Monday, 29 June 2009

All In The Family

Finished As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

This novel has been called Faulkner's masterpiece - the introduction of the "stream of consciousness" novel; the start of Southern Gothic, if you will.

I enjoyed this novel, but couldn't put out of my head something I had read years earlier in The Onion (a satirical newspaper) - a spoof advice column entitled "Ask A Faulknerian Idiot Man-Child". The dialogue spoken by the "idiot man-child" very cleverly mirrors the style of speech Faulkner uses for most of his characters.

Once I got past this (for the most part), I found As I Lay Dying to be moving, tragic, poetic. What seems to be a simple gesture to honor a family member's dying request is revealed through the many narrators (including the dying woman herself) to be a smaller part of a complex and tangled family web.

Nobody is perfect in the Bundren family - actually, far from it - but sympathies still run high even after secrets are revealed - infidelity, pregnancy, betrayal, even faking an illness. These characters' weaknesses only make them more human; more palpable; more real.

Faulkner's words bring the settings as well as the characters to life - one can feel the heat, smell the sweat, hear the rain. Stark beauty.

Up next: The 39 Steps by John Buchan.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

To Be Or Not To Be

Finished The Outsider by Albert Camus.

This novel is considered to be one of the classic existentialist pieces of literature. I would agree with that consideration, to be sure.

It's strange, but I actually finished this book fairly quickly, but found it difficult to muster up the energy and drive to write about it. I would say that Camus definitely succeeded in making me not care very much - how odd that a novel can have such an effect.

Meursault (the protagonist) lives life for the moment - not because he is ill or a thrill-seeker, but because it's just the way life is to be lived for him. He cares nothing for the past, present or future. Life is what it is to him; he chooses to glide through it, untouched by anything, including the death of his mother.

This lack of emotion expressed by Meursault isn't due to his callousness or coldness; it is just who he is. He

The novel is, despite the main character's static being, quietly moving and beautifully detailed. Passion is there to be had, but just not by Meursault. Interesting.

Next up: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. My first foray into Faulknerian Americana.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Finished The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) yesterday.

Meh. It was all right - I didn't really FEEL this one. Supposedly one of France's most revered novels (on a par with The Catcher in the Rye for Americans) - a tale of lost love, lost adolescence, lost innocence.

(SPOILERS) For me, although the imagery of the novel was quite striking, the plot and characters were thinly drawn - and improbable. Why would Meaulnes pursue this girl, whom he had seen only once, for years and years? And why, when he at last found her, and find her willing to return his infatuation, abandon her to pursue righting a wrong that wasn't his to begin with?

I felt very little sympathy for the character of Meaulnes, and found myself getting a bit angry with the narrator, Seurel, for making concessions for Meaulnes' erratic and sometimes selfish behaviour. Seurel, when he meets Yvonne (the object of Meaulnes' obsession), finds her to be a lovely, kind and selfless woman who truly deserves better than the overgrown child she surrenders herself to.

I suppose one could argue that this was a portrayal of teenage impetuousness and the quest to right wrongs - but the misguided sympathies for characters who deserve none undermines that portrayal.

Maybe something was lost in translation, but I found this novel to be a bit of a damp squib. The French would be horrified!

Up next: The Outsider by Albert Camus. A bit of existentialism.

Friday, 12 June 2009

It's All In Your Head

Finished A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess yesterday.

Loved it loved it loved it. Such a different concept...and I really had to adjust my brain while reading it (Burgess's narrator, Alex, speaks mostly in a made-up dialect based on will have to read it to see what I mean).

Alex is a teenager (shockingly young) who get his kicks - literally - by behaving in a nihilistic, ultra-violent manner. He is eventually caught, and an experimental treatment is imposed upon him - perhaps equally as violent, but one designed to "cure" him of his violent ways.

However (SPOILER) me, Alex didn't need to be "cured" - he needed to be taught and cared for. His jailers and doctors think that Alex is uncaring, unfeeling - but this is untrue: Alex cares, but for violence and beauty and destruction.

To me, Burgess was making a savage comment on teenage society at the time, but also on the state, and how criminals were rehabilitated.

Burgess apparently was upset at the amount of attention that this book of his received, even though he had written many others. It was the extreme nature of this novel - and the classic depiction of an anti-hero in Alex - that made it such a draw to readers - and ultimately movie-goers. Must get this film!

Up next: Have already started The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Henri Alain-Fournier.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Breakfast For One

Finished Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote in just one day.

What an enchanting little slip of a novel. A bit darker than the movie version (which, of course, has its Hollywood ending), the novel focuses on the narrator's point of view. Holly is an enigma to him, and thus completely fascinating, with her nocturnal comings and goings, her bizarre acquaintances, her ability to appear immaculate despite chaotic surroundings.

Capote's novel is a bit of a love letter to New York in the early 1940s...interesting to see a description of a town almost completely untouched by the world war raging around it. These characters are focused on their immediate surroundings, and Holly's escapist tendencies are regarded as enviable in difficult times.

And I HAVE been to Tiffany's, and can understand completely what Holly means when she describes it as a place to escape to; to feel calm and right with the world. It's a wonderful place.

I definitely want to read more Capote now...and read more about him. The Black and White Ball? Fabulous, darling.

Up next: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

A Minor Blip

Sorry, folks....

Just couldn't get into Martin Chuzzlewit - got about a third of the way through before giving up. I will, of course, return to it at a later date, but just couldn't put my heart into this one at the present time.

Will start Breakfast At Tiffany's by Truman Capote today. New blog entry soon. :)