Friday, August 15, 2008

The Chateau - William Maxwell
I’ve always thought that, as a writer, Maxwell had something special. That special quality is at the core of this novel. It presents a married couple on vacation in France; the man relates their experiences, observations, conversations – all the little and large events that occur. It’s pleasant enough, interesting enough. But what matters, underlying everything, is that this is a book about love. Harold and Barbara are inseparable – one is not complete without the other. The word “love” is not bandied about, but it’s implicit on every page. And there’s more. Maxwell (who is Harold) is aware of what he has; he’s also aware of the other side of life: loneliness, loss, depression (Maxwell didn't marry until he was 37). So there’s an appreciation of joy and a recognition of sadness. In The Chateau the author and his wife relive something precious to them, and Maxwell lets us share it. *

Kafka’s Other Trial - Elias Canetti (German)
In this book Canetti studies, with his stressful, nitpicking intensity, the letters Kafka wrote to Felice. I could only read half the book, then skimmed the rest. What struck me forcefully is how miserable Kafka was and how he tried to make others miserable (poor Felice). I suppose one can see his work as the only redeeming element in all the suffering. I was left disturbed and depressed.

Lucy - Jamaica Kincaid
I disliked Lucy. Maybe I have a problem with women being so blunt, especially when it comes to sexual matters (such as Lucy’s having sex with two men in the same day, with no compunction – ugh). Since we’re in her mind, we get a big dose of Lucy (Lucifer – and she likes that name). She’s selfish, extremely self-absorbed, depressed, ungrateful (she’s blessed in her circumstances – blessed!). She acts badly, has errant emotions that are mean-spirited, and she blames it all on her overpowering mother. On the last page she’s weeping about wanting so much to love someone, but she didn’t devote one lousy sentence in the book to the four little girls she was au pair to. Spare me your tears, I thought. Still – here’s the rub: my strong response shows how honest a writer Kincaid is; surely she knew what a bad impression she was making, but she did it anyway. I was left wondering about Lucy: did she grow up to become a decent person; did she get the love she wanted; did she relinquish her consuming hatred for her mother?

Unwelcome Words - Paul Bowles
Bowles dabbles at the typewriter, working over his old themes: world-weary sophistication, depravity, ornate cruelty. Yet he writes well, and he does have an ingrained world view, an alarmingly bleak one. The last story, which seems to be real letters written by him, is nastily effective – unwelcome words indeed!

No comments: