Saturday, July 5, 2008

Moon Tiger - Penelope Lively
A mood of mystery and sadness infuses this novel. By means of flashbacks the author takes us with Claudia through her whole life, and we’re with her at the end of it, in a hospital room, looking at the lights and shadows through the window. The romance at the emotional heart of the story is done well. Lively writes beautiful prose; one is aware of that, and she demands your concentration, but this evocative book flows with grace. *

McKay’s Bees - Thomas McMahon
I liked the businesslike approach, assertive and clear; I liked the diverse characters, I liked the premise of the story. Then it turned stagnant. The characters and the situation were not developed. Instead the author began concentrating more and more on factual material, as if he were writing a text.

The Drinker - Hans Fallada (German)
Proletarian prose, in which Fallada has a character take a drink and quickly descend into a hell of self-destructive alcoholism. Actually, the man is crazy – that’s the only way to account for his deterioration. Drink isn’t the issue. I read that Fallada doesn’t revise; he should have. There’s some vigor to this, but it was unreasonable and melodramatic and sloppy, and I couldn’t finish it. I thought his What Now, Little Man? was very good, but I read that long ago, and now I’m suspicious.

Cast a Cold Eye - Mary McCarthy
These are social dissections, not stories. People are caricatures of a type and exist only to make the author’s points. The observations are often accurate, fresh and amusing, but not vital to me. The prose, too, was difficult; it slowed down this reader, who was already slowing down. The only story that had real life was “Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?”, but in it there was a real character: Poor little Mary McCarthy herself. This one, in which the author’s eye is not cold, was terrific.

Blindness - Henry Green
Written when Green was in his teens, this is a remarkable work for the first half. The author has control over a variety of devices – a journal, letters, interior monologues. Then the book turns to the love interest, first exploring, for a long chapter, a girl’s day, then showing the girl and John together – and the whole thing breaks down. The language becomes stilted (purposely, I think; an authorial effect that doesn’t work), the emotions dubious (how did John get to be the person we are presented with?). All authenticity vanished, and I stopped reading. Green suddenly seemed like the teenager he was.

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