the actual address Ylajali lived at. From their website:
In the novel Hunger by Knut Hamsun, the fantasy woman Ylajali lived at St. Olav Square 2. That is the origin of our name. History is still very much alive here, and the menu is like the first edition of Hunger from 1890. The meal is also built like a novel, with a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue.
The restaurant is highly regarded - #4 in Oslo according to TripAdvisor - so, like, totally bookmarking that on Yelp for next time I'm in Oslo.
I read the Lyngstad translation, the most recent one and a well-liked one according to my research. I dug it, sure. The intro is boring....more
Roald Dahl wrote a series of short stories for Playboy, before he got into the brilliant children's books, and here they are.
They're all to some degrRoald Dahl wrote a series of short stories for Playboy, before he got into the brilliant children's books, and here they are.
They're all to some degree about sex, because Playboy, but they mostly avoid wicked bad sexism. I guess? More or less.
"The Visitor" is a Chauceresque story about a guy who wants to seduce a married lady, or her daughter, whichever, but it's super dark and whom has he seduced? It's cool, nothing super special.
"The Great Switcheroo" is about two guys who hatch a complicated plan to nail each other's wives. It's pretty fun. Note that this is the second story in a row to focus on the old "It's dark so how could I possibly know who I'm fucking" trope, which is my favorite plot contrivance ever.
"The Last Act" is a dire story about a woman who tries to recover from her husband's death. It's hella dark.
"Bitch" is a totally disposable lark about Spanish Fly. It's the most sexist of them, in sortof a frat douche elbow-in-the-ribs way.
It's all pleasant enough. Not crucial reading....more