Esmond in India - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Wonderful entertainment. Many of the characters are self-deluded (though the author lets the reader reach that conclusion). Much of the book’s humor comes from this self-delusion, as people go about thinking they are one way when they’re not. There are other contradictions that are amusing, such as the love of material things and prestige in a society that purports to eschew these as merely transitory. The ending, which leaves most matters unresolved, works because the reader has a good idea of what will happen. This is a tribute to the author, and it again shows her faith in the reader. I’ve mentioned several times the humorous aspect of this novel, but like all good humor it’s close to the truth and close to tragedy. *
The Child in Time - Ian McEwan
McEwan’s terse description of the abduction of the child is just right, just enough; it has impact. Then he follows a muted Stephen through his pointless days, and that seems right too. The prose is muscular and engaging; McEwan’s a craftsman. But he makes two mistakes. The business about Charles regressing to boyhood was silly. The big ending comes off as false because it was clearly a setup. A scene earlier in the book, when Stephen and his wife make love, was there only to prepare for the finale. Why wouldn’t his wife contact him earlier about her pregnancy? Why the urgent phone call at the crucial moment? Why give birth far from medical care? Why? – because it led to the life-affirming scene that McEwan was after, that’s why. Authors manipulate the reader, but we should never see them moving the props around.
Blue Angel - Francine Prose
Some things worked initially – the humor, the running commentary by an interesting third person narrator. But the story veered onto a different track when S-E-X began to dominate. Suddenly the narrator was doing weird things, and I couldn’t fathom the reasons for his behavior. A sense of murkiness, of something nasty behind every corner of the mind became pervasive. I kept reading with interest, but the inexplicability of what was going on nagged, annoyingly. At the end Prose leaves everything unresolved. It amounts to abandonment, and what came to my mind was a teacher who throws up her hands and walks out of an unruly classroom; yet, in this case, Prose had created the chaos. Since I mentioned teachers, the book made me wonder about one thing: Do all professors have sex with their psychopathic students? It so often happens in novels written by professors.