Saturday, 7 March 2015

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen

This is my third re-read in a row. I'm not sure I've ever done this much sequential re-reading. It's like I don't have the energy to meet anyone new. I can't handle the degree of choice required in choosing and then actually continuing to read a new novel. And what can you say about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? It's a marvel. PERSUASION is my favourite of her books, but reading P & P again I was struck once more by her perfection. Dead at 41, and only 5 novels; but each a marvel. Truly, I think she is the perfect novelist.

Friday, 6 March 2015

THE BLESSING by Nancy Mitford

Another re-read. Mostly between 2am and 4am.

LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE by Nancy Mitford

Re-read. I'm totally addicted.

THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer

This book has a fantastic title. But that's about all I find to commend. It's a war novel, and when you set out to write a war novel you've got some very serious competition. I suspect ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT has said everything that really needs to be said; the rest of military fiction is mostly footnotes. And this is a pretty minor footnote. It' written by a 24 year old who, once drafted, saw service mostly in the military kitchen, and it shows. The book is full of the glamour of war, and not much else. Even the traditional scene, common to all war stories, in which the young recruit is killed near the beginning, is glamorous. I've never read about brain splatter in so romantic a vein. Wikipedia tells me that this book spent 62 weeks at the top of the best seller lists in the 1948, but is 'rarely read today,' and I can see why. But what the hell. Lucky Norman Mailer. It's not every 24 year old who manages a best seller.

Monday, 9 February 2015

THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by Michael Chabon

Recently I have come to feel concerned that probably over the course of my lifetime I'm only going to be able to read about 3000 books, which is a tiny 0.00002% of all the 130 million books ever published. I feel I need to be more selective. Thus, my abandonment of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by Michael Chabon. This despite it having many fine turns of phrase
"the fragrance of her body was a spicy, angry smell like that of fresh pencil shavings"
and comic comments, here about a salesman
"who had read widely in the literature of sales and was in fact eternally at work on a treatise-cum-autobiography he referred to sometimes as The Science of Opportunity and other times, more ruefully, as Sorrow in My Sample Case"
not to mention effective foreshadowing of the holocaust, here a Jewish child
"whose encyclopedic knowledge of the railroads of this part of Europe was in a few short years to receive a dreadful appendix"

Its in this mention of railroads that we see why I couldn't keep going with this book, despite its many merits. It's just so incessantly and delightedly male. If it's not railroads, its comic books, and if its not comic books, its detailed descriptions of fights, and if not that, its just general adolescent boy friendship. SNORE. Not that some girls dont like railroads, and comic books, and fighting, but I guess I'm just not one of those girls. Its 600 some pages I could spend somewhere else.





THE PURSUIT OF LOVE by Nancy Mitford

I love this book. It's just so easy and fun to read. It's one of a very few books in my life that I know will cheer me up no matter what, so it has been read variously when I can't sleep, when I've got too much to do, when I've got too little to do, and at sundry other miserable times. I did another swoop through it recently, over a couple of sleepless nights. Fabulous.

As a side point, note her Wikipedia entry, which in its opening paragraphs feels we need to know about her love life. Compare with any male author chosen at random from Wikipedia to see if ANY of them get this kind of treatment.

Monday, 26 January 2015

THE KNOWN WORLD by Edward P Jones

. This is a fantastic novel. I have no idea how I could possibly have never heard of it before. It's so wonderful I gobbled the whole thing down in about two days, unforgivably even reading it when I was supposed to be looking at cheetahs.

THE KNOWN WORLD tells the story of a slave owner in the late 1850s. The oddity of this story is that he is black. His parents were slaves who managed to buy their freedom, and their son - now free to do whatever he pleases - chooses to own slaves himself. His parents are horrified, and when they visit him refuse to sleep in the 'big house' with him, but instead sleep in the slave quarters. The book is interesting then as an unusual take on what we think we understand about slavery; but what makes it really compelling is the really incredible vividness of the world created. There are - I would estimate - at least fifty to seventy unique characters in this book, each expertly written enough that you feel that you are getting an overview of an entire community. Characters appear and die in a paragraph. "My daddy made it for me," a slave child, Tessie, responds to a question about her doll. In the next sentence she is dying. "She would repeat those words just before she died, a little less than 90 years later."

To say therefore that the novel is 'about a slave owner' is over-simplifying - it's about an entire world. And it's gorgeously written. Here's a man giving another man some sweets for his children:
He went into the jail and returned with a small burlap sack no bigger than a puppy's head. "Some sweets for them chaps, Barnum. Some horehound. A little peppermint for the chaps"
Puppy's head? Horrifying metaphor. I love it. Or here's man planning the gravestone for his cousin, who he just murdered to acquire some gold coins:
"All the gold would mean that he could buy a giant tombstone for John's grave, one as large as the man himself had been. He envisioned a tombstone so big that wild and insane men would come down from their lairs in the Virginia mountains and worship at the tombstone, thinking it stood over the grave of someone who had been a god."

Apparently Edward P Jones thought about the novel for some ten years before he wrote it, and then put the whole thing on paper in just twelve weeks after getting made redundant from his job at a tax journal. This amazes me. It's only January, but I think we can be sure this book will make it onto my "Best of 2015" come December. Unfortunately it's his only novel, so now I am back to reading works by lesser mortals.