Stories 1. "Project For a Trip to China" -fragmentation, trashing narrative continuity, seems to be a main goal for the entire collection. Not sure whaStories 1. "Project For a Trip to China" -fragmentation, trashing narrative continuity, seems to be a main goal for the entire collection. Not sure what one can say about this first story. Is it meant to be against interpretation? 2. "Debriefing" - you tell me. 3. "American Spirits" - oneiric; a look at the debauched 1970s; lots of group sex. 4. "Dummy" - An office worker builds a mechanical replica of himself to take over his life, which it does with a few amusing hitches. Among other things, it's an essay on dualism. 5. "Old Complaints Revisited" - rationalizations and reminiscences on attempting to leave something like the Communist Party; an existential conundrum. 6. "Baby" - permissive California parents in analysis talking about their wildly precocious child. Crazy funny. 7. "Jekyll" - cryptic; something about gurus and never being satisfied with who you are; mostly a hash; experimental. 8. "Unguided Tour" - What a torture to read. Experimental. Virtually unreadable....more
The introductory essay by Lynne Sharon Schwartz is tightly written and insightful from beginning to end. This raises hopes for the rest of the book. HThe introductory essay by Lynne Sharon Schwartz is tightly written and insightful from beginning to end. This raises hopes for the rest of the book. However, I found the first short essay, "The Hunter" by Tim Parks, to be a little too brief to be pleasurable; it may simply require rereading. What follows is a fantastic interview with Sebald by Eleanor Wachtel, titled "The Ghost." Here we get a behind the scenes view of The Emigrants, Sebald's second novel. All the characters in The Emigrants actually existed and led the lives depicted; and 90% of the photos have a genuine connection with the narratives. While there is perhaps an interesting obliquity or ellipticality to the subsequent interview, "Who Is W.G. Sebald" by Carole Angier, I found Angier's penchant for pseudo high-style reflections instead of straightforward questions most annoying. We lose all sense of a shared conversation, inferences we might have drawn had she retained the Q & A format are lost. This is my least favorite interview in the book. Yet despite Angier's failed attempts at style, we do discover which bits are fiction and which aren't. The characters and their fates, for instance, are real. But some details, such Ambrose Adelwarth's photographed diary, is a fiction. Sebald wrote it himself; though a diary by Adelwarth in multiple languages did exist, it's not clear that Sebald ever had access to it. Such invention, he says, is limited "most of the time" to the level of minor detail as a means of providing "l'effect du réel." The fourth piece is Michael Silverblatt's interview with Sebald, "A Poem of an Invisible Subject," and it's a corker. Silverblatt's knowledge of Sebald's novels seems exhaustive. The interviewer's questions are so pointed that one finds oneself laughing out loud at times when all Sebald can reply to each is "yes" "yes" "yes" before going on to expatiate on his interlocutor's idea. Silverblatt is on top of everything, whether it be matters of structure, metaphor, voice, influences, what have you. It is also in Silverblatt's interview that we first learn of some of Sebald's models. These include the nineteenth century writers Adelbert Stifter and Gottfried Keller, whose "hypotactical syntax" Sebald says he found so useful. The point is also made here by Sebald that non-German speaking critics, because they know so little about German writing of the last two centuries, tend to attribute to him innovations he has adopted from others rather than originated. The "hypotactical syntax" of Stifter and Keller is a prominent example. The work of Thomas Bernhard, who was apparently of enormous importance to Sebald, is another. I must confess that I knew nothing about any of these connections before reading Ms. Schwartz's wonderful book. And it is for these discoveries alone that I am enormously grateful to her. The following interview by Joseph Cuomo takes the prize for revealing Sebald at his quirkiest. In none of the foregoing pieces do we get such a strong sense how literature has emerged from Sebald's life. The connection, it turns out, is very direct. He is a big believer, if I can use that word, in coincidence. What you and I might consider to be random coincidence--for instance, we have the same birthday--is for Sebald, if he likes you, an event of "major significance." He is also at his funniest here. The interview, which was held before a live audience, is regularly interrupted with the bracketed words "audience laughter." Ruth Franklin's essay "Rings of Smoke" follows, the first half of which seems a good but insight-free review of the novels and some of their themes and techniques. I found this first half lackluster. Perhaps because I know the novels so well. It's when Ms. Franklin moves onto an assessment of the book-length poem After Nature and Sebald's only nonfiction book, On The Natural History of Destruction that the essay really becomes compelling.
Essential for Sebald's admirers and critics....more
Karen Armstrong is a bestselling author in the field of religious history. Some of her more popular books include A History of God, The Battle for GodKaren Armstrong is a bestselling author in the field of religious history. Some of her more popular books include A History of God, The Battle for God, and more recently The Case for God. This is her memoir about life after leaving the Roman Catholic church. She was a nun. It's a wrenching story. Armstrong, for reasons not clear until much later in her life, entered as a novitiate at the age of 17 with a great belief in her capacity to find God. The discipline was brutal, the nuns, whom she describes as fundamentally good people, small-minded and vindictive. She endured for seven years. It was an initiation that ended up damaging her for life. When she left the convent she was in no way prepared for secular life. The convent had not only insulated her from the real world, it had all but erased her ability to think independently. At Oxford, she found she was very good at writing papers that discussed the ideas of others, but these papers were always devoid of her own ideas. The ironies pile up here at such a rate that the reader is left a little breathless. When she begins to faint periodically at the convent the nuns chalk it up to her selfishness, her penchant for self-dramatization. For years, at Oxford, she sees a psychiatrist who is so locked into the ideology of his discipline—he sounds like a Freudian—that he can't look beyond it to her real problems. He always sees her trouble in classic psychoanalytical terms.
Years later, after she faints in public and wakes in the hospital, the doctor there is astonished that the psychiatrist had never ordered a simple EEG as a means of ruling out organic causes. There is one, too: epilepsy. Before this diagnosis though she is implicated--falsely--in what appears to be a suicide attempt. This is 1964 or so. The attitudes in Britain at that time toward her perceived "self-indulgence" were positively barbaric. The hospital nurses barely veil their contempt, since she was after all someone "who wasn't really suffering." They never quite say it, but it's as if they view her as a malingerer. Anyway, it wasn't mental illness but a neurological syndrome: epilepsy, probably due to oxygen deprivation at birth.
The doctor keeps her in the hospital for two weeks trying different drugs, and finds the right one. Soon she feels better. It's when she moves into the writing phase of her life that she begins to heal psychically. Working day after day with the great texts from all three monotheistic traditions, she begins to experience the transcendent sacredness always denied her as a nun. I found the writing vivid, direct, persuasive, always pulling me along. If my interest ever flagged it was only briefly during the post Oxford years, when she was teaching at a private school. There's considerable humor here and an assessment of the period, which is necessary if we are to understand the ultimate success of her spiritual quest....more
The so-called apocryphal gospels, discovered by a farmer in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, are here explained in the context of late second-centuThe so-called apocryphal gospels, discovered by a farmer in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, are here explained in the context of late second-century RC church history. Gnostic (gnosis, Gk: knowledge) Christians did not believe that human intermediaries (priests, etc.) were necessary for an individual to find God. For the gnostics, enlightenment was an entirely inward and self-determined process. Gnostic Christians believed that Jesus was not divine but an ordinary man with an extraordinary message. They did not believe in the resurrection of the flesh. They did not believe in the eucharist, nor did they have any eschatalogical beliefs. They believed in a higher supreme god and a lower creator god, Yahweh, the Jewish god, who maliciously made man in his image and demanded to be worshipped by him. They believed that "secret wisdom" was handed down to the Apostles by Jesus, esoteric knowledge which was not vouchsafed to ordinary believers but only to mature ones. The gnostics believed that through their inner way of knowing God that they were then able to exceed the knowledge of the Apostles. There is language in the New Testament to support this idea of Jesus's secret wisdom. For the masses Jesus had only parables, exoteric knowledge appropriate to the less spiritually advanced. Late in the book some of the techniques for achieving gnosis are reviewed and they are surprisingly close to those used by Buddhists. Though Buddhists are nontheistic what they and the gnostics do has uncanny similarities. Elaine Pagels shows us that there was no early Christian golden age. That is to say, an age that had uniform teachings accepted by all. Instead the teachings were far more diverse than they are today, and highly contentious. Moreover, the RC church could have developed radically differently if some of these writings had been accepted, instead of being purged, as they were, so that someone, perhaps a monk belonging to a monastery near Nag Hammadi, buried them in a jar under the sand 1,600 years ago. I found the book fascinating and fun to read. I recommend it highly, as I do Pagels's Adam, Eve and the Serpent, The Origin of Satan, and Beyond Belief....more
Another plotless enigma from Bolaño. It's set in Paris in 1938 when Pierre Pain, the eponymous narrator, a devotee of Mesmerism, is called in by his fAnother plotless enigma from Bolaño. It's set in Paris in 1938 when Pierre Pain, the eponymous narrator, a devotee of Mesmerism, is called in by his friend Madame Reynaud to see what he can do to halt the rapid decline of Cesar Vallejo. The Peruvian poet is apparently dying of hiccups. Reynaud recently lost her husband in a case in which Pain's intervention was ineffective, but now says she has "faith" in his ability to help Vallejo. Pain moves about a Paris beset by surrealist distortions: the hospital corridors twist in upon themselves à la the New York Guggenheim. ' "It's like a modern art gallery," I heard Madame Reynaud murmur. "The corridors are circular, in fact," I said. "If they were longer we could reach the top story without ever having noticed the climb." ' So off they go to see Vallejo with the poet's wife leading the way. But they are impeded, first by a nasty physician by the name of Lejard who, alluding to Pain, announces he has not time for charlatans; then by a more formidable delegation led by the previously unavailable Dr. Lemiere, who now deigns to take the Vallejo case. At the same time Pain is being followed for unknown reasons by two Spaniards. They give him cash, which he takes, upbraiding himself for cowardliness. His mentor Paul Rivette mentions the presence in the city of an old mutual acquaintance, Pleumeur-Bodou, now an intelligence operative for Franco's fascists. Both eventually end up in a cinema discussing a bizarre film which was grafted together from part of an aborted documentary and part of an aborted drama. There is massive intercutting between the voiceover of the film, Pain's thoughts, and the dialogue of Pain and Pleumeur-Bodou. You get the idea. None of this, needless to say, makes a bit of sense, nor was it meant to. Though one enjoys the deployment of the surrealist atmosphere there is no linear sense to be had, only subtext, to be pieced together from multiple readings. . . (This is my first.) The novel's a mindteaser but a pleasurable one and therefore recommended....more
I didn't get this one. Stopped at p. 400. Hated the sex, but I usually dislike sex in books. I thought the characters 3rd world losers and druggies. II didn't get this one. Stopped at p. 400. Hated the sex, but I usually dislike sex in books. I thought the characters 3rd world losers and druggies. I couldn't understanding the point of the pretense of the poetry. I mean, is one critical word about writing ever said? There's nothing. It's just invocation or name dropping. Like Swann's Way, another much beloved book that left me cold. I should add that I liked Bolaño's 2666 immensely, as well as Amulet and The Skating Rink and I loved By Night in Chile and Distant Star....more
Reading the essays here in random order. The ends of the earth are many and a few are described here.
"The Tree on One Tree Hill" provides interestingReading the essays here in random order. The ends of the earth are many and a few are described here.
"The Tree on One Tree Hill" provides interesting insights into the cultural imperialism implicit in the Linnaean system of species categorization. Turns out, Merwin says, that this was a way of acquiring the world, stashing it away for later delectation. Naming itself being "...an act of appropriation, an annexation." I'll have to think about this a little more.
"Snail Song" is in part about the dismal environmental legacy of the Britain and America in Hawaii. Very few, laughably few, indigenous species survive. The unique snail species of the area is on the verge of extinction. Many birds, trees, particularly the unique sandalwood forest, are gone forever. Imagine what the islands must have looked like before the West changed it inexorably.
"Name in the Sand" is the story of Jean François de la Pérouse and his doomed exploratory circumnavigation of the globe in 1785. The mission was underwritten by Louis XVI, guillotined in 1789. La Pérouse was able to send some of the expedition's findings back to Paris by other ships before his own vessels were lost, so there's much we know about the "achievements" of the expedition, as well as the terrible suffering of the crew toward the end. There are many plot twists: cannibalistic natives, the crew's lusty sex with willing native women, machinations at the French court, etc. But then La Pérouse's two ships —the Astrolabe and the Boussole — vanish. And it's more than two years before officials in Paris declare the expedition lost. Then Merwin gives us the elaborate story of what happened. I like the way so many historical threads run together here: both the American and French Revolutions, imperialist expansion, British penal transportation to Australia, etc. Merwin's narrative skills are a delight....more
There is a lot here about Irenaeus, a major second-century figure in the establishment of the early Church and its gospels, which were later confirmedThere is a lot here about Irenaeus, a major second-century figure in the establishment of the early Church and its gospels, which were later confirmed at the Council of Nicea (325). There is also very interesting material on Emperor Constantine. I had not known, for example, that his support of the early Church had so pervaded the everyday workings of his empire. In addition to sponsoring the Council of Nicea, Constantine ruled the empire from the perspective of a Christian, issuing numerous edicts favorable to the Church and Christians. Not long before that, of course, Romans were throwing Christians to the lions. The book is worthwhile reading. It's filled with interesting bits. But it's not a cohesive work. I found it lacking the overarching unity such as I found in The Gnostic Gospels and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. It seems clear that the data before Ms. Pagels, who is really a wonderful writer, did not permit the sort of unity that I as a reader sought. So she can't really be blamed. Beyond Belief touches on a private tragedy in Ms. Pagels own life. Though the book is popular religious scholarship, the inclusion of such a heartbreaking tale gave it a human dimension this reader warmed to. I felt the narrator to be someone I knew something about, and that made progress through the text far more pleasurable than it would have been had she employed the usual scholarly anonymity....more
This is a beautifully modulated narrative. I admired it as much on the second reading as the first. What impresses is Calvino's ability to make us feeThis is a beautifully modulated narrative. I admired it as much on the second reading as the first. What impresses is Calvino's ability to make us feel so deeply for these characters. They are so wonderfully eccentric and idiosyncratic, so human. Set during the Age of Reason, specifically during the lifetime of Voltaire, the tale seems straightforward enough.
On 15 June 1767, Cosimo, 12-year-old son of an Italian aristocrat living in stately semi-reclusion in Ombrosa, near Genoa, takes to the trees of the vast family park as a protest against paternal discipline. He lives there, without touching ground, for the rest of his days. This being that sylvan age when Europe was so covered with trees that "a monkey could have left Rome and skipped from tree to tree till it reach Spain, without ever touching earth." The story teeters on the edge of farce.
Early on Cosimo falls in with an urchin army of fruit bandits who raid the plentiful orchards under the capricious charge of a little girl Cosimo's age, Viola, of a local noble family, the Ondaviras. Viola sounds a bugle from her pony whenever the irate farmers get wind of the poaching. Soon Viola is whisked off to boarding school.
Cosimo then befriends a notorious brigand whom he turns into an avid reader, which become his downfall. The brigand's old cronies, dismayed by his new passion, are able to get him to steal again only by threatening to tear out pages of his copy of Clarissa or the History of a Young Lady. Needless to say, his mind is no longer on his work.
Then Cosimo discovers treachery in this own home in the form of a favorite uncle, the Cavalier, who turns out to be a snitch for Moorish Mediterranean pirates. This resolves itself in a set piece that combines rich description of the landscape, a swashbuckling interlude at sea, discovery and plundering of the pirates' booty by the local poor, and the Cavalier's summary decapitation.
Cosimo courts a young Spanish noble woman in nearby Olivabassa, after whose departure he becomes something of an infatution among the nubile women in the area, with whom he carries on innumerable affairs. Once his younger brother, Biagio, the narrator, reports seeing Cosimo moving from tree to tree with a mattress slung over his shoulder. His father dies and he becomes the Baron di Rondò himself and as such must now oversee the administration of his vast estate. Concurrently he becomes the local raconteur, mesmerizing the populace with stories in the town square, where he speaks from a sturdy oak.
He goes hunting with his dog Otimo Massimo, who happens to be the dachshund discarded by Viola's callous servants when she left to school. The years pass. Then one day Otimo Massimo, old and gray now, is roused from his repose by a certain scent and bolts on his feeble pins for parts unknown. It turns out that Viola, now the Marchesa, widow of a wealthy landowner with considerable landholdings throughout Europe, has returned. Calvino captures the mad sexual passion and murderous jealousy between her and Cosimo perfectly.
For the Marchesa is an atrocious flirt who demands absurd proofs of Cosimo's love. Thus she kills anything she might have had with him. This section reminded me of Knut Hamsun's Pan, whose protagonist experiences a similar exquisite love and torturous jealousy.
Calvino's future postmodern work is suggested in this early novel by certain mentions of the inauthenticity of narrative. The idea that the multiple versions told by Cosimo may each possess certain true elements, so the narrator Biagio's only fidelity can be to the versions told by his brother. There are moreover passages of a swashbuckling nature, classic adventure, brokenhearted love, military encounter, etc., that both pay homage to and parody their antecedents....more
This book is marketed as a Muslim perspective on the Frankish invasions of the 12 century (i.e. the Crusades). There is certainly much in it about speThis book is marketed as a Muslim perspective on the Frankish invasions of the 12 century (i.e. the Crusades). There is certainly much in it about specific battles against the Christian invaders, but it's very much an "on the ground" perspective. It's no survey text. If you've read Steven Runciman (or Christopher Tyerman) you can distinguish the various battles and periods of advance and retreat, and the writer's engagement with the major players of that time. But the book is much more than just a commentary on the Crusades.
Usama ibn Munqidh led this astonishing life as part of a rich Arab aristocracy. We get not only his view of the battles against the "Franks," as the invading westerners were known, but also the battles he was involved in against his Arab brothers. For this was an era of reigning municipalities reminiscent of the Greek poleis around the time of the Peloponnesian War, and there was frequent conflict.
There's an especially vivid sequence of hunting tales from his youth in and around his hometown Shayzar. I had trepidations when I noticed that the hunting stories were next, but they are in many ways the most fascinating stories in the book. He and his father hunted with hawk, peregrine falcon and cheetah. The tales are deeply moving. Munqidh's father would sleep with the cheetah in his room. That's how close he was to this animal. There are also episodes of lion hunting, or rather extermination, for such an animal close to populated areas was always a threat. There are also these incredibly moving reflections on old age.
Munqidh lived to be over 90. And there are 2 or 3 pages of thoughtful commentary on the loss of vitality and stamina at that age. The book has a non-linear timeline. In one vignette Usama is a lad on his pony following his father on the hunt. In another, in middle-age, he's marching in service to Nur al-Din, one of the great Arab military minds and long-time lord of Damascus. I highly recommend this astonishing book for all readers with an interest in the medieval Middle East (or Near East as it was once called). Like all good stories it holds one to the end....more
If you're new to Pagels I would suggest that you start not here but with The Gnostic Gospels. That is the foundation, it seems to me, on which all ofIf you're new to Pagels I would suggest that you start not here but with The Gnostic Gospels. That is the foundation, it seems to me, on which all of her other works build. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent focuses on why early Christians came to believe sex was inherently sinful. An excellent question. It begins with more of the fascinating story of the Valentinian gnostics, who were so troublesome to the early church. Apparently, like earlier Talmudic scholars, the gnostics saw little usefulness in Scriptural readings that were not fresh and innovative. (Karen Armstrong goes into this subject at length in her The Case for God.) Such a spur to inventiveness naturally gave rise to widely variant readings. This was at a time when early church fathers Irenaeus, Tertullian and others were trying to standardize Scriptural interpretation. The gnostics also believed that clerics were not needed for what was essentially an inward journey of spiritual discovery. Rituals such as baptism and the eucharist they viewed as preliminaries. The gnostics were thus considerably anti-establishment and as such they drove Irenaeus and his fellows a little crazy. So consumed was Irenaeus with the gnostics that he composed a multi-volume refutation of their divergent beliefs. Most useful to this reader was the story in the chapter "The Politics of Paradise" of how Augustine "transformed much of the teaching of the Christian faith" from one that emphasized "freedom of the will and humanity's original royal dignity" . . . "to one of enslavement to sin." Pagels explains how Augustine's own out of control sexually promiscuous youth made it all but impossible for him to understand then prevailing Christian concepts of free will. "Astonishingly," she says, "Augustine's radical views prevailed, eclipsing for future generations of western Christians the consensus of more than three centuries of Christian tradition." There is so much interesting content here. I've just touched on just a few spots. The book is a little denser in terms of its scholarship than other Pagels books. (I've read all but the first two.) I could not get straight through it in one go, but needed a fiction interlude before returning to finish. Nevertheless, highly recommended....more
An oneiric epic. Phantasmagoria in the bush. One is reminded of Achebe's Things Fall Apart in which the Yoruba myth of the abiku, or spirit child, isAn oneiric epic. Phantasmagoria in the bush. One is reminded of Achebe's Things Fall Apart in which the Yoruba myth of the abiku, or spirit child, is so much more darkly rendered. The Famished Road is not so dark a book. It is scary in its way, surely, loaded as it is with its cast of frighteners, but it can also be oddly reassuring in its vivid depiction of the afterlife. Heaven may indeed be a place where nothing ever happens, yes, but as intimated by Okri it is also beautiful, in a Daliesque way, without strife and full of high joy.
Azaro, short for Lazarus, another abiku, and his mum and dad, live in an unnamed city in a modern African state. The community is ensnared in grinding poverty. There has been virtually no education among those in the community. The residents are without the richness of language that might allow them to talk through their problems. Instead there is much acting out, violence, aggression, theft.
Azaro travels back and forth between the spirit world and reality. There is never any doubt in the reader’s mind as to which is which. There might be moments of periodic ambiguity, but Okri always cures these before too long. Is our narrator reliable? Do we believe him? No matter the flights of fancy, his dalliance with the spirit world, we believe that he believes what he experiences is real. Is he self deluded? Maybe. Or perhaps just subject to a too vivid imagination? That is suggested in the last line.
The story is set on the cusp of independence for an African nation like Nigeria, which historically occurred in 1960. The machinations of the newly formed parties are nothing short of criminal. Many, including Mum, a peripatetic seller of common household items, are intimidated to vote the “right way” by the Party of the Rich. Dad, who must work carrying loads on his head (apparently cheaper than forklifts?) grows simultaneously more compassionate and more insane. In desperation he goes from role to role as a means of finding sustenance for his family. First he is a menial worker, then a boxer, a fine one, fighting opponents whose imperviousness depends upon bad magic. Then he is a politician embracing a clan of beggars he cannot support.
There is the local ambitious barkeep, Madame Koto, whose political involvement gradually improves both her fortunes and the decadent offerings she is able to provide her increasingly well-heeled clientele. Her bar becomes an intersection between the living an the dead. She becomes massive, corrupt, physically grotesque. The narrative is sustained almost entirely by way of action. Every sentence describes. We see vividly. The novel has a marvelous cohesion. Is it too long? I think it is. One wishes Okri could have done the task in 400, or even 375 pages, but that was not to be.
Please don't take the bait and read The Famished Road solely as an allegory on the newly independent state of Nigeria. To do so will be to diminish a wildly imaginative and astonishing book to the level of mere parable. The narrative works on many levels. I enjoyed especially as a creative take on the enabling spiritual myths of a people. It provides insight into another world, the primary objective of all great fiction. Highly recommended....more
Another through-the-roof masterpiece from Martin Amis. It's distressing how consistently he turns them out. I have only read The Pregnant Widow once,Another through-the-roof masterpiece from Martin Amis. It's distressing how consistently he turns them out. I have only read The Pregnant Widow once, and have settled on the following thoughts to share for now.
1. Those of us used to the usual Amis verbal fireworks will have to wait. He wants a slower build here. He doesn't want to eject readers along the way with too many polysyllabics. He focuses on character and action for the first third. In time we get to all of the stuff that we enjoy so much in an Amis novel: the snippy italicizations, word play, narrative obliquity, nonce words, archaisms, etc. However, the book doesn't really take off until the Gloria Beautyman character arrives on the scene around page 115 or so.
2. There is in the early going a merciless objectification of the female body. This is perhaps inevitable since the hero is male, twenty years old and living in 1970 at the height of the sexual revolution. This objectification of the female is something feminists have always pointed to as a purely male phenonmenon, but lately it has become a common view among young women as well. Which is not to say the feminists were wrong, but only to emphasize how all encompassing the phenomenon has become. In order for Amis to turn the concept on its head he must first acknowledge it. Then he turns it on its head by way of Gloria Beautyman.
3. You’ve probably read all the plot points by now but here they are again. Keith Nearing, a British subject, is staying at an Italian villa for the summer with his girlfriend, Lily, and another young woman, Scherezade, also British citizens. Most of the early going is about Keith's schemes to sleep with Scherezade and it's funny enough, but compared with certain other Amis novels it's a slow start. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times has called the novel "tedious." That might be true if one only read the first 1/3 and nothing more, but the novel goes on and the action speeds up. The final emotional payoff is nothing short of shattering and something to which Kakutani seems sadly oblivious.
4. Amis' thesis is that the sexual revolution was never really about a change in male attitudes. Men had been copulating their brains out since time immemorial. Rather, it was the change in the attitude of women toward sex that made the revolution real. Suddenly women wanted theirs, too, and they got it. Thus the concept in the last 2/3 of the book of the female "cock." This offsets the earlier part about the objectification of the female body . "Cock" is British slang term for a man who takes lovers and casts them aside at will. A female cock is a woman who does the same thing, who "acts like a man." (See Linda Fiorentino's character in The Last Seduction as an extreme example.) Gloria Beautyman is a complete original. ...more