Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Damnation of Theron Ware - Harold Frederick
I think that Frederick changed directions. In the wonderful beginning he created an otherworldly atmosphere. I sensed, with exhilaration, an edifice towering, dark and mysterious. But the author never followed up; the task he set for himself may have been too daunting. So he turned to more mundane matters. The intelligence and the subtlety and the big dimensions were narrowed down. Not that what results is bad; this is a good book. But it’s simply about a man following false values and misinterpreting the world and his place in it. The otherworldly becomes ordinary; the mystery and depth are gone. Frederick regains some of those elements at the end, with Theron’s despair. The extent of its destructiveness is arresting, and in the book’s last, ominous image Theron’s far-reaching aspirations rise, threateningly, on our horizon. *

Gulliver’s Travels - Jonathan Swift
Published in the early 1700s, this book probably introduced many to the pleasures of reading. It’s imaginative, engrossing, and written in a clear, smooth style. Gulliver is human, real, yet he’s mainly a vehicle through which Swift explores ideas. This is not a novel. It’s a travel journal, but the travel is purely in the imagination and is of a philosophical nature. The first two books (about Lilliput and Brobdingnag) are different from the last two, which are less concerned with entertaining the reader and more a critique of humans and society. *

The Color of Blood - Brian Moore
A literary thriller, but not thrilling. The main character’s escape meanders to no purpose. The bishop is one-dimensional; we’re supposed to like him because he says “Thank you” a lot. The plot is muddied in an effort to hide its lack of substance. The ending, with assassins popping up everywhere, is silly. All this from a writer who’s done some excellent things. His unobtrusive prose is workmanlike, but the workman got a little sloppy, and some joints aren’t flush. I wonder what Moore thought of this. Does a good author knows when he’s written a bad book?

Sir Vidia’s Shadow - Paul Theroux
I found this fascinating, wonderfully done, a treat. I was interested in the subject matter: the lives of writers, their thoughts and feelings, and the apprentice/mentor relationship. Theroux’s prose is smooth, inventive; he’s a real pro. The book is actually a hatchet job, done with restraint – until the very end, when Theroux becomes strident in his dislike for Naipaul, as if he’s releasing feelings that have long festered. This is a psychological study of two men, in which Theroux reveals as much about himself as he does about Naipaul. *

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