This Man and This Woman - James T. Farrell
Simply written, about two simple people dealing with psychological problems far beyond their ability to cope. This depressing relationship, which came through in all its misery on every page, got to be too much for me. This is a case of a writer faithfully and effectively conveying emotions, but he presented them in too unrelenting a way.
Silas Marner - George Eliot
A good, well-constructed novel, but one which never came alive for me. I didn’t find Silas to be a real, multi-dimensioned character, especially in his miser days. When Eppie arrived, I appreciated her golden presence, but she was too perfect. This is a major failing in Victorian novels – virtue is perfect, without complexity. The other plot line, with the Cass family, did have complexity (interesting, how effective the Victorians were when handling evil). A third characteristic of Victorian novels is that moral issues are explored, though Eliot was too obvious in putting her instructional points across.
A Sport and a Pastime - James Salter
I felt ambivalent as I read this book. Salter grants a legitimate power to sex, which he presents graphically (more graphically then need be; things get gross at times). The novel is about (maybe) the fact that we can die of love. Or the lack of it. It raises the possibility that events are happening to an imaginary couple dreamed up by the lonely narrator. An intriguing angle – but was this the case? All the hidden meanings, accumulating rather than taking any discernible shape, became frustrating. I finally decided that Salter was indulging in literary posturing, a conclusion supported by his overly-elegant prose, and at this point I had enough.
Restless House (Pot-Bouille) - Emile Zola (French)
I sometimes felt I was looking into a cesspool – Zola is that ferocious toward the residents of the apartment house he fictionally roams; he examines the hypocrisy, avarice, maliciousness, and indifference toward others contained in its rooms. Not a pretty picture of man. But on closer reflection many characters are just weak, and some are good. The writing is forceful and, often, funny – which the book needs, as unremitting disgust is too hard to take. I can understand why this book was banned in France; but Zola wrote out of conviction, not to shock. *