Here's Dostoyevski's mode of proceeding, and it's maddening. One, here's what I'm about to tell you; two, now here I am actually telling it to you; anHere's Dostoyevski's mode of proceeding, and it's maddening. One, here's what I'm about to tell you; two, now here I am actually telling it to you; and three, now let's review what I've just told you. Every point is handled thus. The tedium! Nevertheless, it's D so I forced myself to read most of it. In the end the book fell heavily from my hands and I woke....more
Last winter I happened to read Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings (see review), which is the urtext for Will Self’s new noveSome thoughts on my first reading.
Last winter I happened to read Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings (see review), which is the urtext for Will Self’s new novel Umbrella. In the mid-60s Dr. Sacks famously gave L-DOPA, a relatively new drug mimicking the neurotransmitter dopamine, to dozens of post-encephalytic patients under his care at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, New York. These patients had been infected in 1918 by theencephalitis lethargica virus, or "sleepy sickness" (not to be confused with the Spanish Influenza of the same year). In Umbrella even where references to Sacks’s book do not appear — such as the World War I and present-day sections — it's clear the good doctor's classic collection of case studies serves as the novel's inspration.
Those patients who survived the virus were able afterwards to lead normal lives for many years, sometimes decades, until they were stricken with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease: locked postures that turned them into living statuary (akinesia), hurrying gait (festination), frozen skewed gaze (oculogyyric crises) and so on. These patients did not have Parkinson's proper, but since the virus reduced dopamine in their brains to about 10 or 15% of healthy levels, they experienced identical if somewhat more severe symptoms than actual Parkinson's patients. The only difference being that Parkinson’s is ultimately fatal, while post-encephalitics (“enkies,” affectionately) might live for the rest of their natural span with the symptoms. Such is the experience of Audrey Death, a main character here.
Self takes much from Awakenings that echoes the trials and tribulations of Dr. Sacks’s enkies--and Sacks himself--and inflates it into a grand fiction resembling the inspirational text very little. Here, the doctor, Zachary Busner, a psychiatrist of Jewish birth, is adrift in a vast English hospital called the Friern, known for its ½ mile or so of monotonous corridors. Many of the problems Sacks had in the 1960s — like pulling all the patients into a single ward, studying their hyper-slow movements via speeded up film, dealing with a highly political hospital administration, and other details — are dramatized here.
There are also large sections of entirely new invention in Umbrella. In one, we follow Audrey Death in her pre-war family life and war-time work as as a “munitionette,” preparing shells for the British army. We also follow two of her brothers: Stanley Death, a trench soldier, and the soi disant Albert De'Ath, who becomes a big-time government honcho. Stanley has an aristocratic lover, Adeline, who he must leave to fight in the endless and pointless war. One day he is brought to live amid a society of bisexual soldiers from both sides deep under that gap between the trenches known as No Man's Land. I suspect this subterranean world of tunnelers was in part inspired by Alasdair Gray's dystopic Lanark (see review). Audrey's other brother, Albert, has Asperger's, and is a savant of Rain Man-like propensities, though much higher functioning. Audrey, during her pre-encephalytic days, was a staunch socialist while Albert was a conservative. These divergent political views lead to much conflict between them.
Will Self is an acquired taste. In the past he has regularly made fun of death and unspeakable cruelty with an almost hysterical glee. His talent is certainly great. It has, however, to my mind, at times been exceeded by his ambition. So that no matter how good his books are, and the ones I’ve read are outstanding, he nonetheless always seems to outstrip it (his talent) by way of a stridency of tone (ambition). Subtlety of tone is not in Self's gift. His is always a full throttle, no-holds-barred kind of narrative propulsion. He doesn't dance elliptically around a subject, but always seems to bore to its very heart. This style leaves us with some very naked prose, a prose that doesn’t skirt its limitations, but is on the contrary quite open about them. I know readers who can't abide Self's deeply cynical trickster prose. So I'm happy to report that the cackling satire of Self's earlier work seems in abeyance here, in favor of something softer, something less shrill, more compassionate.
The story is rendered in an almost pitch-perfect Modernist style. I found this astonishing. How does Self pick up Literary Modernism and its attributes (stream of consciousness, abrupt transitions, multiple unidentified intersecting voices, etc.) and don it like a hat? The choice of style strikes me as perfect. I note in my review of Awakenings how Sacks’s, by flipping from main text to footnote and back again, actually introduces a kind of novelistic discursiveness into his text that would not be obvious to those reading his book without the footnotes. It's an almost Moby-Dick or The Whale-like discursiveness. And I can’t help wondering if Sacks's discursiveness did not in part suggest to Self his neo-Modernist approach.
This is a complex book and a single reading will not satisfy those who wish to know it. On first reading I found some 20% of it utterly ambiguous. So I look forward to rereading it soon, though that will probably not render it more "coherent." A stunner and very highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy challenging texts....more
Extraordinary. Erdrich uses a succession of first-person narrators that dovetail with each other beautifully, à la Faulkner's The Hamlet. Each voice hExtraordinary. Erdrich uses a succession of first-person narrators that dovetail with each other beautifully, à la Faulkner's The Hamlet. Each voice has its idiosyncrasies and slightly different vocabulary. The action is centered around the unsolved murder of a family of white farmers in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, that evil was discovered at the time by a group of traveling Indian merchants. Only a tiny babe survived in her crib. The Indians are then summarily lynched by white vigilantes. They had nothing to do with it, of course. Erdrich then shows us how for the next 75 years or so that violent history affects both whites and Indians -- and those of mixed blood like Erdrich herself -- living in Pluto, North Dakota, and the nearby reservation. The non-chronological structure works beautifully. Erdrich writes with a precision about feelings that reminds me of the crucial distinction John Gardner famously made between "sentiment" and "sentimentality." (See his The Art of Fiction) Erdrich's ability to make vivid any given scene seems akin to that of Philip Roth at his best. I make this comparison just to give you a sense of the level of mastery she is operating on here. It's plain she's studied her models well. Extraordinary piece. This is my first Erdrich so I look forward to reading more of her. Her new novel Round House, purportedly the second volume of a planned trilogy that begins with Plague of Doves, received the 2012 National Book Award....more
The first half of this book of stories I found flat and not up to Sciascia's usual rich level of storytelling. But then halfway through, starting withThe first half of this book of stories I found flat and not up to Sciascia's usual rich level of storytelling. But then halfway through, starting with the tale "Demotion," I felt the stories begin to deepen. By the time I got to "End Game," p. 121, I was without question back in the master's hands. This seems to me an anomaly in Sciascia's otherwise unusually consistent oeuvre. I'd like to know if the translation is at fault. I don't have a word of Italian, but a couple examples of English phrasing I found laughably bad. I would ask that any GR reader who has Italian to render a verdict on this translation. I'd really like to know what you think. So this is an uneven collection, for whatever the reason, recommended with reservations. However, I do not hesitate to recommend Sciascia's other collections in English. There are two that are fabulous. They are Open Doors, available in US as a Vintage print-on-demand book, and Sicilian Uncles, on Granta Books, a British imprint and not currently in print. Of the novels, my two favorites are To Each His Own and Equal Danger. See my reviews....more
This novel is a story of old friends, married couples in southwestern Wales, and how their lives change when Alun and Rhiannon Weaver return to the coThis novel is a story of old friends, married couples in southwestern Wales, and how their lives change when Alun and Rhiannon Weaver return to the country after Alun's long career in London. Alun has for some time been an ambitious media personality whose career resulted in the "popularization" of Wales. He is vaguely blamed for the onslaught of developers and bad architecture in the country, though this seems to me baseless. He's also known for championing the Welsh poet, Brydan, whom I suspect is loosely based on Dylan Thomas. Alun's as pure a "shit," Amis's word, as you're likely to come across in English letters. A vile bastard masquerading as a chum. At once upon his return he commences to systematically cuckold most of his friends, whom he then routinely meets the next day at the Bible and Crown for round after round of powerful cirrhotic drinks. Everyone, or almost everyone, in The Old Devils drinks themselves into near insensibility on a daily basis. For what else is there to do in culturally bereft Wales? Peter Thomas was a local college professor in the old days. Back then he seduced and knocked up his student, Rhiannon, still something of a beauty today, whom he promptly left for one Angharad, under the delusion of greener pastures. He's an old fool but at least, unlike Alun, he knows he's an old fool. Peter is now married to the imperious Muriel. He's fat, pushing 70, with a failing heart, and he regrets his hasty youthful choices. In other words, he's still in love with Rhiannon. Then there's Charlie, the book's purest alcoholic, who's been suffering lately from panic attacks, and his wife Sophie, the first old flame to succumb to slick Alun's inexplicable charms. There's also Malcolm Cellan-Davies, more of a Welsh scholar than Alun will ever be, and his wife Gwen, who also falls under Alun's spell. Structurally The Old Devils is a traditional novel; there is nothing new or even innovative about it. There are no sophomoric metafictional tricks, for which I was grateful. The novel beguiles us chiefly through its mastery of technique. It is so sure footed. It makes a virtue of the run on sentence. It was surprising to find amid the rich comedic scenes these stretches of striking descriptive beauty. Amis got the Booker Prize for this novel and one can see why. Here is everything he knows from the writing of, what, twenty novels? Here it is all in one book. The last third I found moving; a surprise since emotion was never something Kingsley Amis's work was known for. He was essentially a comic novelist, like his son. That was another striking thing, the similarity of phrasing between father and son. One can almost imagine them arguing about the merits of a proper sentence during their famous weekly meetings (see Experience: A Memoir). Highly amusing, often LOL funny. Exuberantly recommended....more
I was really enjoying this. The prose is a little dense, and there's no question that the author has a penchant for abstraction, as seen in the musingI was really enjoying this. The prose is a little dense, and there's no question that the author has a penchant for abstraction, as seen in the musings of the musicologist; but there is also wry humor and elegant surrealism, deftly handled. The opening sequence of the elderly Mrs. Plauf going into hysterics on the train is hilarious. As we move from character (Mrs Eszter) to character (Valushka), the story deepens. We see, or feel we do, their every ratiocination. I don't want to give away the fun so I'll just say that in a trice the story turns from an almost lighthearted tale to one in which we have to wonder if we aren't heading for a meeting with our maker, or ultimate darkness, or enlightenment. Call it what you will. The setting is Budapest but you only know that through mention of various landmarks. The city itself is never named. Then at about page 200 we hit this turgid wall of philosophical musing, by the musicologist again, and it stops us dead; and try as we might, we cannot, even after successive tries, move beyond it. We long for the joys of narrative pleasure. What makes a writer think he or she can abandon the reader even for a moment? A friend here on GR has a shelf called "seduced and abandoned." Thus I file this one. Recommended with reservations....more
As if you needed to revisit it, friends, yet here it is: Hamsun's excruciatingly true-to-life depiction of the exaltation and despair of young love. IAs if you needed to revisit it, friends, yet here it is: Hamsun's excruciatingly true-to-life depiction of the exaltation and despair of young love. In his later years, the novelist Anthony Burgess had a pat blurb for certain novels he liked. Of them he would say: "Almost unbearably moving!" That blurb applies perfectly to Pan. This novella is so emotionally affecting! It is so on the money! The reader goes through the entire exhausting emotional cycle here. From initial lusting, to growing interest, to first titallations of physical contact, to record-breaking Olympic coitus, to a sense of routine and boredom, to the first bickerings of leave taking, to heartbreak, heartbreak, heartbreak and yearning that only makes one's suffering worse. The novella is mercifully short--120 pages. I simply can't imagine 300 pages of this. It's brilliance lies in how it neatly crystallizes the entire range of emotions experienced in erotic love affairs. The magnificent heights of lovemaking, the impossible megalomania of it all, to the lowest lows. That it's set in northern Norway and narrated by a man who lives in a bucolic setting with his hunting dog, all that's interesting too. The man, Lt. Glahn, records his trips into the woods to hunt. There's beautiful description of the Norwegian countryside that reminded me of Per Petterson and Hallidór Laxness, though the latter was an Icelander. Glahn's love object is a silly fickle girl-child called Edvarda. My God, the hatred! The vindictiveness they mete out to each other! Finally, the book is about how such "love" changes us forever. It's a life event for which there is no closure. We become, all of us, the walking wounded. Quite a story. Highly recommended....more
Lionel Asbo is a bad thief. He spends long stretches in jail. He's in and he's out, a recidivist. Lionel's nephew, Desmond, is at fifteen years of ageLionel Asbo is a bad thief. He spends long stretches in jail. He's in and he's out, a recidivist. Lionel's nephew, Desmond, is at fifteen years of age seduced by his grandmother, Grace, thirty-nine. It is Des's guilt about this incestuous relationship, and his fear of what Uncle Li (lie not lee) might do if he finds out, that shapes Des's character in early adulthood, which is pretty much the span of the novel. Fortunately, Gran breaks off the affair with Des in order to seduce a fourteen year old! Right, a younger man. This fellow goes by the name of Rory Nightingale and Lionel does discover his affair with Gran. Of course, Des is both crushed and relieved to hear the news. Then Lionel wins a £140 million state lottery, providing much needed distraction for poor Des. But then Des and his new love, Dawn, have a marvelously described baby: Cilla. (Fantastic description of this baby and much else) which serves only to redouble his anxiety. Martin Amis writes with all the skill and assurance we're accustomed to from so many other fine books, but his style here is as compressed as I've ever seen it. (There are many beautifully compressed pages in Amis. Night Train, to cite just one example, springs most readily to mind.) Amis has always been a great admirer of Vladimir Nabokov, but I think this is the first time he's written a book that echoes that master's peculiarly arch, lean, and very compressed method so well. I speak here merely in terms of narrative compression, mind you, not style. Amis style is unique. As in the unjustly maligned Yellow Dog and to a more limited extent in London Fields, he has a field day with British dialect and slang. He's a master of it, of that there's no question. However, his penchant dialect and slang can really slow down the non-British reader. Agreed, not every book should go down like Simenon, but having to Google a reference every page two can be a drag. If we are to view the novel as dream, these unquestionably enriching quirks of Amis's, it can be argued, slow the dream down, inhibit it. It's too bad, especially in a book that is in every other respect so sprightly, so headlong and fun. I don't fault Amis. He can only write what he can write. However, my own favorite Amis novels have much less of such encryption: Money, The Information, House of Meetings and London Fields. Highly recommended....more
Thomas Bernhard's novels constitute perhaps the most enigmatic prose reading experience of my life. His novels are brilliant puzzles, and a single reaThomas Bernhard's novels constitute perhaps the most enigmatic prose reading experience of my life. His novels are brilliant puzzles, and a single reading will probably not vouchsafe you all of a given novel's secrets. Correction seems a prime example. Here we are again with the typical first-person Bernhard narrator, a highly unreliable, socially connected but insensitive individual, who's circular in his reasoning, repetitious in his verbal style, almost monomaniacal in his focus, and whose torrent of words cunningly excludes subjects about which we would like to know more.
At the start of Correction, Roithamer, the polymath, an Austrian-born scientist teaching at Cambridge University, has just committed suicide shortly after the completion of a massive, rural architecture project, known as the Cone, for his beloved sister. The unnamed narrator, a peer and boyhood friend of Roithamer, presents a hagiographic overview early on of the late man's work; though in fact it is remarkably devoid of specifics. This fellow was named by Roithamer as his literary executor. The book starts when he shows up at a house of a taxidermist by the name of Hoeller, another boyhood friend of Roithamer, whose new home on the Aurach gorge contains the garret in which the great man did most of his intellectual work. It was here, inspired by Hoeller's daring new house, that Roithamer devised the Cone and planned and executed its construction over six years.
It is never made clear what the narrator, who seems an eerie doppleganger of the dead Roithamer, or the deceased genius himself for that matter, are supposed to be famous for. All we know about Roithamer is that he's in the natural sciences, and that he both teaches and studies at Cambridge. Of the narrator we know even less, except that he was once upbraided by Roithamer for following his (Roithamer's) ideas with too slavish an allegiance. No one but the unnamed narrator is even allowed to speak in the novel, except Roithamer himself, and then only through the texts he's left behind. There's no dialogue per se, no real-time verbal exchanges. This is very strange, and suggests a kind of jealous guarding of the narrative by the narrator. Hoeller is not allowed to speak even when spoken to, nor his wife, nor their children, nor are recollected friends and acquaintances ever allowed to say anything. So we're left with a single ranting voice, page after page, dense pages without paragraphs. The novel is in fact a single unbroken chunk of text. (Question: Does the narrator's repetitiveness of key phrases remind any of my GR friends of a similar device used by Gertrude Stein in The Making of Americans?)
Anyway, slowly, up there in Hoeller's garret, like Roithamer before him, our narrator begins to unravel. Is he, in his dopplegangerness, intentionally repeating the pattern of behavior that took Roithamer's life? Is he that much of a sycophant? Or is he being subjected to the same stresses that drove Roithamer to take his own life? Will the narrator soon take his life? The setting of Hoeller's house on the edge of the Aurach gorge, amid the rush of turbulent waters, and the craziness not only of building a house there, but of living in such a house, is a large part of the narrator's, as it was Roithamer's, fascination with the place. It's when the narrator begins to go bonkers in the garret himself that the doubleness and connection of narrator and acolyte seems to crystalize.
Moreover, Roithamer has built his Cone for his sister in the depths of the Kobernausser forest without ever talking to her about either her willingness to live in such an isolated structure, or even if she wants such a place, even as a occasional retreat. He bases his design, he tells us, on his lifelong "observation" of his sister's character. Apparently this does not include one-on-one conversation. Right after this revelation, which left this reader astonished and a little breathless, he turns right around and lambastes contemporary architects for their inability to "investigate" their clients. The suggestion is that some kind of intellectual assessment, apart from anything a client might have to say, should be the overarching design criterion; though this something is never explicitly named.
This section seems to resolve itself into a statement on the prerogatives of the artist or creator and the manner in which the artist or creator should think and process his thoughts. Roithamer's approach is idiosyncratic, to say the least. For instance, not only should his sister not be consulted about the construction of the Cone, to which, we soon learn, she is averse to living in. But Roithamer must undertake the actual construction of the Cone, not on-site where the building will rise, but from Hoeller's garret, because this is where his thoughts can most readily reach fruition. A large portion of the posthumous writings are dedicated to a rant-filled recapitulation of injustices done by his parents to Roithamer during childhood. Each offence, it seems, is remembered. Each is deplored at length. Here is someone who never got over his dysfuctional childhood. He's stuck with a chip on his shoulder. He has never undergone the growth of character necessary to put those early experiences behind him, something I believe all adults must eventually try to do. He is self-pitying. This is tragic and pathetic. 'Get over it,' one thinks. But Roithamer cannot. He was long ago arrested in his emotional development, and his inability to move on--to recognize the fundamental imperfection of daily life and yet to live it fully and purposefully anyway--kills him. Character is fate.
Highly recommended, but brace yourself for a dark, dense, sexless, misogynistic, icy-hearted read....more
The Tanners has a wonderful lightness of tone that is vivid and delivers rich insights. The novel moves quickly along delighting the reader. The themeThe Tanners has a wonderful lightness of tone that is vivid and delivers rich insights. The novel moves quickly along delighting the reader. The theme seems to be about the inability of conformity to make us happy; it is also a meditation on work and idleness, self-exile and esthetic joy—especially of the natural world but also of artistic expression. Protagonist Simon Tanner is one of the great free spirits of literature. His speeches are a delight and at times quite funny. He speaks to authority with all the headstrong yet polite resolve we usually fail to muster in life. The central concern of the characters seems to be one of ecstatic engagement with the world, which they achieve with a giddy ebullience. I am reminded of Lacan's "scopophilia" in the very conscious way Simon casts his gaze about—and exults in—his surroundings. The novel's key device seems to be longish first-person monologues. Be advised, however, there's not much of a plot, which will be an obstacle for some readers.
The novel was written by Walser when he was in his twenties yet there can be no question of its maturity. Walser was greatly admired by Franz Kafka and his work at times seems a crisper, less cluttered version of the more famous writer's; though it should be stressed that Walser's is a unique voice in fiction. The best thing one can say about a writer is that there's is no one quite like him or her, and this very much applies to Walser. In the late 1920s Walser began to hear voices and in 1929 was consigned to Waldau, an asylum near Bern. He was discharged in 1933 but never again took up the pen with alacrity. The many years of eight-to-ten hour writing days were over. The book includes a major essay by W.G. Sebald that I have not come across elsewhere. It's mostly about Walser's The Robber but it addresses his work in general terms as well. Recommended with great brio....more
Thoroughly enjoyable. Every ten pages or so resolve themselves in little narrative paradoxes that reminded me of Zen koans. It's not hard to see why HThoroughly enjoyable. Every ten pages or so resolve themselves in little narrative paradoxes that reminded me of Zen koans. It's not hard to see why Hemingway was attracted to it. Moreover, it filled out the Sicilian landscape for me that I was already used to from Sciascia, Pirandello and Verga....more
There's a wonderful moment in Vladimir Nabokov's Strong Opinions. It's part of a transcript from an interview conducted sometime in the mid-1970s.
There's a wonderful moment in Vladimir Nabokov's Strong Opinions. It's part of a transcript from an interview conducted sometime in the mid-1970s.
Q: Would you care to comment on how the Doppelgänger motif has been both used and abused from Poe, Hoffman, Andersen... Which Doppelgänger fictions would you single out for praise? VN: The Doppelgänger subject is a frightful bore.
If only Shusako Endo had felt the same way. His penultimate novel, Scandal, is so tightly woven around the concept that it hamstrings itself. Here's the story, roughly: A mid- 20th century Japanese Christian writer, not unlike Endo himself, whose novels are highly popular investigations of sin in modern man, is close to death when he realizes that he has neglected an entire aspect of human nature. That is, the dark, selfish, often cruel impulses that can overtake us in the midst of passion, desire, erotic pursuit. Author Suguro has so thoroughly expunged such darkness from his life and works that his critics say he is missing something elemental in his work.
But Suguro has paid a price for such deep Christian piety. So much so that his dark, carnal side has split off in a Jekyll-and-Hyde manner to go roving unchecked through Tokyo's pleasure districts. Suguro for most of the novel views this double as an imposter, someone who chance has happened to give the same physical appearance and voice as himself. And granted, in this day of faux Rockefellers grifting entire affluent communities, it's believable. Through blameless association with a number of simultaneously depraved and compassionate individuals--paradoxes in Suguro's view--he is able to run his double to earth. Only when he does so, when he witnesses himself sexually abusing a young servant, does he acknowledge the terrible split rending his psyche.
The passages in which Endo considers human eroticism and kinkiness in light of Christian virtue are not without interest. Sadly, however, self forgiveness is something that Suguro seems incapable of, thus his suffering. There's something terribly sad about this. For nowhere in Surguro's self conception, so overwhelmed by his bête noire, "sin," is there room for self forgiveness. All Suguro can think of is how tainted he is, how he has failed morally, how he is in the end just like all the other human filth.
There are frequent passages of interest: such as when Suguro considers certain Buddhist and Freudian precepts that closely align with his Christian views. But he can never see the forest for the trees. He is too self involved. He cannot for the life of him understand how God can love beings simultaneously both so wretched and so beautiful. That is his failing, and in the end he seems ready to take it to the grave. Recommended with reservations....more
Based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name, the novella evinces masterful use of narrative compression which gives it the ring of parable.Based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name, the novella evinces masterful use of narrative compression which gives it the ring of parable. Set before the American Revolution, Clement, a Southern planter who has done quite well for himself, returns home from selling his tobacco to the British and must spend a night in town before traveling to his rural farm the next day. Sharing a bed with two other men, Clement finds himself beholden to one, Jamie Lockhart--a bandit though Clement doesn't know this--for saving his life from the third man who drunkenly tries to rob his bedmates during the night. The next day after a brief confab with Jamie over breakfast the men go their separate ways. Clement goes home to his termagant second wife, Salome, and his daughter, Rosamond, quite beautiful, who was borne by his first wife. Rosamond mostly spends her days singing romantic ballads when not harassed by Salome. The wicked step-mother archetype is alive and well in The Robber Bridegroom--and she's ugly too and out to kill her step daughter for being too beautiful and too central to her husband's affections. Also at work here is the old mistaken identities chestnut best known to me from Elizabethan drama. One day Rosamond returns to the house buck naked after being sent on a dangerous herb-picking expedition by Salome. She has just been robbed--yes, it's Jaime Lockhart in disguise--of a new dress and petticoats bought by her father on his recent business trip. Meanwhile, Clement invites Jamie Lockhart (without mask) to dinner to ask him if he might run the bandit to earth that has molested Rosamond. In exchange for her hand in marriage of course. Rosamond then wanders off and finds the bandits' hideout and commences to cook and clean for them and sleep with Jaime. If the foregoing doesn't wet your whistle, this is not the book for you. Throughout the style is, as I've said, compressed and vivid. Welty has a great gift for the elliptical soliloquy. A fast read and fun. Mandatory for aficionados of the Southern novel. ...more
Finished Welty's first collection, A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, published in 1941. Highly recommended. My favorite stories include "Keela, thFinished Welty's first collection, A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, published in 1941. Highly recommended. My favorite stories include "Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden," "A Curtain of Green," "Old Mr. Marblehall" and "Why I Live at the P.O." Of the 17 stories here the only one that doesn't seem to work is "Powerhouse"--perhaps because of all the dialogue rendered in dialect. Everything else has held up remarkably well.
Now reading the collection "A Wide Net." Finished the first two tales: "First Love" and "A Wide Net." Rich, emotionally complex stories that merit multiple readings. Still reading....more
I've been dabbling in some of the classic thriller writers. Simenon and Sciascia, too. It is summer (in the northern hemisphere) after all.
The TalenteI've been dabbling in some of the classic thriller writers. Simenon and Sciascia, too. It is summer (in the northern hemisphere) after all.
The Talented Mr. Ripley will have you squirming in your seat. Tom Ripley is a man with champagne tastes and a beer pocket book. He possesses very low self-esteem, very little money and he is undoubtedly a closeted queer. He likes queers, likes to be among them, but doesn't like admitting to himself that this is so. Mr. Ripley's talent is an extraordinary gift for forgery, impersonation, mimicry and murder which with him become a form of self delusion. Add to this nerves of steel in the midst of interrogation, including the ability to formulate convincing fictions that is on a par with his creator, and you have the makings of more than a few hair-raising scenes.
Dickie Greenleaf is AWOL from his father's shipbuilding firm in New York City and living in Mongibello, Italy. Dickie's father tracks Tom Ripley down in a New York bar. For some reason, he thinks that Tom's friendship with his son was consequential in a way it never was. Mr. Greenleaf offers to cover Tom's costs if he will go to Italy and talk Dickie into returning home. Alas, Mama Greenleaf is dying of cancer.
Tom goes over, immediately becomes jealous of Marge, Dickie's lover. She repulses him in every way; women in general sicken him. Tom charms Dickie and moves in with him, estranging him from Marge. He is so in love with him and doesn't even know it. He is also very envious of Dicky's tremendous wealth and advantages. Tom begins to see a way in which he might subsume Dickie. So when Dickie intimates that Tom is queer, as he unquestionably is, Tom kills him with an oar in a motorboat then anchors his corpse to the sea floor.
Well, that's all you need to know to get started. What follows is a masquerade in which Tom switches places with Dickie and back again to foil the ever present policia. A novel of plot and lots of fun. A real knucklebiter. Highly recommended....more
This was diverting, though not my favorite of the six or so Simenons I have read so far, all on the New York Review Books imprint. Kees Popinga, a butThis was diverting, though not my favorite of the six or so Simenons I have read so far, all on the New York Review Books imprint. Kees Popinga, a buttoned down manager of a ships chandlery in Holland, goes on a bit of a rampage after his boss tells him that he has run the business into the ground. This is the same business, the watchword for rectitude and probity in the little port town in which it operates, into which Kees has invested every cent of his savings. Kees subsequently (inadvertently?) kills a hooker by the name of Pamela whom he has lusted after for years when, bereft of his illusions, she laughs at him. Then he goes to Paris and becomes a subject for the tabloids ("Sex Fiend") as he remains at large for several weeks. However, once the newspapers lose interest and relegate his story to inner pages, he starts to write letters to the editor in which he pathetically tries to keep the thrill alive; his ostensible motive being to explain himself since they "have him all wrong." The book is troubled early on, in my view, by some hardboiled-sounding dialog, generally something the titles I've read are free of. I felt it was very good but lacking in action, and by contrast, too heavy on the ruminations of its protagonist, mostly rendered as free indirect speech. My favorite NYRB Simenons so far have been Dirty Snow and Strangers In The House. The latter being, in my opinion, dazzling on a sentence by sentence basis. Recommended with reservations....more
Leonardo Sciascia’s Sicilian Uncles, translated here from the Italian by N.S. Thompson, is a collection of four stories/novellas. I have enjoyed everyLeonardo Sciascia’s Sicilian Uncles, translated here from the Italian by N.S. Thompson, is a collection of four stories/novellas. I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by this man (see my other reviews) but I was apprehensive when I learned that this was a collection of early stories. I worried they might be weak or formative works. Well, they aren’t. They are mature works of fiction, full-fledged “Sciascias” in every sense. There is not a clunker in the bunch. Be advised, however, they do not focus on those topics the author is most famous for: detectives and the mafia; nor do I think they can be called, as the generic description does here, "thrillers."
“The American Aunt” The American Aunt opens in 1943 when the Allies were just about to take the small Sicilian town in which our young narrator lives. The unnamed narrator and his friend get up to all kinds of high-jinks. Then the Americans arrive and the two start hanging around with Tony, a NCO who tells them about the United States. If you’ve done reading of any scope on the Second World War, this is a story for you.
In its fifty pages Sciascia seems to touch on every aspect of the conflict in Sicily. Fascinating is the depiction of the local fascists, among whom the narrator’s father and uncle. The uncle is a shrill and unrepentant layabout. The narrator sells him black market cigarettes at extravagant prices which he resents. The father knows Mussolini has failed in a major way and tosses his fascist insignia onto a neighbor’s roof for safekeeping. He doesn't want it laying about the house. The uncle however will hear none of it. He longs for the days when Mussolini kept Italy “respected in the world” but says nothing about the lost war his hero also wanted. The young narrator teases him mercilessly. The narrator is thrilled by the Americans. His view of what has happened in Italy is free from patriotic fascist claptrap.
Then the war ends and into this setting comes his mother’s sister, the eponymous american aunt. The aunt was born in the same poor small town in which her sister and the narrator still live. The aunt has a store somewhere in Brooklyn. She is rich by comparison with her Sicilian relatives. And she let’s everyone know just how rich she is. Her unquestionably generous gifts come at a price: a shrill and persistent bossiness. For in the end the aunt is the same small-minded provincial she's always been. The action is compressed, vivid and fast moving. The cries from the disillusioned uncle remind one of a wounded lion gone into the bush to die. I won’t give away the kicker. This is a wonderful story.
“The Death of Stalin” Like most Americans of my generation I have often found the historical popularity of Stalin perplexing. That he was ever seen in congenial terms, that he ever had millions upon millions of admirers seems incredible. That he is still held in awe by many people today is nauseating. This story shows how a group of village socialists in Sicily deluded themselves into thinking Stalin was a hero. Calogero is enamoured of Stalin, views him as a good person concerned with the fate of the worker. It becomes clear, in the context offered by fascist Mussolini and his black shirts, why Calogero so readily embraces “Uncle Joe.” Calogero is himself enormously loyal and kind, but he has suffered:
...All the poor who believed in hope, used to call him ‘Uncle Joe,’ as they had once done Garibaldi. They used the name ‘uncle’ for all the men who brought justice or vengeance, the hero or the capomafia: the ideal of justice always shines when vindictive thoughts are decanted. Calogero had been interned [under Mussolini], his comrades there had instructed him in doctrine, but he couldn’t think of Stalin as anything other than an ‘Uncle’ who could arm for a vendetta and strike decisively a baccagliu, that is, in the slang of all Sicilian ‘Uncles’....
The story is set in a small Sicilian village during the war in which we see how the local socialists, whose mouthpiece is Calogero, rationalize Stalin’s behavior, his inaction and his actions, during that war.
” 'Forty-Eight’ ” This is a story of the revolution of 1848 as it affected the Sicilian town of Castro, specifically the household of Baron Garziano. The narrator is the son of the Baron’s gardener and Sunday coachman, Master Carme. The Baron is married to a dessicated, overly pious woman, Donna Concettina, whom he betrays with the wife of one of his workers, a harmless fellow called Pepé. The Baron has the kind Pepé hauled off to prison so fornication with his unfaithful wife won’t be inconveniently interruptus. There is a hilarous scene in which the shrewish Donna Concettina catches the Baron inside the apartment of Mrs. Pepé. Donna Concettina bangs on the mistress’s door with a rock. Only Sciascia could have written it.
Then the revolution begins in earnest and the Baron’s cowardice knows no bounds. He cowers from what he clearly views as the just rage of the populace. He has Master Carme answer the door. It’s pure tumult: with the King’s intendent and judge returning from their flight to now feel some sympathy for the liberals’ (revolutionaries’) positions. At one point all the local liberals are released from jail where they had been held for some time. The Baron sees his tidy world turned upside down. There’s a brief period of cooperation. Somehow the local Bishop has been able to create an assembly comprised aristocracy, clergy, and peasantry. How can this possibly work? It can’t. The social rift is too yawning a chasm.
Soon several local socialists are dead, murdered in the streets, which may the purpose for which they were released. Donna Concettina will no longer speak with the Baron who must exchange comments via a third party, sometimes Master Carme. Sciascia is able to give a sense of how the revolution happened in rural Sicily. We see the political forces come into play, but at the same time the story verges on high-grade farce.
“Antimony” This final story of the collection, set during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), is narrated by one of the unemployed Italians that fascist Bennito Mussolini has sent to Franco. In Spain the poor tended to be Republicans (Communists, Anarchists, Socialists, etc.). The tragedy here is that Italy has sent its own poor to fight on the side of Franco and the fascist Falange. The story seeks to question and inform the reader about the role of Italy in the Spanish Civil War. It does so brilliantly.
An absolutely magnificent novel! To think that it was published in 1782, seven years before the French Revolution. Liberté, égalité, fraternité! It haAn absolutely magnificent novel! To think that it was published in 1782, seven years before the French Revolution. Liberté, égalité, fraternité! It has thus been argued that the novel caught a doomed aristocracy distracted by decadent and libertine ways that would soon be its undoing. The gift the novel's main characters display for casuistry, calumny, prevarication and cynical self-involvement takes the breath away even now. I've read it twice then bought this gorgeous Folio Society edition to commemorate past readings and carry me through future ones. A stunning novel. A book for real readers....more