Amis writes as brilliantly as ever. When he's writing about himself and those he loves, though, he's substantially less cold. This makes me enjoy readAmis writes as brilliantly as ever. When he's writing about himself and those he loves, though, he's substantially less cold. This makes me enjoy reading 'Experience' a good deal more than, say, 'Money' (which, despite its technical brilliance, I abandoned half-finished).
He's still, of course, monstrously self-conscious. Some people love this; I find it a trifle wearisome. But, again, I find his self-consciousness considerably less irritating in a memoir (perhaps the one place in which overt self-consciousness is explicitly permissible…)...more
'He's so slow, so unimaginative, so lifeless. Like zinc white. I see it's a sort of tyranny he has over me. He forces me to be changeable, to act. To'He's so slow, so unimaginative, so lifeless. Like zinc white. I see it's a sort of tyranny he has over me. He forces me to be changeable, to act. To show off. The hateful tyranny of weak people.'
Sweet Christ. A terrifying, brilliant novel.
Terrifying because of its utterly convincing inversion: that deliberate evil is far, far less horrific than rootless passivity....more
'Suddenly she sighed: "It is incredible how one can be happy for so many years in the midst of so many squabbles, so many problems, damn it, and not r'Suddenly she sighed: "It is incredible how one can be happy for so many years in the midst of so many squabbles, so many problems, damn it, and not really know if it was love or not."'
This is a novel about love. (Yup, it's in the title, isn't it?)
Further: it is an outstanding novel about love.
Marquez makes love the absolute centrepiece of this long (life-spanning) story. It is beautiful in its exploration of the multifoliate complexities of love — its mutations, variations, diversions and continuities. Its ambiguity.
This is a love story that masterfully demolishes the construct of 'true love'. As Marquez knows (and, of course, needn't patronise us by explaining directly) all love is true love and no love is true love. It's the preoccupations, decisions and resolutions of the characters that create and define love.
It's a wonderful, joyful novel, written by an author who's deliciously unafraid of trusting his reader to extrapolate, interpret and judge. A novel written with love of love, and love of those who love....more
'What I Loved' is a very good novel. Why? Because Siri Hustvedt understands people. She understands people *very damn well indeed*.
It's a book about l'What I Loved' is a very good novel. Why? Because Siri Hustvedt understands people. She understands people *very damn well indeed*.
It's a book about love and friendship (and the complex interminglings of the two), about age and loss. And it manages simultaneously to be both incredibly neat and wonderfully chaotic.
There's a thing that Henry James does. I've written about it before. It's called ironic inversion — whereby an implication or expectation that's set up at the beginning of a novel is turned on its head by the time you get to the end. *But*, unlike a short story's twist-in-the-tail, the inversion happens so slowly and subtly that you don't actually notice it unless you pause and reflect.
In 'What I Loved', Hustvedt executes a goddamn *masterful* ironic inversion. Her narrator, Leo Hertzberg, is an academic who studies, teaches and writes about art. And the novel's animating relationship is that between Leo and Bill Wechsler, an artist. In the early stages of the novel (the first third), much of Leo's narrative occupies itself with analysis of Bill's art. Whilst not *dry*, it's certainly not immediate.
The beautiful thing that the novel does is, over the rest of its course, to dismantle the artificial distinctions between writing about life and writing about art and writing about people and knowing people and understanding art and understanding people and understanding yourself. This is what makes it both neat and chaotic: it reconciles and unites by expanding, rather than reducing. Which is a wankily abstract way of putting it, I realise.
Essentially, Leo begins the novel engaging with Bill's art via the traditional mechanisms of academic analysis; he ends (implicitly) by simply writing Bill's — and his own — story. Which tells us more (of course) than any analytical essay.
What's more, the ponderous pace of the novel's beginning is transmuted to an extraordinarily (almost vertiginously) compelling final stage.
Hustvedt writes (to my mind) with superb emotional insight, and she examines — unflinchingly — scenarios of powerful emotional intensity. Her feeling for the nuances in relationships between characters — once again — reminds me of Henry James. Which is one whopper of a compliment, in case you were wondering. Like James, Hustvedt is never lazy. She never skates over the hard bit. She restlessly examines and reexamines her characters and their relation to one another. The whole of the novel (like many of James') concerns itself with the ambiguities of friendship and love — which too many novelists treat as discrete constants.
So, again, there's a refusal to accept artificial barriers, to categorise baldly.
And that's why I liked this novel so much. That and the fact I had to stop reading it *immediately* on the London Underground, because — had I not — I'd have started crying.
Which isn't the done thing on the Piccadilly Line....more
… now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face … Any human face is a claim on you, because y… now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face … Any human face is a claim on you, because you can't help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and the loneliness of it.
This is a beautiful novel. Like all my favourite literature (and, I guess, art in general) it wields its immense power with restraint, subtlety, modesty.
It is not a pacey novel. It has relatively little in the way of plot. But it is all about characters. And, hey, here's a thing — have you noticed? — so is life. Or my life is, in any case. It is a wonderful study of a truly good man, a truly humble man and a truly brilliant man. The novel takes the form of a long, digressive journal-cum-letter from an old father, left to the son he does not expect to see grow up.
But what's it about? I guess in a large part it's about religion. Which might put a bunch of you right off. But that would be a gaping great pity, because it's about the sweet human face of religion:
When you love someone … you see her as God sees her, and that is an instruction in the nature of God and humankind and of Being itself.
That's amongst the most beautiful ideas I've read for a while. And however staunch an atheist you may be, if that sentence doesn't give you pause and move you just a little, I'm pretty sorry for you.
(For the record, I'd call myself agnostic — not that this really matters much.)
This book made me think a fair bit about TS Eliot's Ash Wednesday (in fact, at times, Robinson approaches poetry — of the most modest and admirable kind — in her prose: 'Ashy biscuit, summer rain, her hair falling wet around her face'). If you know me, you'll be aware that I powerfully admire that poem (and that poet). Gilead has in common with Ash Wednesday a preoccupation with transience and the frustrating, tantalising beauty of this imperfect world. The difficulty of imagining anything sweeter (heaven) than the fleeting, intoxicating experiences of life on earth:
Whenever I think of Edward, I think of playing catch in a hot street and that wonderful weariness of the arms. I think of leaping after a high throw and that wonderful collaboration of the whole body with itself and that wonderful certainty and amazement when you know the glove is just where it should be. Oh, I will miss the world!
… and …
I wish I could give you the memory I have of your mother that day. I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness.
Listen, is your face aching with suppressed tears, yet? Because this is beautiful, powerful stuff. Don't you think?
What Gilead also ends up being about is this: true worth, true wisdom. And I applaud any work of art that celebrates the modest, the unassuming, the loving. Like most of the 'points' this novel makes, it makes this one implicitly, subtly and ambiguously — but in its way it's as much a celebration of the Everyman as was 'Ulysses'. It's a wonderful demonstration of the unshowy brilliance of reflection and self-awareness and humility.