MJ Nicholls's Reviews > Pictures from an Institution

Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell
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Jun 16, 12

bookshelves: dropped

A smug self-involved novel written for the wine-quaffing elite so they might titter around their canapés at the bons mot expressed about a footnote in the revised Oxford edition of The Iliad. The narrator is a pompous New York scenester and the novel reminiscent of all those moments when you’re watching a Woody Allen film and it’s going all right, then suddenly you have this overwhelming urge to kill all the privileged neurotic whining nuisances gobbling up all the caviar before you. Maybe it’s a class thing. I was raised in Compton, Edinburgh where we don’t tolerate books of such a dated self-regarding nature, boyee. A parting warning: be suspicious of all books that subtitle themselves ‘comedies.’ Usually the wish is father to the thought, dear homey.
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10/07/2013 marked as: dropped

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell A smug self-involved novel written for the wine-quaffing elite so they might titter around their canapés at the bons mot expressed about a footnote in the revised Oxford edition of The Iliad.

AND YOUR POINT IS....


-- but really that's unfair to the book. Did you get to the part about the artist's singing?


message 2: by MJ (last edited Jun 17, 2012 02:59AM) (new) - added it

MJ Nicholls Maybe I was a little harsh. But the narrator really comes across as irredeemably smug. Plus the humour isn't half as catty or witty as advertised, it's mainly a series of quasi-amusing descriptive passages and flat dialogues. I only got 50 pages in.


message 3: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith I've had that thought about novels that appear to require a serious-browed colon, followed by A Novel. I guess so you know it's not like those novels on either side of it on the rack.


message 4: by MJ (new) - added it

MJ Nicholls Ha! Or if you were in doubt as to whether it was a shed or a sandcastle. No: a novel. Thanks for clearing that up.


message 5: by Sherwood (new)

Sherwood Smith I always think of a fish. Like, is this a novel, or a fish? Thank you, author, for the hint.


message 6: by MJ (new) - added it

MJ Nicholls So Long and Thanks For All the Novels.


message 7: by Jason (new)

Jason MJ wrote: "So Long and Thanks For All the Novels."

Ha!


message 8: by John (new)

John This is definitely a novel, a send-up of academic foibles at the time it was written, the early 1950s. The setting is a small, exclusive women's college, such as Sarah Lawrence or Bennington. The author was at that time, I think, teaching at the Women's College of North Carolina, a larger institution, but similar in some ways. I attended it two decades later, after it had gone co-ed. Jarrell is still considered as a sort of tragic hero there.

I enjoyed this novel, as a (usually) gentle satire and critique of the pretensions and neuroses of cloistered academics. It's sort an 'Animal Farm' of academia. If you've never lived in that kind of environment, or interacted with that sort of people, perhaps it wouldn't make much sense, the way 'Animal Farm' doesn't make sense unless you have a grasp of 20th Century history. But for those of us who know the territory the novel explores, it's amusing and incisive.


message 9: by MJ (new) - added it

MJ Nicholls Thanks for that counterpoint to my huffy review, John. The specificity of the satire probably lost me.


Sketchbook I'm rereading this after many years and agreeing with your review....(not finished yet).


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