Saturday, April 26, 2008

Scoop - Evelyn Waugh
Maybe, after four excellent novels that used the same general approach, Waugh had grown weary. On the same page he has a character stand up twice without bothering to sit him down in between. This gaffe is one example of a general lack of care. Waugh trots out the old tricks, but they’re unanimated, spiritless. The only feeling pushing this book along is a tired and cynical meanness. He uses his typically muted main character, but this one is so vague as to be without personality – just a disembodied voice answering in monosyllables. However, Waugh gathers his forces at the end and shows how good he can be. There’s a wonderful comic scene followed by a sad and beautiful denouement that evokes an almost palpable feeling of loss.

Auto-da-Fe - Elias Canetti (German)
A great novel, but an unpleasant and difficult experience. Canetti went his own way in writing it; the book is like nothing else. Crowded prose, twisting as it follows convoluted thoughts. The four major characters are grotesques, and, since we’re in their minds, we become intimate. But all are warped, repugnant; it’s exhausting to be with them. This is a black look at humanity, but I think what Canetti reveals is valid: people live with delusions and will keep them no matter what; people do not relate to one another, to the point where they can’t even communicate; greed is the primary human motivator. All this is presented with a venomous humor. Some scenes have a power that is unequaled – such as the death of the dwarf; an amazing scene. *

Young Hearts Crying - Richard Yates
A man and a woman have their faults, weaknesses and self-deceptions revealed to them. I’ve read five books in which Yates has done this. He’s effective because he works with the commonplace – we see ourselves in these characters, so the exposure is discomfiting (Yates can make you wince when a character does something humiliating or stupid). Also, Yates’ prose serves only to reveal character; he’s stripped it down to that alone, and its unadorned directness is commendable. That said, I didn’t like this book. Michael is so unappealing that the necessary empathy with the reader is missing. Everybody talks in the same way, even using the same quirks of real speech. Secondary characters serve merely to expose the weaknesses of the main ones. Lastly, when an author creates a child, and the parents ignore her for a hundred pages, the reader feels a lack in both the characters and the author. Not that this book is a bust; the ending was strong, and I still believe in the authenticity of Yates’ vision of life.

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