Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Diary of a Rapist - Evan Connell
The problem for a novel told entirely in diary form lies in its limitations. It’s difficult to have a plot, to create scenes, even to have secondary characters of much substance. All these problems exist in this book, the most glaring of which is that the wife is unconvincing. The only thing an author can do forcibly in this format is enter one person’s mind. This Connell does. It’s grueling, because the mind we go into is a sick one (actually, an unhappy one, to a terrible degree); we emerge somewhere far from where we expected. All the faults and weaknesses of Earl Summerfield are swept aside. In the ending he achieves a form of redemption – the only kind allowed to him. Disregard the lurid title; it’s misleading. *

The Savage State - Georges Conchon (French)
The tone of this book, set in Africa, is unusual, and it took me a long while to feel comfortable with it. There’s a burlesque quality to the writing. But the events themselves are not comic – they’re horrible. Also, everything that happens is accompanied by a commentary as to how someone feels about it. This slows down the action; the author insists that you think about what’s going on. By the end, I felt that these authorial choices were valid, though they didn’t make for an engaging reading experience.

Oh! - Mary Robison
Pointillistic fiction, each colorful dot adding up to a whole. Plotwise, nothing much happens – the characters kind of meander about, talking a lot. However, by an accretion of dots, we get to see these people quite well. What would be fatal to this type of aimless fiction is if you didn’t want to be with the characters. But I definitely liked and cared about them. I enjoyed their deadpan humor. This book has a sparkle, a loose and jaunty feel, and it presents life from a fresh perspective. *

October Island - William March
The prose is transparent in its intentions: clarity and smoothness. The characters also seem simple and their motivations clear. When March reveals something misshapen under their surfaces, it’s done with the same simplicity; the effect is unsettling. The plot of the book is quite well-suited for presenting the “truths” that March intends to undermine. An elderly Christian couple, missionaries, come to an island to convert the pagan natives, but unexpected events leave them reduced to their human essentials. The author intertwines a look at religious belief with selfishness, loneliness and longing. Theme and the telling are meshed perfectly. William March is an author who deserves to still be read; if not this novel, try The Bad Seed or Company K. *

2 comments:

j. m. said...

These are so bloody rich I'm amazed & spellbound by the reviews themselves. Each acts as a mini-short story telling the tale of you & book - hand in hand, brain cells in paper...

Phillip Routh said...

I appreciate the words, j.m.
I wrote Connell a letter after reading Diary. He wrote back, saying that to him the novel never fully succeeded.
Well, maybe not "fully," but the ways it does succeed are unique and valuable.
I used to write authors a letter of appreciation, but so many didn't respond that I quit. Maybe this blog will serve the same purpose as a letter.
Connell is well-represented on my most meaningful books list.