Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life Is Elsewhere - Milan Kundera (Czech)
Other books don’t go where this one does. Kundera explores his characters at a deeper level. To read this is to experience something new – and honest and brave. Brave because Kundera brings up things – such as Jaromil’s relationship with his mother – that other writers (and readers) avoid out of “good taste.” Not that Kundera is vulgar. He’s concerned with a degree of intimacy that we mostly look away from, even in our thinking. That’s a problem in reading the book – it’s often ugly and hits uncomfortably close to home when it exposes cruelties and selfish motivations that are common in human interactions. Also, Kundera demands a rigorous attention – he can tire you out. It’s not a fun read, but I was left mostly with respect. *

Wickford Point - John P. Marquand
This novel’s main virtue is the elegance of the writing. Though the plot held little intrinsic interest for me, I was carried along pleasantly for over 400 pages. I was never vitally engaged; rather nicely lulled, fairly interested in the cast of characters – maybe, at times, doubting their authenticity, but never enough for me to lose faith. Yet, days after I finished the book, it turned out to be more than a diverting read; I found myself missing its people and wanting to be with them again.

A Month in the Country - J. L. Carr
A short book, well-written (simplicity, ability to catch the essence of a person or place with a few words) and a big theme: how life passes us, our regret at that loss. The plot interweaves the mysterious uncovering of a sacred wall painting with the mundane aspects of country life. An evocative novel, gentle, loving, melancholy. However, the feelings evoked are diffuse; it’s a mood piece, and as such it lacks force.

King, Queen, Knave - Vladimir Nabokov (Russian)
Nabokov reworked this book, which he wrote in his twenties. It’s brilliant – its colorfulness, verve, audacity. The characters and scenes are vivid, the language glitters and dances, maniacally at times. He takes the shopworn theme of a love triangle/murder plot and, about two-thirds way through, the reader finds himself in the middle of a nightmare. That’s where a ferocity sets in. Things turn horrendous, sickening – moral corruption emerges as the theme. But Nabokov is not a moralist; he’s a cold and cruel writer, examining people like he would chloroformed butterfly specimens. His only mistake in this tour de force is that he overdoes the fantastic element. (Did he need the human-like dummies and the crazy landlord?) *

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