Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Little Hotel - Christina Stead
Though little, the novel has messiness and density. Novellas are usually sparse, concise, concentrated, but Stead was a very undisciplined writer; she was not one to be contained within boundaries or abide by rules. Some examples: she has a character occupy a large part of the first half of the book, then she abruptly drops him; she concentrates on issues in an obsessively insistent way. These things work because Stead writes with such a strong inner conviction that the reader is persuaded to accept her terms. At any rate, the hotel is there, and a very sad group of people occupy it. *

Martin Bauman - David Leavitt
I borrowed this from the library because it was about a writer, written by an insider, so I thought I’d find out what the literary life is like. What I discovered is that you don’t have to be a good writer to get a book published; I made it halfway through this undistinguished effort. The prose was wordy and pedantic, foolishly elaborate, and Leavitt constantly repeated himself, sometimes the same thought on the same page. Weak character development, lame plot. A book filled with vacuous gossip.

All We Know of Love - Katie Schneider
This is a first novel, and in the beginning I was impressed by how polished a piece of work it was. However, there were problems, subtle ones that began to nag, to slow down my reading til I stopped two thirds of the way through. The self-centeredness of the main character (who’s obviously the author’s alter ego) is the root weakness. One result of that self-centeredness is that all other characters, not being of much importance, have a one-dimensional sameness. The writing is pretentious; at the end of most sections is a line – quiet, understated – that’s pregnant with significance. Why? Because this author takes herself and her Art and her thoughts and experiences so seriously. Seriousness, self-centeredness – not faults until they leech the liveliness out of matters, turn all into a stagnant grayness. Gray, in this case, because the author’s character is lamenting her sad state throughout – without good reason. The girl is blessed again and again! For example, she goes alone to Venice and falls in with people who love and take care of her. This book is shallow, and that’s its worst failing, for Schneider believed she was plumbing great depths (as is evident in her title).

In the Dutch Mountains - Cees Nooteboom (Dutch)
In the beginning this had a fable-like simplicity – which was good. But then the story began to be told in an elaborate and pedantic way. I don’t know what the author was trying for, but it didn’t work for me.

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