Ben's Reviews > Rabbit Redux

Rabbit Redux by John Updike
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Apr 14, 10

bookshelves: families, important-message, read-in-2010, romantic-love-and-hate
Read in April, 2010

A year ago I vowed to myself (and you, if you had read my review of Rabbit, Run) that I’d read a Rabbit novel annually until I’m done with the four-novel series; the idea being that I could look back and see how I’d changed in the past year, comparing the changes in my life with those incurred by Rabbit. But it’s the same shit different day for me over here, ya hear? And I’m not turning this into some kind of self centered review about me-me-me. Instead, I’m going to (eventually) talk about the me-me-me mindset that we’re all guilty of. All of us.

So it’s the 60s, man, and Rabbit’s crazy ass isn’t any smarter; he still goes through life taking things as they come with little self reflection. And if he’s wiser, it ain’t by much; but the people around him have actually grown. His wife, Jancie, tired of not-getting-the-peter from her husband the past decade, finds some Greek douche bag to sleep with. But despite this -- or at times it even seems because of it – Janice is actually growing and starting to enjoy and appreciate life. And since it’s been 10 years since Rabbit, Run, Rabbit’s son, Nelson, is no longer a bebe – he’s now 12, and kind of thinks and acts like a little hippie -- which of course the Vietnam-War-supporting and ex-jock, Rabbit, can’t stand.

So, yes, it’s indeed the 60s: there’s the Pill, lots of good (and bad) drugs; and there’s threats of getting blown up by the Russians; and there’s the Vietnam war where kids are dying for no fucking reason, and everyone knows someone that’s had to go, or is in fear of going himself; and with all the civil rights stuff going on, there’s still blatant, despicable racism. So things are pretty fucked up.

And this novel is well-written -- Updike is someone everyone should read at least once. Aspects of the writing are remarkable, and the novel manages to have heart without delving into kitschy notions of love. But at times the book is ridiculous and silly. Updike swung for the fences; he wanted to represent the 60s in one novel; but it was like he didn’t really immerse himself in it; like he was trying to write about it from the outside, as an observer. Novels written by the “observer writer” can work, of course; but typically, I think, this needs to be from a time-scope many years later, when the vision can be clear.

So the result is that the novel often feels forced. We end up with lots of sex, drug use, a ridiculous black character, fights about Vietnam, racial angst, and a young hippie chick, who of course, sleeps with Rabbit. Totally forced, because it was clear he was trying to capture the era. But like I said, when you try to force that kind of thing too early, as an outside observer, it’s never going to work -- even if you’re John Updike.

Now let’s get back to the issue of selfishness. I used to think it was worse with the baby boomers. My thinking was that the generations before them won wars, and worked hard, and focused on their kids and family, and basically focused on “doing the right thing.” And then I thought that all these hippies basically showed up and that all they wanted to do was party and act like children, never taking responsibility and only thinking about themselves. Utter selfishness. And then, to make it worse, this whole generation (the Baby Boomers) pulled a 180 from some of their few admirable qualities -- those of spurning materialism and having an open mind and loving heart -- to buying a bunch of crap they didn’t need, going into debt, divorcing like crazy, and acting like they could live that way for the rest of their lives. All this while – think financial crisis -- the following generations foot the bill. So you see, I thought, “they’re still as completely selfish as they were in the 60s, just in a different way; a way that just happens to be better suited to their current stage in life.”

”What a shitty generation!” I used to say to friends.

But in recent months I’ve changed my thinking about the Boomers. Just look at the kids these days -- talk about self-obsessed, with their facebook and video games, and constant text messaging. But they do –- thank goodness –- show signs of idealism. And idealism was something that the young generation of the 60s had plenty of. We need youthful idealism -- because let’s face it – if it weren’t for the idealism of the Baby Boomers, we would never have gotten out of Vietnam, or improved race relations as we did, or improved women’s rights as we did. Really, without the Boomers, we probably wouldn’t have escaped the general close-mindedness that had previously pervaded so much of American society.

No, the Boomers didn’t keep their idealism; or, if they did, they turned it inside out, fucking it all up, turning it into something nasty – the culmination of which was the financial crisis. But we’re going to dig out of that hole. In fact, I think the young people, in their own “selfish ways,” have already started to help us progress – maybe not so differently from the way the Boomers did in the 60s. But I wouldn’t know for sure -– it’s too early to tell these things as an outside observer.

; )
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Comments (showing 1-38 of 38) (38 new)

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message 1: by John (new)

John This one had its moments, but felt a bit forced & unworkable. The great accomplishment seems to be the next, ...IS RICH.


Gary Overall, I loved the Rabbit series. Glad you're experiencing a master writer, Ben! I recommend his short stories as well!


message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben So far I like this more than Rabbit, Run, which I gave 3 stars.


message 4: by Kim (new)

Kim You really feel that today's youth are idealistic, Ben? In a way that will last and not be squashed down by the utter despair that usually comes around your mid twenties? I see status updates and role playing and obliterating the language into one 'word' phrases like 'derp' and 'fail'. I see LOL cats and vampires and attempts to copy past decades.

I don't know, Ben. I just don't know...


message 5: by Ben (last edited Apr 14, 2010 08:24AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben I think the financial crisis is going to quickly take them away from the vast materialism that has permeated American society for the past 20 years. And I think it's already started to take place and we just can't see it. Where is it at, you ask -- my response is that I have no clue. But I bet 20 years from now we'll see it. Am I being too optimistic, just assuming without the facts in front of me that the youth of today is going to improve things? Maybe. But I think ever since the beginning of time people have doubted youth and they've always come through. And I think it's impossible for them to not learn a number of very positive lessons from living through the financial crisis.


message 6: by Kim (new)

Kim True... but, I see a lot of disillusionment... look at us Reagan era kids. I mean, there's always the stand-outs, but on the whole... I don't know... I'm just not as optimistic on this front.


message 7: by Kelly (last edited Apr 14, 2010 12:48PM) (new)

Kelly ”What a shitty generation!” I used to say to friends.

Yeah, I still say this. I will admit a lot of it probably has to do with the Boomer generation of politicians, because I mostly blame their generation for the polarized, awful way politics and political discourse is conducted in this country- one of my Big Things I Care About, and I'm overexposed to it with living in DC. However, I see your point about the change that the early 60s generation brought about, though, and that remains stubbornly true, goddamn it! :)

On idealism now: I recently read a book that I think made some convincing arguments about the idealism of the young today- how it's mostly concentrated in single issue organizations, where the moral choices are clearer, rather than a big movement to change society like the '60s, and how that's only going to get us so far, especially with the way politics actually works here in DC. I've been struggling with that idea and I mostly think that I agree with you- it is a positive sign for the future, at least!


message 8: by Colin (new)

Colin McKay Miller Popping my head in here before the comment flurry hits.

Nice review, Ben, social commentary and all. I, too, like tying my personal life with books (because, you know, a five-star book when you're 25 might not be a five-star book when you're 50), but have never tried the once a year model. I did like Rabbit, Run though, but that was years ago and I can remember little of it. Who knows what I'd think now.


Manny I like the review, and you make some good points - it somehow hadn't occurred to me that the novel's structural problems stem from his desire to capture the whole 60s. But why do you call Stavros a douche-bag? I thought he was one of the more sympathetic characters.


message 10: by Ben (last edited Apr 14, 2010 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Yeah, Kelly, the boomers still have some issues with responsibility, don't they? And your point about polarization is a good one. I'm not sure how much worse that is now compared to 30, 40, 50 years ago, but I definitely think our two party system is in-part to blame; and technology has played a role too, I think. If there was just one more major party I wonder how things would change -- I can't help but think it'd probably be for the better. And thank you for the information on single issue organizations; sounds like a good empirical example.

Nice distinction, Elizabeth -- the world is mostly comprised of followers; it's true. But the 60s did spawn some very special leaders; they seem more genuine than many of those today, don't they?

Thanks, Colin! And great point.

Manny-- I really do feel that Starvos was a douche. While I thought his intellect was refreshing, he seemed to look down on everybody. I also felt that he led Janice on and showed no remorse -- at least through most of the novel -- for being with her behind Rabbit's back for so long. He does become more sympathetic towards the end, but it seems that even those actions were taken out of a selfishness; and don't forget that he **slight spoiler** slept with Rabbit's sister.


message 11: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell warning! terribly tl;dr

Updike swung for the fences; he wanted to represent the 60s in one novel; but it was like he didn’t really immerse himself in it; like he was trying to write about it from the outside, as an observer. Novels written by the “observer writer” can work, of course; but typically, I think, this needs to be from a time-scope many years later, when the vision can be clear.

I think this is a really important point - I also think sadly this side of Updike is typical, and maybe was brought to the forefront by his 'working up' essay-reviews on books and other topics for various newspapers and magazines. The idea is you have a smart mind + lots of books + ton of research = You Are There, but it winds up looking like one of those cheezy network television retrospective specials. His forays into historical writing - that awful play about Buchanan, the dreadful In The Beauty of the Lilies, the tepid Seek My Face - are usually bad, because he lacks both the analytic and philosophical skills necessary to draw broad social networks, and the intense psychological absorption necessary to portray another human consciousness convincingly. His writing is at once deeply personal (it's all about himself) and impersonal - the patterns of language are almost abstract (in this I think he served himself ill by taking Nabokov for a master, but anyway).

The characters of Jill and Skeeter in this book are disastrous - worse than inept, I'd argue, they are fundamentally dishonest. I don't think an author necessarily has to personally empirically experience everything they write about (hello, Wuthering Heights and so on), but Updike's later cringe-inducing absolute misfires, all the way from The Coup to the dreadful, dreadful Terrorist (in the acknowledgements he thanks 'Islam for Dummies,' IIRC) indicate not a failure of experience but empathy. That bad-sex passage everyone quotes with a kind of cringing grin - something in the Widows of Eastwick about how the woman just loves giving herself a facial with fresh ejaculate - isn't just badly written, it's badly _imagined._ Who could think an actual woman might actually react like that? Does he actually _know_ any women? Yes, his writing rushes to assure us, oh yes, yes he does. Oh yes. Most intimately. And thoroughly. From the outside. (The portrayal of Janice through all the Rabbit books and stories is really a triumph of unconscious misogyny. The sad thing is Updike apparently thinks he's presenting her sympathetically....)

When Updike is on, his typical oh-my-god-the-revelation-in-these-pigeon-feathers-that-golf-stroke-those-women's-asses-over-there minute observations can make you feel indeed that he is giving the reader the gift not of seeing something for the first time but of _re_-seeing it freshly, which is really rare, especially in popular fiction. But the technique also reminds me of Pre-Raphaelite landscapes -- every blade of grass, every veined leaf, is luminously, maddeningly outlined, and as a result the slavish depiction of reality becomes almost surreal.

So I personally think Updike is actually at his worst in his 'naturalist Americana' writing like the Rabbit books, and it boggles me why they were awarded prizes and are frequently the most-assigned and most-read of his novels. I think judging him by them does him a real disservice. When he writes about his own swingin' seventies (going barefoot, eating lobster, Martha's Vineyard, fucking the neighbours, &c &c) it's at least halfway interesting and well-done. When he tries to project his own personal visions of liberation and loss onto AMERICA IN GENERAL as THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, I just wind up irritated and confused.


message 12: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben AWESOME post, Moira.

These two comments sum up my two-novel experience with Updike's writing:

The idea is you have a smart mind + lots of books + ton of research = You Are There, but it winds up looking like one of those cheezy network television retrospective specials........he lacks both the analytic and philosophical skills necessary to draw broad social networks, and the intense psychological absorption necessary to portray another human consciousness convincingly.


When Updike is on, his typical oh-my-god-the-revelation-in-these-pigeon-feathers-that-golf-stroke-those-women's-asses-over-there minute observations can make you feel indeed that he is giving the reader the gift not of seeing something for the first time but of _re_-seeing it freshly, which is really rare, especially in popular fiction.

The good and the bad, right there.


message 13: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "AWESOME post, Moira.

Aww, why thanks! I hadn't intended it to be that long, but once I got going....

The good and the bad, right there.

Yeah - he's such a frustrating writer for me to read (not just politically, ha) because he does some things GORGEOUSLY, and other (more novelistic) things he falls right on his little face. I think his best short stories are gorgeous.


message 14: by Ben (last edited Apr 14, 2010 12:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Although, I should add that while I agree with you on Updike's poor characterizations of Skeeter and Jill, I think what he does with Rabbit is remarkable: a very different, simple-yet-complex character, who is flesh-and-blood real, and can only possibly be pulled-off and portrayed by a master writer...


message 15: by Bram (last edited Apr 14, 2010 01:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bram Great discussion here (and nice review, Ben!). Moira, where do you think an Updike virgin should start? I'd always planned on going with Rabbit first, but now you've got me rethinking that.


message 16: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "I think what he does with Rabbit is remarkable: a very different, simple-yet-complex character, who is flesh-and-blood real, and can only possibly be pulled-off and portrayed by a master writer..."

Ah, see, I think Rabbit is Updike's _idea_ of what a Big Dumb Jock type might be, so he is simultaneously patronizing (has Rabbit ever read a book? No, right?) and way too articulate/observant (the book is limited 3P but there are lovely lyrical bits, like 'Sun and moon, sun and moon, time goes,' which are so totally Updike-Not-Rabbit they throw me right out of the book).

BUT, I think Ruth is an amazingly well-developed female character. I really did like her.


message 17: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "Moira, that was a really fantastic comment. Mind just cutting and pasting that into a review so I can vote for it, please?

Aww, really? Why sure.

Have you read AS Byatt's quartet (The Virgin in the Garden through A Whistling Woman)? She does a similar thing, showing us the trends of the years from the fifties to the end of the sixties, and I'm wondering how they compare? Are they more or less successful? (Personally, I like them very much).

OMFG YES I chewed my way through them last year and really loved it. I don't feel anywhere near qualified to comment on how well she portrayed the shift from the Lawrencian/Larkin fifties to the swingin' sixties, but I found it v impressive. The characterizations in THAT tetralogy (sp) are really remarkable. My favourite was the third, Babel Tower - I did enjoy the first two books, but not as unrestrainedly. I thought the fourth volume more or less flopped and I didn't like the end, but it was well worth reading.


message 18: by Moira (last edited Apr 14, 2010 01:46PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Bram wrote: "Moira, where do you think an Updike virgin should start? I'd always planned on going with Rabbit first, but now you've got me rethinking that."

NOT TAKING THAT OPENING (SIC) ABOUT UPDIKE AND VIRGINS

.....but seriously yolks! Umm, hmmmmm. I like to think I differ from most people in recommending Updike's short stories rather than the Rabbit books, but some of the collections are v uneven. Hmmm.

Some of my personal favourites are Too Far To Go, Pigeon Feathers, The Music School, Museums And Women, and I think Problems, altho that's rather idiosyncratic of me - those are all early books. (There was a great 900-page volume of his early stories released - I haven't read it yet - have been saving it up.) Trust Me was okay. I thought The Afterlife and Licks of Love sucked - everyone went gaga for Love because it has a (bad) after-Rabbit's-death novella in it (I want to drown Nelson, Rabbit's son, in a bucket). Apparently The Maples Stories were recollected last year, which delights me because I think he did some of his best work with that cycle (married couple coming together, splitting apart, divorcing, &c &c).

I can't stand the Bech books (connected stories) and I didn't much like the Eastwick novels either. His political novels (The Coup, Brazil, Terrorist) are REALLY, REALLY TERRIBLE. I liked Poorhouse Fair (Dorothy Parker reviewed it! how I found it) and The Centaur, two early novels, altho nobody else did. (Updike has a fascinating mythological streak that runs through his work, when he's not adhering slavishly to shit like the exact date when peppermint Certs came out, for Chrissakes.) I couldn't deal with Month of Sundays, Couples, Marry Me, all the famous fucking books. Roger's Version and S. were, hmm, palatable, and not surprisingly rather theological. I tried In the Beauty of the Lilies and Toward the End of Time but was just OMFG NO and couldn't finish. People have recommended Gertrude and Claudius and Villages to me but, I dunno. I have a copy of Seek My Face around here I think because I'm fascinated with Rothko and FUCKING JESUS CHRIST THAT WAS JUST TERRIBLE GAHHH. Couldn't finish that. I think there might be another cum facial in that one, I don't know, Updike's cum facials just all blur together after a while.

I, uh, really honestly don't like his novels, ha.

His literary criticism is interesting - often wrongheaded and annoying, but I found out about a lot of favourite authors (Iris Murdoch, Jean Rhys, Flann O'Brien) from his reviews. The best of those are probably Picked-Up Pieces and Hugging The Shore; I couldn't finished Assorted prose and Just Looking, Odd Jobs, More Matter, &c, were disappointingly slight. I have a big treasured hardback volume of Hugging The Shore and reread it often as an adolescent, looking for clues to the field of literature, and found lots.

(I should mention, no way did I read ALL these books listed here, esp crap like those political novels - a glance, a scream, and a hasty rush toward George Eliot might describe my reaction to most of them.)


message 19: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben I disagree Moira, I think the 'Sun and moon, sun and moon, time goes,' type stuff displays what's going on in Rabbit's unconscious: we're all smarter than we realize when we tap into that. Also, it coincides nicely with Rabbit being very right-brained.

I remember Ruth from Rabbit, Run; I agree she's well developed.


message 20: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "Also, it coincides nicely with Rabbit being very right-brained. "

//does not make a joke about Rabbit's brain

Well we might have to agree to disagree there, since I think Updike tends to put his own sentiments and observations into characters' minds/mouths and it doesn't work. But the prose is often gorgeous.

I wish Ruth's daughter had been a little more like her!


message 21: by Ben (last edited Apr 14, 2010 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Ruth's daughter doesn't make an appearance in this novel; I hope that wasn't a spoiler for Rabbit is Rich : )

Now you have me thinking this daughter may be Rabbit's daughter? Damn you!


message 22: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "Ruth's daughter doesn't make an appearance in this novel; I hope that wasn't a spoiler for Rabbit is Rich : )"

AGGH. I thought you had already read them all! My apologies!


message 23: by Ben (last edited Apr 14, 2010 06:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Hmmm. I looked at her books and I'm going to need a positive, convincing review from one of you before adding it to my already huge "to read" list. But thank you, I always appreciate suggestions. : )


message 24: by Moira (last edited Apr 15, 2010 01:13PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "I found all those grimy, artsy, english hippie, anti-establishment types whining while mooching off the state unappealing and like the science geeks of book 4 much better

I AM a grimy artsy anti-establishment type! AHAHA. ....More seriously, part of why I didn't like the final ending was it seemed kind of like an awful repetition of Frederica's first marriage: a guy she's magnetically drawn to, but with whom she has not much in common at all, then she winds up pregnant, and dot-dot-dot....Granted the peacocky scientist (forgot his name) seems much _nicer_ than the Horrible Ex, but I was still like 'OH HONEY NO.' (I always plump for the Chloe-liked-Olivia setup, rather than the happy marital ending, so I was disappointed when Frederica and her female writer friend were paired off with men.)

But then again, Whistling Woman _begins_ with an ending which is taken very poorly by its audience, and Babel Tower was itself all about different beginnings and endings, so I think Byatt's perhaps toying with us a little there. (A friend also told me Frederica's child was modelled on Byatt's son, who was killed in a car accident, so she didn't feel she could go on writing him as a character, I think.)

I do think Babel Tower sort of stands or falls on Jude. At first I absolutely hated him, couldn't stand him, and felt nearly physically revolted when he showed up in the book (all those descriptions of his grizzled grey shiny-dirty nudity didn't help). But then his story goes on and is so tragic and heartbreaking, I kinda loved him.

(I also found the fourth volume with its focus on delusional violent religious maniacs unnerving for personal reasons.)

Byatt took on the project well after the decades in question so she brings the perspective that you find lacking in these books.

I think that's v true - and there were years and years in between the books, too, weren't there? So The Virgin in the Garden takes place in, what....52? 53? and Whistling Woman in 1968, but that first book was written in 1978 and the last in 2002!

She may also bring in that I-know-better irony from time to time as well though.

Yeah, I think that's truer of her writing about the 60s than the 50s - I know her portrayal of higher education reforms pissed off a lot of lefties, but it was strikingly similar to my experience in higher education in the 1990s. In the US. In New Mexico. So.

I'd let Ceridwen convince you of their merits because Babel Tower is one of her favorite books, but I see she hasn't written a review yet. "

OMG CERIDWEN HOW CAN YOU FORSAKE US SO


message 25: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "Hmmm. I looked at her books and I'm going to need a positive, convincing review from one of you before adding it to my already huge "to read" list. But thank you, I always appreciate suggestions...."

I shall write a review of Babel Tower! Uh soon.


message 26: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Aww, that was such a great review, Elizabeth. And one of my favourite books, too.


message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 15, 2010 02:06PM) (new)

I kind of knew this thread was going on, but I've been busy turning 36 - Happy Birthday to me! - so I didn't get a chance to read. First off, great review. I have no intention to read Updike because of a lot of reasons, but I love your thoughts. Fantastic Ben, really, and an interesting project.

Second, the minute they legalize platonic, long-distance lesbian marriage, I'm sending you a marriage proposal, Moira. Be warned.

And third, yes, Babel Tower is one of my faves. I read the first in the quartet - The Virgin in the Garden - and it made me alternately zzz and get pissed off. The second, I skipped. Then I read BT, and wow. Recently, it seems like on GR I've been involved in a little bubbly conversation about love stories and romantic leads - how few romances/love stories involve leads who you wouldn't want to die in a house fire because they are so horribly self-involved, or that the love itself was just a given, and not something that was created by two real people, with real characters & not just a collection of ticks. I'm not saying BT is a romance - it's not - or maybe it is with a capital R - these terms confuse me.

Anyhew, Both Byatt and her sister, Margaret Drabble, seem to write a lot about solipsism and love - how all love is self-love on some level. (I'm not jazzed about what Drabble I've read, because she makes this statement too emphatically, and I just don't buy it.) I think, maybe, at it's core, BT is about love, about some love other than romantic love. The preacher (I've forgotten his name) grapples with grief from the loss of his wife, and tries to love the unlovable, with mixed results. Frederika (may be misspelling), who was always such a self-involved shit, finally realizes that she loves someone. That someone is her son, and it could be argued that this is still, on some level, self-involvement, but I love that Byatt doesn't take maternal love as a given, as a magic emotion that instantly pops into play. She loves because she has a moment of understanding, and those moments stretch to encompass the moments of disconnect which are far more common.

Byatt gets accused of literary ventriloquism, which may be a fair criticism if you don't like that sort of thing. But the novel-within-the-novel - a sort of 60s Marquee de Sade provocation which causes an obscenity trial - hit me in the chest with both hooves.

Honestly, I bet I'm not making a lot of sense - it's been at least 10 years since I read this. I really did love it though. Strangely, I never read book 4.


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

I hope you both write reviews, and hook Ben in. :-)

It's just been too long. I'd have to re-read, which I may do at some point, but my reading list is currently insane. Insane! I sorted books yesterday, because I'm trying to clean out my giant whirling vortex of crap office, and I ended up carrying up another 10 books to sit by the bed in hopes I'd get to them soon. So now there's a cool 25 sitting there taunting me. Jerks.


message 29: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "I kind of knew this thread was going on, but I've been busy turning 36 - Happy Birthday to me!

Aww, happy birthday!

the minute they legalize platonic, long-distance lesbian marriage, I'm sending you a marriage proposal, Moira. Be warned.

//BUYS DRESS //sends matron of honour invitation to Elizabeth //leaves note for husband

(I'm not jazzed about what Drabble I've read, because she makes this statement too emphatically, and I just don't buy it.)

I find Drabble v hard to read, but I haven't tried much. For a while she was more famous than Byatt, I think!

BT is about love, about some love other than romantic love. The preacher (I've forgotten his name) grapples with grief from the loss of his wife, and tries to love the unlovable, with mixed results. Frederika (may be misspelling), who was always such a self-involved shit, finally realizes that she loves someone. That someone is her son

DANIEL! OMFG so much Daniel love, and at first I found him a stuffy dull Lawrencian type. (Byatt writes some really intriguing things wrt her quartet and Lawrence.) And yes, def about Frederica and Leo - what I liked about that portrayal was sort of how it terrified her that now there was someone more important to her than herself, but how that moved and changed her too. It was so well-done. -- There's that whole heartbreaking bit with Jude on the stand where he talks about loving the teacher who abused him, too.

Strangely, I never read book 4. "

There's a really neat essay-review of it - which considers the whole tetraology really - here: http://www.themodernword.com/reviews/...

The reviewer compares it to the satyr plays at the end of the contest for tragic Greek trilogies, which I think is a bit strained -- I think //squints this is the book in which Daniel and Stephanie's daughter acts in 'A Winter's Tale' and (I'd have to check to make sure) I think there are references to it woven throughout the book (well there are references to EVERYTHING woven throughout the last book, but still). It reminded me of the end of Possession, where the emphasis was most definitely not on tying everything up neatly - deliberately so.


message 30: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "Still Life, book 2, is my favorite of the quartet, and she does explore love there as well.

I remember not liking Still Life a whole lot at first, but there were so many good things in it - Frederica in France, Frederica as a budding writer, the scene at Cambridge (which reminded me that Byatt was there when Plath was too - and didn't like her!), &c, that I warmed to it. I wanted to smack Alexander, tho.

Book 4, while a personal favorite of mine - I liked butterfly boy, Moira

BUTTERFLY BOY. //dies Peacock dude! Bug guy! Butterfly boy!

isn't something I generally recommend.

Yeah no, I knew I wouldn't like it as much going in (I mean, people warned me, I'm predictable) and kept telling myself it was a chance to catch up with the people I had come to love and it was open-ended, &c &c, and I still struggled a bit with it. (Okay okay I wanted Frederica and her writer friend to go on living in the same house together forever producing books, I admit it.)

the whole thing he is striving for and the obscenity trial is fascinating. Marquis de Sade meets the Lady Chatterly's Lover trial.

That was so good! So gripping! The parallel trials and double verdicts were so great, too.


message 31: by Moira (new) - rated it 1 star

Moira Russell Elizabeth wrote: "I hope you both write reviews, and hook Ben in. :-) "

I should totally get over my No No It Has To Be Perfect weird review phobia and Just Do it, but I would want to reread it first (WHAT A CHORE). I gulped down all four books one right after the other (who moi?), so it would be fun to go back in a more leisurely manner.


message 32: by Sparrow (new)

Sparrow Ceridwen wrote: "the minute they legalize platonic, long-distance lesbian marriage, I'm sending you a marriage proposal, Moira. Be warned."

EEEK! Double wedding!

I haven't read any of these books, so I can't comment otherwise. Sorry, Ben.


message 33: by Sparrow (new)

Sparrow It sounds better than Winnepeg and bowling to me.


message 34: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan fascinating review and discussion, please don't write off all us old hippies as now-turned-venture-capitalists who caused the crash. I've never owned a share in my life - that sounds odd - and without that whole era the world would be a more miserable place. Liberation of many types sprung from then, plus a lot of crap, too.


message 35: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Liberation of many types sprung from then, plus a lot of crap, too.

I completely agree. Do you still smoke pot, Alan? Don't feel that you have to answer that. But if you don't mind, I'm curious.


message 36: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan might do


message 37: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Maybe if you didn't you'd be an investment banker.


message 38: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan yeh I'd be riiich and ugly. I achieved one of those..


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