Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
There are aspects of greatness in this book - depth, texture, scope - but for me it was too ponderous to enjoy. Scenes, motivations are weighed down by over-description, over-explication. It’s an adventure novel on one level, but the adventure never gets off the ground. In Conrad’s nature there was an exhausting compulsion to examine everything to the nth degree, and that’s too heavy a burden for a story to carry.
The Pearl - John Steinbeck
The book deals simply with simple matters while actually delving into life’s great questions (what do we value; what should we value?). Once Steinbeck sets his course on this morality tale he refuses to give it a happy ending, which is the honest thing to do. But he slips up on logic (the death at the end, as presented, is improbable). Steinbeck makes humane points about human nature, though sometimes those points have a maudlin quality.
The Great Fortune - Olivia Manning
The author found the key to making this book work in the character of Yaki, a wonderfully colorful and fascinating reprobate. She alternates chapters about him with chapters about Guy and Harriet Pringle. It’s Harriet who supplies the POV, and the sections featuring her are a bit drab. Manning seems reticent – probably because the author is Harriet, and Harriet is mainly concerned about her relationship with her husband. So Manning withholds; the reader has little understanding of the intimate dynamics of this marriage. She’s troubled by Guy’s attitude toward her, but Manning doesn’t show things with much force. In most of the scenes Harriet is with somebody else; Guy makes “appearances.” I don’t see Guy as a flesh and blood person (Yaki I do see!). Still, I like wary Harriet. I like the clear, flat, economical style of writing. The Bucharest setting was wonderful – Manning really captures that place: exotic, corrupt, self-indulgent, garish (as are the people who reside there); I felt the weather, the streets at night. This is part of a trilogy, and I’ll read on. *
Less Than Angels - Barbara Pym
Not great Pym. The problem is too many characters; the important ones get diluted by those who don’t deserve the amount of space given to them. Yet, with a Pym novel, there are virtues you can count on: she treats her reader as she would a friend. She will respect you, she will not offend you. She will be herself, and offer herself to you (in the form of her story and characters) with warmth and humor – and do it gently.