A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) by George Orwell is one of two novels that he didn't want reprinted (the other being Keep the Aspidistra Flying), becausA Clergyman's Daughter (1935) by George Orwell is one of two novels that he didn't want reprinted (the other being Keep the Aspidistra Flying), because he felt they were flawed in some fundamental way. A Clergyman's Daughter is experimental in several ways and while somewhat flawed, it has some very worthwhile strengths as well. First of all, Orwell is excellent at describing the miseries of poverty, provincial life, and life in the city. He is great at creating memorable characters which are vividly described and come alive with the wonderful dialogue crated by Orwell-he knew people and knew them inside and out from all levels of society. He describes shady Mr. Wharburton's conversation as "Oscar Wilde seven times watered" and the main character Dorthy's father wish to live in the past as "very expensive: you can't do it on less than two thousand a year." A wry observation about Dorthy herself states that "she did indeed believe in Hell, but she couldn't persuade herself that anyone actually went there." And perhaps my favorite description is that of Dorthy's employer at the school, Mrs. Creevy: "She was one of those people who experience a kind of spiritual orgasm when they manage to do somebody else a bad turn."
The book is basically divided into three sections. The first sections establishes Dorthy's un-fulfilling life as the daughter of a Clergyman in a small town. She is a kind of puritanical, chaste true believer who is trying to live in a highly virtuous manner much to the obliviousness of everyone around her. The second section occurs after a dubious incident where Dorthy loses her memory and winds up on the bum with a group of homeless youths who take her along for hops picking, which Orwell chronicles with his usual accuracy and details of the miseries associated with such mindless hard labor. After that she spends 10 days as a homeless woman in London before she regains her memory and seeks help from her father, who only helps her by having a distant relation find work for her at a fourth-rate finishing school for girls, where Orwell can have ago at those institutions as well. Finally she is saved from that drudgery and returns to her former life, but only after having lost her faith. This aspect was interesting since I have re-read Animal Farm recently, and religion is not highly valued by Orwell in that novel either. So I was wondering where Orwell was going with this devout protagonist. In the last third of the novel it became clear that religion was another target for Orwell to take to task. Perhaps, being a hug fan of Orwell made this novel more interesting for me than the average reader, but I think it has worth outside of being a curiosity for avid fans....more
I was compelled to read Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's elegant novel, The Leopard (1959), after seeing Lucino Visconti's excellent film version of the novel.I was compelled to read Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's elegant novel, The Leopard (1959), after seeing Lucino Visconti's excellent film version of the novel. It was exposed in the extras that Visconti followed the novel very faithfully, but omitted some chapters for the film version. It is a novel that herald's the end of an of feudalism at the birth of a new Italy when Garibaldi and his forces land in Sicily and establish the new united Italy under the tricolor. The main protagonist the Prince of Salina Don Fabrizio is last of a fading generation that is giving way to more modern types like his beloved nephew Tancredi, whose union with the beautiful Angelica, who is not of the royal class, shows the future of Italy. It is a grand, epic, poetic novel about a turning point in history in modern Europe....more
Scoop (1941) is another classic satire by Evelyn Waugh that sends up newspapermen, especially foreign correspondent during the pre-war years in AfricaScoop (1941) is another classic satire by Evelyn Waugh that sends up newspapermen, especially foreign correspondent during the pre-war years in Africa. it is based partly on Waugh's own experiences as a correspondent in Abyssinia, which is now Ethiopia. It seems Waugh was posted there because he had traveled there and and had read a half dozen or so books on the country-making him an expert despite his unfamiliarity with journalism in general. It is another case of mistaken identities, dreadful conditions, an innocent abroad, clueless leaders, and ignorant incompetents trying to cover a cou'd etat in Africa. In the published version I read there were letters from Waugh to various people that suggested many aspects of the novel were born from true life experiences that Waugh had as a correspondent. Perhaps more about being a foreign correspondent than working on Fleet Street, but they get a bollocking as well. It is typically entertaining Waugh....more
When Gabriel Garcia Marquez died I heard a podcast discussing his work and the critic in the podcast chose Autumn Of The Patriarch (1975) as the mostWhen Gabriel Garcia Marquez died I heard a podcast discussing his work and the critic in the podcast chose Autumn Of The Patriarch (1975) as the most representative of his writing. I was intrigued since it is one of the novels that I hadn't read yet, so I decided that would be the next Marquez novel I would read. it reflects all the great lyricism of other novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love In The Time Of Cholera. It also catalogs the barbarity of the military dictatorships that once dominated South America and most of Latin America. The book is divided into six sections about the eternal dictator and his cruel reign as well as the discovery of his so-called dead corpse at the onset of each section. The sentences and paragraphs are long, flowing, and lyrical. It is truly one of his masterpieces of modern fiction....more
I have wanted to read Nikolai Gogol's only (unfinished) novel, Dead Souls (1842) since reading his amazing short stories (I think "The Overcoat" is onI have wanted to read Nikolai Gogol's only (unfinished) novel, Dead Souls (1842) since reading his amazing short stories (I think "The Overcoat" is one of the greatest short stories ever written). The novel doesn't disappoint, it is the story of a middle-class Russian, Chichikov, who attempts to bolster his own image by buying dead or missing titles of serfs from landowners that he comes across in his journey (and taking on the tax responsibility of those souls) in order to increase his own image as landowner with a great number serfs in his charge (at least on paper). Through this plot Gogol can satirize many classes and types of Russian society and traditions. The fact that it was unfinished does little to diminish the enjoyment of the novel at large, but does have the story awkwardly end.
I first became aware of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar as an influence on one of my favorite film makers, Wong Kar-wai, which led me to start my jourI first became aware of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar as an influence on one of my favorite film makers, Wong Kar-wai, which led me to start my journey with Cortazar's masterpiece Hopscotch. And that endeavor left me a taste for more Cortazar, so that led to my next selection: Blow-Up and Other Stories (1958). It is an eclectic collection of various stories: some fantastical, others realistic, some set in Argentina, others in Paris. The variety of the stories keep the reader off balance, looking to see where the author will journey to with a particular story. The standouts for me were: "Axoloti"-where I learned about the Mexican salamander via the narrator, "The Idol of Cyclades"-which was a supernatural and fantastic story seemingly ahead of its time,"A Letter To A Young Lady in Paris"-which is involved with vomiting up rabbits!, "Continuity of Parks"-another visionary meta-narrative ending with a twist. The last two stories, "The Pursuer" (about a junkie jazz musician-Chet Baker?) and "Secret Weapons" (about a love affair) are the longest, but not necessarily the most entertaining nor satisfying....more
The Immoralist (1902) by Andre Gide belongs to the great tradition of confessional literature. It calls to mind books like Notes from Underground, A TThe Immoralist (1902) by Andre Gide belongs to the great tradition of confessional literature. It calls to mind books like Notes from Underground, A Tale of Two Cities, Crime and Punishment, Doctor Faustus and The Plague. The protagonist, Michel, has a sexual and moral awakening after becoming ill on travels after his marriage to Marceline. It is an impressive in the simple and direct writing style. As usual, I found the introduction by translator and critic Alan Sheridan enlightening. I was not aware of Gide's acquaintance with Oscar Wilde. Sheridan also points out the influence of Nietzsche on Gide's thinking and writing. The fact that it was written in 1902 is extraordinary in itself....more
Unconditional Surrender (aka The End of the Battle 1961) is the last volume of the Sword of Honor trilogy by Evelyn Waugh. It is also something of a rUnconditional Surrender (aka The End of the Battle 1961) is the last volume of the Sword of Honor trilogy by Evelyn Waugh. It is also something of a return to form, since I found the second volume, Officers and Gentlemen, less compelling than the first, Men At War. In this volume, guy Crouchback has been declared too old to see action and is sent for special employment, only to have old security issues and a chance encounter with former Halberdier Ludovic, now a Major in the intelligence corps who is slowly losing it much like Agathorpe in the first volume: "In my experience the more responsible posts in the army are largely filled by certifiable lunatics. They don't cause any more trouble than the sane ones." Guy ends up on assignment in Yugoslavia where he encounters the usual eccentric characters, some shady secrets and lots of amusing bureaucratic inefficiency, The "intelligence" officers consistently misinterpret Guy's connections and flag him as dubious are rather comic, sprinkled with thoughts of faith, loyalty and doubt in terms of religion, relationships, nationality and class. Some of the more serious aspects come into play here as Guy tries to deal with the situation of displaced persons, Jews who have been brought to Yugoslavia to work by the Nazis. This aspect reflects the postwar realities than ian Buruma discussed in his recent, excellent book on 1945, Year Zero. Several other story lines from previous novels are given closure such as the relationship between Guy and his ex-wife Virgina. The epilogue ends with a picture of Guy's life as satisfying and contented. This trilogy can be seen as the British comedic counterpart to Joseph Heller's excellent WWII comic novel Catch 22. ...more
This Penguin cover of Mikhail Bulgakov's great satire The Master and Margarita 1966) always intrigued me. I was inspired to read when one of my collegThis Penguin cover of Mikhail Bulgakov's great satire The Master and Margarita 1966) always intrigued me. I was inspired to read when one of my college friends was toting around a copy on a recent business trip re-reading it for the third time. The cover captures one of my favorite aspects of the novel the vain, boastful, scheming vodka swilling cat Behemoth-surely one of literature's great creations, but there are other memorable characters like the dark stranger Woland (Satan), the poet Ivan the Homeless, the writer known as "The Master" among others. There are fantastical moments of black magic, passionate speeches by half mad Russians, as well as witches and vampires. It was mostly entertaining and enthralling, my only complaints were the sections of the book devoted to the Master's novel about Pontious Pilate, which for a recovering Catholic were a bit tedious and redundant. However, these were only a small portions of the novel, but they slowed my reading pace enough to effect my enjoyment of the book. But a classic nonetheless and required reading for any one interested in modern literature in my opinion. ...more
Officers And Gentlemen (1955) by Evelyn Waugh is the second volume of the Sword Of Honor trilogy. I have to admit I didn't like it as much as the firs Officers And Gentlemen (1955) by Evelyn Waugh is the second volume of the Sword Of Honor trilogy. I have to admit I didn't like it as much as the first volume, Men At Arms, even though it had many of the same elements: satire about the military and society, a comic figure in "Trimmer," and some excellent stylish passages. I think most of this had to do with the situations Guy Crouchback found himself in: training, military transport, surrender, and being adrift at sea. The action packed scenes were few, but I suspect they accurately describe a soldier's life, which is mostly comprised of waiting for things to happen. Furthermore, I don't think Trimmer was as interesting of a character as Apthorpe from Men At Arms. There is an interesting passage which discusses how the second war was different from the first in terms of classes mingling. It was enjoyable, but not as entertaining as the first volume in my opinion, but still looking forward to the last volume. ...more
I am very found of Evelyn Waugh's writing and this year I have decided to tackle the Sword of Honor trilogy, and I have just finished the first volumeI am very found of Evelyn Waugh's writing and this year I have decided to tackle the Sword of Honor trilogy, and I have just finished the first volume, Men At Arms (1952). It is the story of 35 year old Guy Crouchback's enlistment into the military at the start of World War II. It is said to have been based on Waugh's own experiences as an older man enlisting. It is something of a British "Catch-22" in the satire and absurdities of the military. That being said it is almost more the story of Crouchback's fellow officer Apthorpe, an eccentric fellow. His main story is an episode of high farce, the two have a battle of wits and military discipline over an Edwardian thunder-box (portable toilet) from which Crouchback observes, amused and detached. I'm very much looking forward to the next installment....more