**spoiler alert** Time to make a fool of myself, *trying* to comment on the literature of James Joyce... sigh... all I can give are my own thoughts.
**spoiler alert** Time to make a fool of myself, *trying* to comment on the literature of James Joyce... sigh... all I can give are my own thoughts.
This is the first novel of his I've read. A couple of weeks after giving up, midway through Chapter 5 (due to otherwise-sourced impatience on my part), I returned and read the whole thing over. I'm REALLY glad I did. The languid, painstakingly observant quality of Joyce's language is easier to savour a second time around. And, when I got there at last, I liked the ending (which wasn't actually an ending, it was a beginning - but that's all the better).
The 5 star-rating, however, counts primarily for about the last half of chapter four. The rest of the book can get its stars somewhere else. After reading these pages, I was enraptured. This section is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. All glory, laud and honour be to Joyce, forever and ever, amen.
Since this part appealed to me so much, I'll discuss why. I love the ways devised by Joyce to subtly show us what an artist Stephen is, well before he accepts it himself. He perceives life in a very dramatic way and internalizes his experiences to such an extent that, mentally/emotionally, it affects him more deeply than those around him. In the book's very opening, his father soothes him with the story of "baby tuckoo" – and Stephen realizes that he is baby tuckoo. "He sang that song. It was his song" (Joyce 1). The continuing story is, in many ways, Stephen's grappling with the question of whether he is the creator of his own story, or merely its subject. (Insight derived from the Wordsworth Classic introduction; I can't claim thinking of it, but find it intriguing all the same.)
So Stephen's life goes on, not remarkably; yet this central struggle between subjection and creation adds an anxiety that kept me turning the pages. It's a question that everyone who's ever tried to create has to ask themselves, the question of loyalty and freedom, and in what way a would-be creator has any right to lay claim to either.
To shorten a long, clumsy analysis, the peak of Stephen's belief in his own subject-ness appears near the close of Chapter 3. At this point, the kid is just about trembling out of his trousers with the realization not of how far he's strayed from God's path – he knew that already – but of how dearly he's doomed to pay for it. (Thanks, Joyce, for 14 small-print pages of the preacher's St. Francis' feast day sermon. Was ALL of it really necessary?) Classic religious-institution technique of fear to trap the vulnerable human soul. And it's worse for Stephen, with his wide melodramatic streak. (The unseasoned artist is a very gullible creature indeed.) Moreover, he can't bear to imagine "a tiny soul: his. It flickered once and went out, forgotten, lost. The end: black, cold, void waste" (Joyce 108). His shame is based on egotism, not reverence for God: "A wasting breath of humiliation blew bleakly over his soul ... to feel that those [unfallen:] souls were dearer to God than his" (Joyce 108). And his deeper fear is based on the snuffing-out of his human experience, in that realm of "black, cold, void waste." In my opinion, artists' motivations tend to include a search for immortality. In what sense? Yes, we want our creations to be remembered. But it's also that we are in love with the details of life. If Joyce's prose represents Stephen's consciousness, then Stephen revels in his every sensual experience, even at the times we wouldn't expect him to. He utterly fails to re-align his thoughts and become as single-minded as he feels God wishes him to be. The endless subtle wonders and mysteries of the world call too strongly for him to focus his eyes on heaven for long.
Which brings me to my favorite section, following his chat with the priest who wants him to join the High Ranks of the Mortified. There is something immensely appealing to me in the awakening Stephen feels, that of "some instinct... stronger than education or piety.... The chill and order of the life repelled him" (Joyce 123). In his choice not to turn away from the joy of sensual beauty, Stephen chooses to be a creator of sensual beauty as well. I doubt there is a more "holy" act conceivable: the choice for oneself to be truly awake, aware of the world in which we love and suffer. Oh, never mind, I can't say it better than Joyce does: "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!" (Joyce 132). The independence and courage and bittersweetness and love, and humility (for Stephen worships the sacred experience of life wholeheartedly, as he never worshipped God) ... and the socially-perceived wrongness, and the essential rightness of this decision grips me. It is complicated, and yet so simple. I want to relive it and re-think it again and again. ...more
**spoiler alert** Here, to those of you whose recollections might be fuzzy or otherwise desiring renewal - here are illustrated the two central moods**spoiler alert** Here, to those of you whose recollections might be fuzzy or otherwise desiring renewal - here are illustrated the two central moods evoked by Jane Austen:
Me on first paragraph: "Hee-hee-hee-hee." Me on last paragraph: "Mmmm-aawwwwww."
Insightful and humorous by turn, and often at the same time - Austen, through Emma, proves herself artful in the way that only a close observer of society can be. Her figures learn, or don't, through their sorrows and trials and mistakes, and these are so far removed from our own that they're perfect Literary Escape material.
Really like the character development in several cases. Our heroine is quite insufferable in the beginning, but she grows a fair bit, as we'd expect an intelligent girl like Emma to do. All very well and good. Thank goodness. Reading a book named for her would seem an empty task if she remained so smug, prejudiced and foolish. Mr. Knightly proves that love must not be blind; he knows his beloved's flaws and loves her enough to not let her indulge them. And in himself, he's not surly or mysterious or haunted. Yes, he is certainly a refreshing figure in the world of regency-period protagonists. Mr. Woodhouse, on the other hand, is a timid, foolish hypochondriac who can scarcely bear to look beyond his own Hartfield gates - and we end up loving him regardless. He's classic - an exaggeration, as many such immortal characters must be. Sadly, both these men are rather static characters, which makes them less interesting, and which at least dudes like Darcy aren't. Jane Fairfax is nicely shaped over the course of the novel, as is Harriet. And heck, in the end, everybody ends up happy, which they HAD to be, right?
Even though the plot is fairly predictable, I'd like to point out what helps to remedy this (for me anyway): the moments of foreshadowing made hilarious by their embedment in the dialogue. Mrs. Bates types are especially useful for that purpose. Speaking of her, I really appreciated the way Emma's Bates-mocking fiasco was handled. (Knightly to the rescue. Boy, doesn't a man like him ever get sick of living among idiots?) It reveals Austen's essential compassion for the lives she depicts, a counterbalance to her continual satire not merely on class structure and attitude, but individual human foible. If beauty is not truly exalted in Austen's novels, intelligence is; Jane Fairfax is seriously hinted to be a far more appropriate companion for Emma's married future than Harriet, who is 'built to be satisfied by domestic pleasures' or something to that effect. People need to learn to employ their brains for good and truly benign purposes (yawn?!) but, nevertheless, the fact that one is gifted with whatever qualities count for superior intelligence sets one apart, or so Austen implies, more than does one's social standing. I believe it's true. How is this right, and how wrong? Certainly a question that's worth asking today. Either way, I feel Austen was thinking ahead of her time (well, she was by virtue of the fact she was writing novels at all).
Some favorite quotes - don't mind if I share: Mr. Elton: "Charming Miss Woodhouse! allow me to interpret this interesting silence!" Mrs. Bates: "My mother's deafness is very trifling you see - just nothing at all. By only raising my voice, and saying anything two or three times over, she is sure to hear...." Emma: "I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way." Narrator: "Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accru[ing?] either to body or mind...."
I do treasure your nuggets of humour, Jane Austen. Please don't roll over in your grave at what pop culture is doing to your well-wrought works. As far as I know, the story of Emma remains basically untarnished. NOTE: Since writing this, it has come to my attention that there are in fact poppy take-offs (or are there? I don't know if the similarities are deliberate) such as the tv show Clueless, which I haven't watched before. At any rate, Emma stands on its own, and more than most other Austin /Bronte are allowed to do. (I know it's off-topic, but NO, NO, NO; for me, Kiera Knightly will NEVER be Elizabeth Bennet. She has her own merits, but she will retain them strictly as Kiera. End of discussion.)...more
I'm not actually sure why I am giving this 5 stars. Mainly, I suppose, because it's Frankenstein. I found it to be everything great that I knew it wouI'm not actually sure why I am giving this 5 stars. Mainly, I suppose, because it's Frankenstein. I found it to be everything great that I knew it would be. In my opinion this is the most important parable anyone could tell - the need for admonitions against hate is crucial and perennial. And yet I can't help but feel this story, wonderfully told in itself, hasn't dated all that well. Couldn't it have been ... well... a third of the length? That would still have afforded plenty of gushy landscape imagery, and quite sufficient passages of Frankenstein's whinging.
Speaking of him, I've got to doubt that there has been a half-sensible reader of this book who did not find herself thinking:
I hate Frankenstein I hate Frankenstein I hate Frankenstein I hate Frankenstein
- I really do prefer not to swear in reviews – but as politely as I can put it, that lowlife @$$#()!* must have turned a lot of readers from mounting the god-pedastal, or so I would love to believe. Listening to parts of this on audiobook, I was more than once moved to sympathetic tears for the fiend. Rambling as his narrative section was. (One thing Shelley didn't do too well here was differentiate her characters' voices. They sound exactly alike. Then again, she may have done that on purpose. Hm. Sorry, Shelley. Extra points for you.)
This is exactly the moral -emotional reaction intended, and I honour it. Nevertheless, as I was saying, it goes on forever. Too bad she could not have somehow resisted the style of her contemporaries – an illogical thing to wish, I know – and cut down on the floweriness. The stylistic contrast to the raw and mostly-ugly nature of the plot is chilling. That's cool - but it takes so long to read. Or it *would* if I hadn't started to merely skim most of the imagistic paragraphs by about page 20.
Altogether, by the final sentences I felt less thrills&chills related to the story itself than admiration for Mary Shelley. Because she managed to write in that really-gotta-say-it asshole Frankenstein's voice for how many pages? Far more than enough, that's how many, to convince us to join her in deepest sympathy toward the "monster." She created a "hero" indubitably more hateful to me (and i would think far less fun to write) than any in the order of Ralph & Jack, Holden Caulfield, Alex or the darling H. Humbert.
Needless to say I do not believe there is virtue in banning books; be assured my argument is hypothetical. Why would any of those characters' books be banned, and not this one? Why not Frankenstein – why unbanned the portrayal of a so-called civilized and learned man who epitomizes cruelty and ignorance, beside whom the fiend himself is innocent in an entire world of fiends? Gee - because there are no cuss words in Frankenstein, marm, that's why. What's more dangerous a social criticism than what Shelley's said over and over and over in this book? If we started to take this seriously, how much would we have to change? Appearances are deceiving. End of scanty thoughts. I revere this book. Because of it, I want to think and feel and fight more courageously for the monster in every sentient being. That is all.
Alex, A-lex or the millicents? The malchick or the rozzes? The criminal or the lawful life-breakers? "What's it going to be then, eh?" That last isAlex, A-lex or the millicents? The malchick or the rozzes? The criminal or the lawful life-breakers? "What's it going to be then, eh?" That last is Burgess's recurring line, and I dare say that it's the theme of the book. And the root of the question, as defined through the course of the book, becomes the scum or the scum? Damnit, this book is about scum. We're all scum. Or are we?
There's no way around it; everything and anything we do is violent. Including opposing violence. Looking at it objectively – and Burgess forces a reader to do so, through the clear unreliability of his narrator – society and social control is all a play of opposites. Opposing forces, neither entirely good nor bad; it is our judgement of one or the other as deserving-of-life or not that creates many of our 'problems.'
Nobody in the book is really likeable. It's hard, though, not to take A-lex's side: what could possibly be more endearing than the ever-confidential address of "O my brothers"? Yep, it helps to sucker a reader in, all right. Of course, I can't write a review without mentioning the nadsat, which absolutely made me swoon. I agree wholeheartedly with Burroughs, on both counts: few other authors have done so much with language, and this is a very funny book. Why do people find it's hard to read? I didn't think so at all. It's so very clear what he means, so flowing, so easy to get into. Within the first third of the book, I found myself wanting to speak in Alex's idiom. (Yeah, Mum, almost set for the nochy's campfire, I just need a malenky wash for my grahzny litso.) If I'd done an essay on this like I had a chance to in university, darn it, I would have investigated the transformation of Russian to nadsat, and all its implications. Ah well... another day.... back to these comments.
As I turned pages in the second half of the book, I was partly musing over a comparison with Nineteen Eighty-Four , and have decided – though that's not quite fair; I haven't read it in years, need to reread – that I prefer Anthony Burgess's take on things. Are humans malleable but limited, open to manipulation and irreparable change (Orwell) or are they creatures of infinite choice (Burgess)? My impression of Nineteen Eighty-Four was that it despaired of humanity all the way though. Such a work has its place. A Clockwork Orange doesn't despair of people, but laughs at them, and in my current mental order, I like this way best. Anybody who can read this book and feel depressed is mistaking Burgess's "point", I feel. Yes, there are certainly issues here, heavy ones, probably the hardest that exist anywhere in this universe. These being thus, I will not touch them. The painstaking prodding of human nature, it's so mind-bending and yet (to some, like Burgess) so obvious, that it's almost a non-issue. Alex's story succeeds in setting this to one side, for the sake of making us shake our heads, half in laughter, half in disgust, only to realize we're doing so at our own society, and at ourselves. The art of irony, O my brothers. And, Burgess hints, in most trying times this is the wisest thing we can do, either at his story or at the world.
'Good grief,' Burgess seems to say. 'Violence is there. We are violence. Life is violence. Get over it.' Which opinion is Zen and Beat and all things wise. It's a daring stand, but one I'm willing to stand up for. Morality does not exist separately from selfishness, and the sooner we realize it, the less muddled we'll all be about who we are and what we ought to be aiming for here. It's not depressing, no. It's freeing, because it's the rock-bottom truth. And it gives us permission to step outside the traditional bounds of morality, nudges us to raise an eyebrow at the legitimacy of any 'moral' position.
(I could go on... but I won't. I'll go read Mr. Morrison's introduction, which I've saved, and discover some sky-high literary-philosophical insights that make me want to take all this back. But if you've read this far, thank you for respecting my own thoughts so kindly, and all that cal.)...more
Three stars are for the badass emo Satan. The other is for some unbeatable iambic pentameter. Yet it doesn't dazzle me the way I expected it to. ParadThree stars are for the badass emo Satan. The other is for some unbeatable iambic pentameter. Yet it doesn't dazzle me the way I expected it to. Paradise Lost! – no longer do I tremble with reverence at the title, and I wish I didn't have to say so. But that's my honest reaction. I wish there were more stars in this system so I could withhold points for misogyny, which I know is explainable by various factors, blah blah blah, but which still bothers me here. Perhaps I had higher poetic standards for Milton – didn't expect him to stoop to female-bashing as he told his epic? So much for my expectations about 'greatness.' Nevertheless, I can't deny that this is a ton of fun to read aloud. If you feel the need to refresh your sense of English literary nerdiness, join or organize an all-night reading of the entire work. (I have successfully used this method; it is highly recommended! Just have coffee on hand, for the occasional fervent sip, as you get through the book. Milton probably did.)...more
**spoiler alert** shortly after finishing: One more classic down. No less tragic than expected. I have to admit, however - by the last pages I though**spoiler alert** shortly after finishing: One more classic down. No less tragic than expected. I have to admit, however - by the last pages I thought more of this book than I sometimes did in the middle of it.
My annoyance and even hatred of the characters was, at times, my strongest feeling for them - Tess because she is so inconsistent, strong one moment and self-effacing the next; Angel because he's the worst damn hypocrite ... I mean, he's just too realistic for comfort; is that a legitimate criticism here?! - and Alec, well, because he's Alec. But, to shorten this, my roller-coastering opinions ended up on a level of greater sympathy for our two protagonists than I had projected. I had to wrap my head around the sense that they are essentially allegorical, while at the same time being very true to life in their inconsistency and late realization of serious mistakes. Ah, me.
Something that bothered me in the end is the seeming disintegration of what I was finally beginning to feel were appreciably lifelike characters. I felt such distance from Tess & Angel, as though they were different characters than we had seen so far, or at least as if the author had taken a few major steps backward and viewed them through binoculars. Perhaps that's the only way to tell a story that nosedives like this one. As soon as Angel returned, the resolution was simply crammed into a very low number of pages. Almost like Hardy resented what he had to write. Didn't want to linger on the destination as he did over the journey.
Still not sure how I feel about Tess's final actions. "I killed him! Love me now!" Wow, like what?! Sorrow does interesting things to the mind. Why didn't they psychoanalyze Tess instead of killing her? *I RESERVE ALL RIGHTS to that plot for the modern film version* Oh yeah, and what happened to Tess, anyway? Must admit, I am not well versed in British turn-of-nineteenth-century death penalties. Still, while I have a gruesome curiosity for detailz, I approve of the way Hardy skipped over the whole episode. He had said what he needed to say. In the end, it is his silence - his disgust and disdain to comment any further on what 'had to' follow – that hits us hardest.
I tended to skip over a lot of his descriptive paragraphs. I know I could/should have appreciated them more. No fear, I'll review (when actually studying it, in a few weeks' time). At which time I'll perhaps reorganize and add to my review. It's just notesy for now. But yowza, Hardy. I hope we'll get the option to write essays on this one. ...more
Fantastic, awe-inspiring character creation. I want to explore all the nuances of Christine Linde, and Dr. Rank, and Krogstad, and especially Nora. AnFantastic, awe-inspiring character creation. I want to explore all the nuances of Christine Linde, and Dr. Rank, and Krogstad, and especially Nora. Anyone who essays to interpret this merely as some sort of feminist power-politics commentary is seriously shortchanging themselves, and misusing the play. I'm itching already to reread it, multiple times, as well as to actually see it. (Maybe I'll start with the Christopher Plummer & Julie Harris version, I think it's all on YouTube.)
Yep, I am officially an Ibsen admirer. Longer review-thoughts to come....more
**spoiler alert** Why does this epic drama-poem get super-points from me? First of all, because I started reading it LATE at night when VERY tired and**spoiler alert** Why does this epic drama-poem get super-points from me? First of all, because I started reading it LATE at night when VERY tired and resentful. Within a page I was awake and reading the voices aloud to myself. Yes, it woke me up beautifully.
"Manfred: A Dramatic Poem" is the longest of dear old Byron's works we read in my Regency Lit. course, and I thought I'd venture a stab at reviewing it. Here were a few of my jotted-down-while-reading impressions:
1) Starts with a direct quote from Hamlet. Byron knew, all right, how to make his stuff look EPIC even before it was.
2) "Ye Spirits.... By the strong curse which is upon my soul, / The thought which is within me and around me, / I do compel ye to my will. – Appear!" I'm beginning to wonder if it should have been a Macbeth quote instead.
3) Forget it, this guy is way cooler than Macbeth. Those spirits will just tear their hair out if he continues to dismisses them. I find it quite wonderfully funny already.
4) Manfred's character complexifies in Act II - the Chamois Hunter's down-to-earth admonishments are just what he needs to arouse some healthy indignation, and pride which distracts him from sorrow, for all that it's silly. "Think's thou existence doth depend on time?" An awesome line, which conjures an image of Manfred bristling with reddened but imperious eyes toward the unimpressed Hunter. I already agree that this is brilliant, brilliant.
5) End of Act II, scene ii: at last! A Macbeth reference. But man, I feel much worse for Manfred than I ever did for the Scottish lord. (Sorry, Brad.) The Byronic hero does conquer all hearts.
6) Nemesis just became my favorite character. "What the Hell have you been up to, Nemesis?" "Oh, the usual. Quit griping, you useless Destinies. Let's catch the nearest clouds and rain on another parade." I CLAIM SCRIPTING FOR THE CLAYMATION FEATURE.
7) YES! Echoes of Milton's Satan in Act III scene 1! I can't get over the host of killer characters evoked in this poem. "The Prisoner of Chillon" is being seriously challenged for Byron's display case in my Romantics Hall of Fame.
And after this, admittedly, my notes dwindled because I was too impatient to see how it would end already. I had kinda hoped something would devour the Abbot, even though of course he meant well. Busybody characters are *supposed* to pay for their interference, aren't they? Not according to Byron. In fact, nobody was really punished, as our gloomy incestuous (maybe - ? I'm not convinced) hero so wholeheartedly embraces his own death. "Old man! 'Tis not so difficult to die." And right on key, a skeptical-because-religious old man to say this to, to prove Byron's - oops, I mean Manfred's - point. The Abbot, given the privilege of Last Lines, could be made an appropriately dramatic figure in recitation with an orchestra striking in darkly behind them. I refuse to accept that Byron envisioned it any other way.
In class we examined the possible 'doubleness' of Byron/Manfred and Manfred/Astarte, which is why I don't think Manfred is suffering due to an incestuous misdemeanour. Astarte is so like him, yet so unlike him, ever before his eyes and yet untouchable, barely audible or visible even when she does come to him. In short, I feel Astarte is Manfred's Platonic ideal self, so strongly planted in his soaring "half-dust, half-deity" mind that he must reduce himself to spirit to eradicate what he already is. The earthy Chamois Hunter cannot ground him, nor can the divine Abbot: what Manfred must do, feeling himself so out of place and so unaccountably sorrowful, is dive straight into the unknown. And even by choice, that's scary. Manfred is the constancy of his choice, and Byron 'got' that we somehow admire the integrity that chooses to endure pain for its own oblique fulfillment. Even if he (Byron/Manfred) whines about it a lot.
So glad to have read this. It even suggested to me a couple of great new Bookshelf labels. (Don't tell Byron that I think Manfred is a woobie. That is, however, what Elizabeth said, and she is never wrong about her tropes.)
And I still LOVE Nemesis. Can I sneak her into one of my stories, Byron? Please? Just read it and you'll get what I mean. She doesn't take shit from those Destinies. I mean how cool is she? One slick Goddess. A cross between this:
and holy crap, let's not forget this: [image error]
I mean no disrespect. The pics are just fun. But no visual images are needed to make the plight of Manfred vividly appear in the mind and seep its Byronic way into the heart. Isn't it great when we can feel so enthusiastic about a work, one-hundred-and-ninety-six years later?
I rather liked the other two Ibsen plays I've read (A Doll's House and Enemy of the People) but I wasn't crazy about this one. At all.
I won't pretendI rather liked the other two Ibsen plays I've read (A Doll's House and Enemy of the People) but I wasn't crazy about this one. At all.
I won't pretend that it's poorly written. Ibsen creates a story here that is remarkably well-populated by characters you'll just love to hate. Oh, wait, correction. I was okay with Aunt Julle. She is my idea of a generally decent, if 'impassionate,' person. So there's the ONE example of human goodness in the play, but there are (obviously - it's Ibsen) many more examples of human yuck, in my humbleish opinion. In spite of feeling a few tweaks of situational sympathy for Hedda, Jörgen, Thea, Ejlert et al., you really won't like them. And I'm not saying this sarcastically - that takes some talent on the part of the playwright. It feels like a soap opera. Lots of cheap drama (no pun intended) between the figures, and a clangity-bang payoff at the end that left me cringing.
Otherwise? The plot's pretty lacklustre, though it could just be dated. There's also the question of whether or not I have a good translation; it is a pretty old one. Anyway, my entire reaction to this play consists of Meh so I'll spend no more time on it....more
- That socially-ubiquitous phrase, "The horror! The horror!" - ? It's from here. I really hope you knew tWhat you really need to know about this book:
- That socially-ubiquitous phrase, "The horror! The horror!" - ? It's from here. I really hope you knew that already. - Approximately every tenth word is 'darkness.' You'd think Conrad had patented it. - The fat woman and the slim woman knitting in the Belgian office are like guillotine ladies. Creepy-keen. By the way, the guillotine remained the official method of execution in France until the country abolished its death penalty in 1981. Their last guillotining was that of torture-murderer Hamida Djandoubi on September 10, 1977. - It's fun to make comparisons between Kurtz and Darth Vader. - Please, please DON'T make references to, never mind base your whole lecture around, this story's view of 'darkness' in relation to the holocaust. That unspeakable event had not happened yet and besides, the example is deplorably overemployed. - I believe there's a hell of a lot more to the portrayal of women in this story than my prof does, but that's just me. I plan to lengthen this review and my musings on the topic at a more opportune time. - Heart of Darkness can be tedious, can take a long time to read for so short a work, but (I think - ultimately, I'll go here with the general literary verdict) it's worth it....more
WARNING: no spoilers, but a lot of aimless philosophy.
Although I took a few days after finishing this to let it sink in, these are still my incompletWARNING: no spoilers, but a lot of aimless philosophy.
Although I took a few days after finishing this to let it sink in, these are still my incomplete and less-than-cohesive thoughts on The Stranger. I want to say first that I absolutely hate reading translations, because one language used by one person can never really communicate the same thing as another person in a different language. I feel that what I'm reading is so far removed from Camus' L'etranger as to make it unthinkable that I'm reading much other than Matthew Ward's The Stranger - and who cares about that?!? Nevertheless, I wanted to read Camus, and so I did the best I could.
Some will thoroughly hate/disparage me for saying this. Acknowledged. So here goes: right around p.110 I started feeling like the book had substance. With 13 pages left, it got interesting. That's what I thought for a few lines, anyway. Then I realized how the peculiar inanity of all pages that came before were leading into those breathless 13 pages, and how startlingly that reflects "real" (outside-of-literature) life. The important bits, they generally sneak up on you. This novel is (among many things) an embodiment of the whole 'hindsight is 20-20' concept.
All the way through I couldn't decide how I feel about Mersault. He seems like an unrealistic character in a realistic world. How many of us have met a Mersault? (I've met some partial Mersaults, at least, but none like this.) How does anyone develop an internal life like the one portrayed in his story? He has rejected, or at least hasn't absorbed, normal socially-imposed morality. Yet he's so perfectly understandable. Like all of us, most things he does are done for no very compelling reason; his only difference from the rest of us is that he recognizes and accepts the total inconsequentiality of it all. He knows that we live, we die, and nothing in between matters that much. That made me like him, at the same time as (I admit) I feared him, a little. I feared him because there's a significant part of me that thinks the same way, and maybe there is such a part in all of us. If he is, what the hell kind of a lie are we daily, silently agreeing to live? I think about this more than anyone wants to discuss it with me, so I try not to dwell on it, but this novel forces me to confront it: "the gentle indifference of the world" (p.122). The Mersaults we can pinpoint are far fewer than those who conceal their doubts, bury their knowing, leave their deep convictions (convictions of no conviction) out of their actions and out of their words. And so society goes on, all of us unexplained and unexplainable in our privileges. We are privileged to live, to die, and not to matter.
We know the banality of evil; consider the banality of innocence. If I'm at all correct in my thoughts that we each ARE Mersault more than we want to admit - if so, he is an everyman. Maybe that's why Camus has him smoke so many cigarettes, drink so much wine and coffee. He is simply a more psychologically honest representation of the typical. In an anti-Classical fashion the tragedy of Mersault's life is rooted in his own banality, though I can't decide for whom it is tragic. He concludes the world is "so much like myself – so like a brother, really [...]." And cue shivers up the spine. I found myself wondering whether his atypical awareness condemns or absolves him of what he's done, before I recalled that such a question's against the whole point of the story. Another question: who is "the stranger"? Maybe the answer's not so obvious. But I will save the matter to ponder upon a re-reading.
Guess I should quit pretending I have something to say about this book, hm?
I am probably typical in that this is the first work by Camus that I've read (if only my French was good enough to read the original - alas, not even halfway good enough). My thoughts on this will change as I read more of him, and come to better understand his philosophical position. Do I want to?
Note: the rabbit hole's no deeper than your least favorite coffee mug. Disappointing, isn't it? ...more
Oft-hilarious but neverending plot; unquenchable narrator. A little too unquenchable, IMHO. Just remembering this novel (and I read it nearly a year aOft-hilarious but neverending plot; unquenchable narrator. A little too unquenchable, IMHO. Just remembering this novel (and I read it nearly a year ago) drains my head of words. Fielding's ego must have been truly elephantine to write Tom Jones in its existing, exhausting incarnation. I can sum it up, luckily, in five words: Incredible Classic, Too Fucking Long. ...more