Go Tell It on the Mountain is the first major release by James Baldwin and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Harlem. James BaldwinGo Tell It on the Mountain is the first major release by James Baldwin and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Harlem. James Baldwin never knew his biological father and his stepfather was a strict Baptist minister. Go Tell It on the Mountain mainly follows the character John Grimes (who is the autobiographical character in the novel) but really shifts focus to other characters, to allow the exploration of John’s immediate family.
It took James Baldwin ten years to write Go Tell It on the Mountain and he has often stated that it was not a book he wanted to write but a book he felt he had to get out of his system before he would write anything else. This is a semi-autobiographical novel that focuses mainly of the hypocrisy within the community. James Baldwin’s stepfather was a minister and the way he acted in church was vastly different than when he was at home. He was a strict and abusive parent and this hypocrisy was evident within this novel.
However, there is so much more to this novel than just exploring how different people act when at church. Baldwin has a lot to say about the community and, while racism plays a big part within this debut novel, it was some of the other themes that interested me the most. The struggle between life and faith is a topic that I am fascinated in and while it is not the same as found in the memoir The Dark Path, this is explored in an interesting way within this novel. John Grimes had a spiritual awakening as a teenager and went onto become a preacher, however the hypocrisy he found within the church disheartened him and eventually he walked away from that life.
Yet Go Tell It on the Mountain goes a little deeper in exploring the hypocrisy of the church with subtle references to Baldwin’s sexuality. This is not explored in great detail within this book but it is a major theme in Giovanni’s Room. The way this novel explores the church life is fascinating and he shows great care for his characters; take for example John’s stepfather Gabriel, he may be hypocrite but he still requires some sympathy. He married John’s mother and raised him even if their union would be considered controversial within the church. I love how this novel plays with the religion and the way people differ between their church and home life.
This was my first James Baldwin novel but I have had the opportunity to read some of his short stories in the past. On the surface Go Tell It on the Mountain does sound like it is just focused on the hypocrisy of the church but I love the depth James Baldwin put into this book. The characters are so well crafted that even if you want to hate them you still feel a little compassion towards them. I cannot put my finger on James Baldwin’s writing style; at times it reminds me of dirty realism but all I know is that it makes me want to read more of his novels.
Sean Phillips lives an isolated life since a disfiguring injury that happened when he was seventeen. To past the time in his Southern Californian aparSean Phillips lives an isolated life since a disfiguring injury that happened when he was seventeen. To past the time in his Southern Californian apartment he has created an interactive survival strategy game called Trace Italian, which can be played via mail. Two high school students, Lance and Carrie from Florida, start exploring the world of Trace but manage to take their role playing into the real world. Disaster strikes and Sean is called on to account for his actions and figure out how this could happen.
For those of you that don’t know, John Darnielle is the singer-songwriter for the indie folk rock band The Mountain Goats. While the band is currently a three piece, Darnielle had been the sole member for many years. Wolf in White Van is the first novel by John Darnielle and the man knows how to write. When a musician turns to writing, I feel a little hesitant but Darnielle’s debut blew my expectations out of the water. Wolf in White Van sets itself apart from most debut novels by going for something different and more complex.
Wolf in White Van is an interesting novel to talk about because the structure of the book is told backwards. So the readers are given the beginning of the story and the climax right at the end of the novel. This structure works really well with exploring the character of Sean Phillips, and slowly it is revealed just how he ended up so isolated and lonely. This allows for the exploration of loneliness and the game Trace Italian is an interesting device that allows others, who are also lonely, to interact with Sean Phillips.
I am fascinated by this game Trace Italian. First of all, it is unique in the sense that it is a text based survival game that is played through the mail. People send their next move and based on that Sean Phillips sends them the next part of the game. The goal of the game is to make it to safety in the post-apocalyptic world; while there is a possibility of completing the game, Sean believes that no one will ever do so. There is also the events that happen with Lance and Carrie which, while not really a spoiler, I will not mention it, except to say this event explores the ideas of artist responsibility. There is constantly stories where music, movies or video games are blamed for tragic events and the way John Darnielle explores this issue is very interesting, at least from a creator’s point of view. The idea that this novel is told backwards really plays on the whole idea of playing music backwards may reveal hidden satanic messages.
Wolf in White Van is a brilliant debut, full of unexpected depth. It is a fascinating character study and there is so many interesting themes to explore within this novel. I am extremely impressed with John Darnielle and I hope there are many more novels to come from this brilliant songwriter and author. Wolf in White Van may sound like a it is heavily focused on this role playing game but really it is a character driven novel that just involves a game. Highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in the themes mentioned above.
Rose Tremain is a name I have heard so often but never had the chance to read on of her books; in fact her name is familiar but I couldn’t tell you anRose Tremain is a name I have heard so often but never had the chance to read on of her books; in fact her name is familiar but I couldn’t tell you anything about her books. She has published thirteen novels including The Road Home (which won the Orange Prize in 2008) and Music and Silence (winner of the Whitbread award in 1999). She taught creative writing at the University of East Anglia until she was appointed chancellor in 2013 and she is married to Romantic biographer Richard Holmes (not that her marriage affects her writing, just an interesting fact). She has also written five collections of short stories including her latest The American Lover.
While I sometimes struggle to read and review short story collections, I still wish to talk about them (just so I have a record). I picked up The American Lover because it mentioned a story about a famous Russian writer’s (story was inspired by Tolstoy’s life) final days living in a stationmaster’s cottage outside of Moscow. As most people know, I am a fan of Russian literature and books about Russia itself. When I looked at the author’s name, I was excited even more, it was a chance to finally dip into the writing style of Rose Tremain.
Without going into all the stories within the book, Tremain goes into some very interesting topics from transgressive love, sex, reflections of life and even a very unusual story about Daphne du Maurier. What I found in this collection is that Rose Tremain has a great ability to create characters and express emotions. There are some brilliantly dark and sometimes comical moments the she masterfully crafted into her stories. She has produced a collection centred around so many different emotions and skilfully managed to fit them into such short stories.
I really love the characters and emotions expressed in these stories and really makes me want to experience Rose Tremain’s style in long form. However I am not sure which novel to start with and would love some recommendations. The American Lover was a brilliant way to dip into Tremain’s writing and I am so glad to have finally had a chance to do so. If her writing abilities work just as well in her novels, she may have found a new fan.