Saturday, June 21, 2008

Persuasion - Jane Austen
I never finished it; the interest wasn’t there. The main character, Ann, was too Miss Perfect. Maybe Austen identified with her and thus kept piling up the excellencies of character. Also, the prose is difficult in that you can lose your line of thought in its prolonged intricacies. The author has a good touch with humor, and she can satirize people’s foibles nicely, but there wasn’t enough of that and too much of the cloying Ann.

Let It Come Down - Paul Bowles
I had quite enough of Bowles when I finished this novel. He can do so many things well – create interesting characters, scenes, dialogue, mood. The exotic setting (Morocco) was especially good. Yet he can’t make sense of it all. He stays, at length, in his main character’s thoughts, but that mind is muddled from hashish. Bowles moves the plot along in fits and starts; he has people act in unlikely ways, abandons characters and lines of action which he’s spent much time developing. Bowles may be lazy or hashish-addled himself; at any rate, he seems incapable of sustaining logic. What he can do – and does often (I’ve read three of his novels and some stories) – is come up with some really repugnant cruelty at the end.

The Sixth Day - Primo Levi (Italian)
Levi is a chemist, and in this book he takes intriguing scientific ideas and develops them, making a quick, solid point and stopping. Almost all these pieces succeed in what they set out to do: they make one see the world in a fresh light. It’s not Levi’s aim to develop characters or plot, so the main lack of this book – for a reader like me – is its absence of people involved in situations I could relate to. Levi was not a novelist; the closest he came to writing one was The Monkey’s Wrench – and that’s wonderful.

The Sins of the Fathers - Lawrence Block
A private eye novel of the dark, brooding variety, about sordid matters. The writing is pared down, efficiently simple, but the first person voice is too unemotional. It comes across as artificial: the world-weary PI. Not that this book isn’t well done – it all works, even the revelation at the end is plausible – but I read reluctantly, not really enjoying it, not caught up in the events, and wondering if a guilty pleasure should be more pleasurable.

The Man Who Loved Children - Christina Stead
This unique novel sets its own standards and is driven by a passion that sweeps aside all reservations; I accepted its extremeness, its histrionic edge. The prose is initially difficult, but its intricate rhythms are accessible. In Stead’s portrayal of a weirdly dysfunctional family no one is wholly attractive, no one can be labeled as a villain; everyone is too complex to classify or dismiss. This novel sprang unbridled from the best place – somewhere deep inside the author. It’s a great achievement. *

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