I hadn’t read Fitzgerald since high school. We all fondly remember The Great Gatsby, right? I now realize that I hadn’t fully appreciated what is so g...moreI hadn’t read Fitzgerald since high school. We all fondly remember The Great Gatsby, right? I now realize that I hadn’t fully appreciated what is so great about it – not only the themes, the social critique, the characters, the unreliable narrator, and the setting, but also the sheer lyricism. Starting Tender Is the Night I was immediately swept up in the language, both that used in description and dialogue. Poetic without being too overblown for the former, often spot-on for the latter.
But, as you’ve probably guessed, there is a reason why Tender Is the Night isn’t read by every high schooler in the United States. It’s kind of like Gatsby, but instead he’s an ex-patriot who got to marry the (crazy! insane!) girl of his dreams who had all of the money, and found that that wasn’t enough.
I like that Fitzgerald is revisiting the idea of an upper class that strives (unsuccessfully) to be creative – the “furthermost evolution” of the upper class. I also really like how he traces the spoils of that class to the sweat of the working class, and how he reframes WWI as “the empire walking slowly in a love battle built on sentiment.”
His treatment of women is also interesting. He starts the novel from the (3rd person limited) perspective of an anonymous woman who is suddenly revealed to be a famous American actress, but then shifts to the head of that ex-patriot, upper-class community and his (insane! but recovering)wife for the rest of the novel.
And at first we want to root for them. They’re the popular kids who don’t care about being popular, the trend-setters who don’t care about trends. They have effortless taste and an appetite for fun that they are wealthy enough to indulge, and they indulge their friends. Don’t we all want to be their friends?
But then our hero, Dick Diver (Really! That’s his name! In all earnestness! Obviously Fitzgerald wasn’t all that into porn or he would have seen that this as problematic), continues to feel more and more emasculated by his wife’s money, and the charade all falls to pieces. And I guess in the end it’s that post-WWI what-do-the-real-men-of-the-upper-class-do-now kind of thing that’s being questioned. Apparently they have duels and drink and go find other wars. For me the end of the book kind of petered out, but perhaps that’s the point – maybe that’s all the real men are good for…. (less)
Reading Proust may be the ultimate narcissistic exercise. I like to think that I’m no more narcissistic than the next guy, but sheesh – how many hours...moreReading Proust may be the ultimate narcissistic exercise. I like to think that I’m no more narcissistic than the next guy, but sheesh – how many hours have I spend in the last two years reading this? How many months?
I’ve been putting off writing this attempt at a review for several weeks. The night I finished the book, I just sat and sat and thought and thought, and I probably should have gone ahead and written it then, but I thought I should keep digesting it for a little while. Even though I haven’t fully digested it, it’s weighing on me, and I need to set down a few of my thoughts before my own memory fails me and I start the whole blasted thing over again. (Which is inevitable – and I am NOT the type to re-read books typically, so that’s saying a lot.)
SPOILER ALERT I love writing that in this context– as if there are spoilers in Proust, the anti-plot writer – but there are. Not so much a spoiler in terms of plot this time, but a spoiler in terms of technique. So proceed ahead at your own risk.
I had figured out the project of the book much earlier – the whole reading-the-book-being-a-form-of-reading-yourself thing – because it worked like a charm on me. (Hmmm – I really may be more narcissistic than the next guy.) And even when the foibles of his characters annoyed me, I obviously wasn’t too turned off, even though our narrator provoked my anger on more than one occasion. But when he comes out and says in the last two pages that this whole project may have resulted in his characters resembling monsters, I think I may have gasped aloud. Did anyone else have this reaction? I’m not sure why this was such a revelation for me – I know that Proust ≠Marcel/narrator (see my reviews of previous volumes of the book for my appreciation of the fun he has with this). And I know that the narrator doesn’t enjoy the company of most of the people that he encounters, so the monster characterization may be warranted in their cases, especially given the traits he emphasizes in them. Maybe it was the ultimate unreliability of the narrator that threw me, or the monster within him. And, this being the ultimate narcissistic exercise, by extension the monster within me….
It makes me look back on all of those dinner parties (finally described as “barbarian festivals” toward the end – YES!), and the jealousies, and the abyss of death between old lovers, and the narrator’s ultimate dissolution into a pedophile, and fully appreciate the nudge-nudge-wink-wink of it all.
The main monsterly feature of our narrator that bothered me throughout the book was his HATRED for other people. How he only feels pleasure when he’s alone, how he views the social contract as being sterile. I’ve read plenty of books before about misanthropists, but maybe the reason it bothered me more here is that there is this incredible tension between that and his urge to produce eternal value for his readers through recovering lost memories. It’s ultimately such a social project, a narcissistic-yet-generous venture, to create this opus in all its ghoulishly reflective detail. Yet the life he chooses to explore most fully, that of his narrator, seems not all that much worth savoring. If “the true paradises are the paradises we have lost,” where is Marcel’s paradise? At those dinner parties? In the throes of jealousy? Waiting for that kiss? But, like pretty much every other thought I’ve had in relation to this book, he even anticipates that observation, saying that he feels his “exaltation and joy” only by probing the hitherto anguish-filled and dissatisfying incidents of his past life.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, is the project that much richer being told in the voice of a depressive misanthropist? Is all that hatred-of-humankind necessary? And I guess, since Proust anticipates my every question, that answer would be yes. Because it wouldn’t be so powerful if some person who had had the gall to be happy with a lover were able to access joy by recovering that memory. The discontent of the narrator’s life puts the transformative nature of his reflective abilities into higher relief.
When I looked back on my review of the volume prior to this one, I realized that I barely touched on any of the plot -- and there actually was some! – because what was more important was the action of the mind. No big revelation there, but a little funny given that there are some major plot twists there. But I had already finished most of this last volume when I wrote that review, so I was already thinking globally. And it’s the action of the mind that sticks with you when all is said and done.
But boy, there were exciting gossipy parts here, parts reveling in the scope of the world he created – Verdurin on morphine! Saint-Loup on coke! The Duchess calling Gilberte a bitch! (I need to look up the French version to see if that translation is fairly accurate.) Having grown to know these people so intimately, it is so much fun to see these sides of them.
And I love how at the end Francoise is implicated in the writing process, mending his torn “paperies.” I have always rooted for Francoise.
Ultimately, the final image at the end was hard-won – the image of the monsters/giants on stilts touching distant epochs of their own pasts. He is so adept at making his readers experience that vertigo for themselves – at least in my narcissistic case. And in the end, maybe the particular philosophies of his narrator are not the point – just the monstrous, exhaustive, and gorgeous vehicle.(less)
My reactions to Proust are so all over the place. I find him very easy to read; it just takes me forever because every paragraph or so he is taking me...moreMy reactions to Proust are so all over the place. I find him very easy to read; it just takes me forever because every paragraph or so he is taking me off on a tangent with some personal connection he has forced me to make. And then he forces me to analyze that personal connection and evaluate whether or not I think Proust’s philosophy holds for me. And half an hour later I’m ready for the next paragraph.
But another overwhelming reaction to the guy is deep sympathy tempered by anger. Love for him is reciprocal torture? Friendship is a fallacy? The dead don’t leave even a ripple in reality? The intellect of women isn’t interesting? Poor people have less regret when parted from a loved one because they know s/he is inaccessible, as opposed to the wealthy who have more access to immediate communication, and thus suffering and desire?
And, for good measure, he’ll throw in some Buddhist philosophy, like how forgetting negates love, which leaves us with an absence of suffering, leading to happiness within the extinction of desire. I’ve always had a problem with that.
But of course he’s not going for this extinction of desire – he’s all about the remembering – you know, searching for that lost time, grain by grain savoring the past within our memory’s library of tectonic underpinnings. And pressing those sad memories “voluptuously” to our hearts. He redeems himself with hopeful phrases like, “Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart.”
And then he’ll throw in a fun plot twist, like being charged for abducting a minor, a stranger he brings back to his house to hold on his lap….
I love how Proust plays with the idea of a fictional autobiography – saying that “if” we give his narrator the same name as the writer, it would be Marcel. And that Swann achieved fame as a result of his story being a large part of Volume I. And that lying is acceptable under the guise of “narrative tidiness.” As well as lots of other fun little references to his readers. I have avoided reading criticism of Proust until after I’m all done with all six volumes (which will be this week!!!!!!!), and I’m very curious to see how this all pans out.
Where Proust’s prose really soars for me in his hall of mirrors is when he discusses the artist’s craft. I’ll quote four examples that really do it for me in the comments below this review. In summary, they are about the tension between a healthy respect for the limitations of human endeavors and the other-worldly obligation that drives the artist to produce profound works of the intellect. Works that hint at this other-worldly lost fatherland, this unknown country, like a visit to a personal, intimate star, the elements of which compose the permanent part of the soul. Works of art that exteriorize the unsayable. At times he appears to be a cynical atheist who derives an incredible amount of transcendental joy from art, and he can’t explain this joy without reference to some other reality, a reality separate from “a life hagridden by people who have no real connexion with one.” (When I read this last phrase, I had a greater appreciation for why he goes on and on about the dinner parties of the Guermantes and the Verdurins.) Of course, this is assuming Proust and his narrator are one and the same. Even though they’re not, I’m guessing that those sentiments are what he wants us to take away.
In the end, while his cynicism and depression are hard to take, what he has done is taken me on an intimate voyage to his star, and through that deeper into my own star. And for most of us, that’s probably why we read fiction.(less)
There was so much hoopla surrounding the publication of this book, esp given the conditions in which it was written, that as usual I avoided it. But I...moreThere was so much hoopla surrounding the publication of this book, esp given the conditions in which it was written, that as usual I avoided it. But I'm glad I listened to a friend's recommendation. Very much worth the read.
In spite of the exhaustion, the hunger, the fear, Maurice Michaud was not really unhappy. He had a unique way of thinking: he didn’t consider himself that important; in his own eyes, he was not that rare and irreplaceable creature most people imagine when they think about themselves. He felt pity towards his fellow sufferers, but his pity was lucid and detached. After all, he thought, these great human migrations seemed to follow natural laws. Surely such occasional mass displacements were necessary to humans, just as the migration of livestock was to animals. He found this idea oddly comforting. The people around him believed that fate was tracking them down, them and their pitiable generation, but not Maurice: he knew there had been exoduses throughout history. How many people had died on this land (on land everywhere in the world), dripping with blood, fleeing the enemy, leaving cities in flames, clutching their children to their hearts: no one gave a thought to these countless dead, or pitied them. To their descendants they were no more important than chickens who’d had their throats slit. As he walked along, he imagined their plaintive ghosts rising up, whispering in his ear, “We’ve been through all this already, before you. Why should you be more fortunate than this?
Nemirovsky lets us see inside the heads of a terrific cast of disparate characters coping with this unfolding tragedy in an engaging, unsentimental style. She also injects irony now and then, sometimes with a dash of humor. The footnotes at the end are also terrific -- we get to see the notes she had planned for this quartet of books she was writing about WWII as it was taking place. An on-the-front-lines-of-the-quotidian report. She really “gets” the work of the novelist (she revered Tolstoy, Forster, and Dickens).
And Proust is referenced on page 18 -- what’s not to like?!?!?! (less)
Volume IV was good for me. It started off with a bang (ha, ha), and his absorption with how gays and l...moreMild spoilers, but hey, it's Proust. Give it up.
Volume IV was good for me. It started off with a bang (ha, ha), and his absorption with how gays and lesbians fit into society got a little old, but on the whole I liked his forays into society better than at the end of Vol. III. Maybe I’m developing a tolerance for the dinner parties. Or maybe I’m beginning to see the forest for the trees.
It was fun to see our hero in some new/old contexts -- like when he FINALLY meets the Verdurins and is so excited to be at their villa that Cottard says he should try sedatives and knitting. Gotta love the Verdurins -- you’re either on the bus or off the bus. (Actually, they annoy me to no end. But I guess I have a better time laughing at them and their little clan than the Guermantes gang.) Now I appreciate the whole Odette/Swann back-story even more. His treatment of Swann’s death as a comic device, like he did its approach in Vol. III, is so interesting -- like when the Duchess says his imminent death is no excuse for her deigning to meet his family.
Now he’s earned all of those pages at the beginning of Vol. I bemoaning his mom’s absence at bedtime -- now that they’ve translated into more (young) adult obsessions. (Hmmm -- while making my daughter fall asleep without me in the room, am I fomenting neuroses?)
I LOVED how he directly addressed the reader regarding how we get annoyed by his tangents. The tone was perfect. And then he addresses us a second time in understanding that a sane reader would question his chasing of phantom women. I can’t wait for more, as Pamela has alluded.
I continue to appreciate his treatment of his grandmother’s death -- how he only truly realizes she is permanently gone well after the fact, and how that reality only exists in his thoughts that are stimulated by involuntary (madeline) experiences. And how that nature of reality makes our souls fictitious because our memory is involuntary (wow, is that true for me). But I really like that he has hope that we can recapture the past through a voluntary sensitivity toward sensation not dulled by habit that allows us to experience multiplicity, especially in a familiar environment. (Is he being that optimistic, or is it just me?) He‘s helping me train my memory, which I believe is his aim. Which is a blessing and a curse, being as I have lived in the same city for 20 years. Thank goodness I’ve moved out of my house of 19 years, or the ghosts wouldn’t let me be!
The references to modernization are fun -- the first time he has a car and driver at his disposal, the first time he sees an airplane and starts crying because both he and the pilot seem to realize that they have so many possibilities for direction that only habit prohibits….
He so nails the melancholy of growing up. How being given the “too great” responsibility to decide his own happiness and not obey his parents’ orders (even though he’s a fickle neurotic) make him suddenly realize that he only has one life “at his disposal,” and he’s living it.
And beneath all of that cynicism, is he really a romantic? Loving the “invisible deity” in someone else? Huh.
“Good-bye, I’ve barely said a word to you, but it’s always like that at parties -- we never really see each other, we never say the things we should like to; in fact it’s the same everywhere in this life. Let’s hope that when we are dead things will be better arranged. At any rate we shan’t always be having to put on low-cut dresses. And yet one never knows. We may perhaps have to display our bones and worms on great occasions. Why not?’
As soon as I finished, I ran over to my bookcase and pulled out Vol. V and read the first two pages. But I’m going to be a good girl and read my book club book first. But I can already tell I’m going to give it short shrift. Man, nothing compares to Proust!(less)
A 3.5, really. I admired her stylistic use of repetition, sentence structure, word choice, etc. Form really fit function, and the editing was tight. F...moreA 3.5, really. I admired her stylistic use of repetition, sentence structure, word choice, etc. Form really fit function, and the editing was tight. Fun for a teacher to read, too. But fun's not the right word. Appropriate, and disturbing. Makes me think of that one student I taught 11 years ago who hounds me to this day. I don't think I'm a Miss Brodie. Yikes.(less)
Proust would both love and hate social networking -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. It would be the answer to his prayers (and would not have necessitated th...moreProust would both love and hate social networking -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. It would be the answer to his prayers (and would not have necessitated the writing of this opus):
Each of our actions, our words, our attitudes is cut off from the “world,” from the people who have not directly perceived it, by a medium the permeability of which is infinitely variable and remains unknown to ourselves; having learned from experience that some important utterance which we eagerly hoped would be disseminated (such as those so enthusiastic speeches which I used at one time to make to everyone and at every opportunity on the subject of Mme Swann, thinking that among so many scattered seeds one at least would germinate) had at once, often because of our very anxiety, been hidden under a bushel, how immeasurably less do we suppose that some tiny word which we ourselves have forgotten, which may not even have been uttered by us but formed along its way by the imperfect refraction of a different word, could be transported, without every being halted in its progress, infinite distances -- in the present instance to the Princesse de Guemantes -- and succeed in diverting at our expense the banquet of the gods! What we remember of our conduct remains unknown to our nearest neighbor; what we have forgotten that we ever said, or indeed what we never did say, flies to provoke hilarity in another planet….
I was so excited to finish Volume III! Our hero did have to go to some excruciating social events, but that was part of the point -- he had so looked forward to fraternizing with these people (for hundreds and hundreds of pages!) he had heretofore thought untouchable, and then they were just... more of the same. And so funny: after recounting the chatter in such detail, he ends one episode by saying he had scarcely listened to the conversation b/c it wasn’t his definition of pleasure….
He can be super self-aware at times, like when he describes friendship as being necessarily mediocre, but acknowledging that this characterization is selfishly cynical. Such a sad man, and as my friend Harry says, one with perhaps no sense of humor but a deep sense of irony. The jury’s still out for me.
So awesome when he describes genealogy -- both how it shows up physically and socially -- helping make history knowable. And I love the idea of art progressing like science. Art and literature. Even if it’s not true. The most touching part for me was the part about his grandmother (no spoilers here!) and guilt he associated with his treatment of her. Even the poignancy of a telephone conversation he has with her.
I’ve just started Volume IV, and boy does it start out juicy! Sodom and Gomorrah, indeed!
Jessica, I really appreciate your inspiration. You keep me going. You and Marcel.(less)
I had only read James' Turn of the Screw, and that years ago, and this seemed like a hole I needed to fill. Washington Square was okay. His writing is...moreI had only read James' Turn of the Screw, and that years ago, and this seemed like a hole I needed to fill. Washington Square was okay. His writing is likeable, the dialogue and narration are funny, but the plot is worn. I did like seeing old NYC. (Filmed in my hometown of Baltimore in the movie version with Jennifer Jason Leigh.) James himself looked back on this book with disdain, so I think I will give one of his others a go, like Daisy Miller or something. After Proust....(less)
I read this back around Halloween with my book club (I'm just now catching up!) and liked it even more than I expected to. Now I understand why Stoker...moreI read this back around Halloween with my book club (I'm just now catching up!) and liked it even more than I expected to. Now I understand why Stoker's work kept this legend/genre alive (and so darn popular these days, even with the young folks!).(less)
Man, that took a long time. Sure, I had other stuff going on in my life (like, moving from my house of 18 years and going back to work full-time after...moreMan, that took a long time. Sure, I had other stuff going on in my life (like, moving from my house of 18 years and going back to work full-time after a two-year childrearing leave and reading a different book every month with my rockin' book club), but SHEESH. And, for those keeping score, it was my second go at it (tried years ago). But I did it, and I'm in for the long haul. Only four more volumes to go.
I've been trying to figure out why it moved so much more slowly for me than Swann's Way. I think it may be that Proust is trying to tap into his readers' memories ALL THE TIME, so if you're susceptible to that, your mind tends to wander into reminiscence constantly. Has anyone else had this experience? (Oh yeah, right, who else besides Caroline has actually finished Volume II?) Or maybe it’s just that I’m feeling particularly melancholy these days, what with the life changes and all.
For me it was the second part, the summer/early fall at the beach, that kept going on and on. And then when our hero FINALLY makes the acquaintance of the elusive girls, even that dragged. But I kept going, because, as Proustians know, he does make me think, and at every page. And even if that slows me down, it keeps me going. Examples: his description of the seductive power of pop music, returning to the “mathematic of the morrow” after having gone to sleep drunk and blissfully unaware, how as we get older we lose our ability to be thrilled/terrified. How finding out that there is no mystery or beauty brings tranquility to our lives because we can resign ourselves to death with no regrets. (I don’t buy this one. Obviously he was a depressive. Or maybe old before his time? It makes me think about a 1996 interview I read in the New Yorker about the Obamas. Barack said that Michelle is both completely familiar to him and also a complete mystery to him, and that was part of what helped sustain their relationship. There‘s one guy who‘s not ready to die -- thank goodness!! See what I mean about how Proust makes your mind make all of these connections ALL THE TIME?)
At the moment when our hero might finally get his only kiss of the entire volume, this moment of adolescent hormones and drive and purely carnal desire where he‘s 100% sensation and flinging himself at this girl, he has to stop and look back at the moment and reimagine a philosopher telling the teenager that he‘s going to die someday and that he‘s not indestructible. So Proust. The narrator never gets a break. And that’s why, even though he annoys me, I love ‘im.(less)
It's kind of amazing to me that I just got around to reading this -- such a part of the American cultural landscape. William Styron's writing is very...moreIt's kind of amazing to me that I just got around to reading this -- such a part of the American cultural landscape. William Styron's writing is very impressive -- the diction is stunning. That alone makes me want to read more of his work, like Nat Turner and Darkness Visible. But while I feel mildly heretical saying this, I think the novel as a whole suffered from the shape of it. His narrator seemed to get in the way of the story. Maybe it was because it was self-indulgently autobiographical in nature, or maybe because the revelations of the titular character were so slow in coming and that her (quoted) diction felt contrived (yet beautiful), but I felt like the pacing was off a bit. But that’s not to say that it wasn’t a fine piece of work that captures atmosphere in a glorious kind of way – whether it’s the attic office of a Nazi officer, or a Brooklyn apartment in the late 40s. Its treatment of music alone almost makes it worth the read. Not to mention the whole morality/guilt thing.(less)
An interesting choice for our book club. Gorgeous, witty writing, although redundant at times. Fun criticism of the upper class pre-French Revolution....moreAn interesting choice for our book club. Gorgeous, witty writing, although redundant at times. Fun criticism of the upper class pre-French Revolution. The philosophical argumentation was very effective, and so much more nuanced and developed than any movie adaptation. (Although who can resist watching Rupert Everett in any movie adaptation?)(less)
Wow. Close to 5 stars for me. Wharton was on top of her game. An incisive look at being an upperclass SWF in NYC at the end of the nineteenth century....moreWow. Close to 5 stars for me. Wharton was on top of her game. An incisive look at being an upperclass SWF in NYC at the end of the nineteenth century. She spares no one, least of all her protagonist, yet I still felt profound sympathy for her foibles. Beautiful eye for detail both in setting and characterization. And so bittersweet. Hats off!(less)
I read this to help a friend with her curriculum (I had been avoiding it -- bad English chair!) and was delightfully surprised. Quite an adventure, an...moreI read this to help a friend with her curriculum (I had been avoiding it -- bad English chair!) and was delightfully surprised. Quite an adventure, and I love how Adams doesn't make the bunnies' lives too out of the realm of possibility.(less)