Monday, September 22, 2008

The Invisible Player - Giuseppe Pontiggia (Italian)
A intellectual/emotional puzzle. It begins with an unsigned article in a scholarly journal on the etymology of the word “hypocrite.” The professor (that’s his only name) at the center of the book takes the article as a personal attack and begins a search for its author. Yet the search becomes unfocused, ambiguous. Odd characters (suspects) abound, the plot takes strange detours. All this is confusing but not quite frustrating, because the ideas on every page have vitality. The ending is both concrete (a character kills himself) and diffuse (there’s a “so what?” attitude to the death); we still know nothing. Pointlessness may be the point of this whole excursion, though for me the lack of something stunning, after all the complex buildup, was a letdown. Still, the book went into unchartered territory, and the trip was worth taking.

The Muses Are Heard - Truman Capote
Pleasant – no axes to grind, no character assassinations. Well-written – of course. An interesting look at the Communist Soviet Union. But no depth, so it was merely a diversion.

An Only Child - Frank O’Connor
This is not a successful autobiography. O’Connor is too emotionally reticent; he states feelings but is wary about showing them. His mother emerges fairly well, but O’Connor doesn’t. Minor characters come alive more fully than he does. This shadowy boy is not someone I cared about. The efforts at humor are creaky. When he grew into manhood (and the IRA) I had enough.

Therese - Francois Mauriac (French)
The book begins with Therese’s criminal case (poisoning her husband) being dismissed for lack of evidence. Yet she will never be free from that crime. Never, to the end of her sad life. This is a psychological study of what the author calls an “odious character.” Yet the “odious” Therese shares a common humanity with us all. Life, for her, is a struggle in which her terrible adversary is herself. There’s much here that’s true and incisive (but so unpleasant that it’s commonly swept out of sight). Yet the book has major faults. It’s so fixed on states of mind that it makes for laborious reading; a muddled and inconsistent plot doesn’t help. Also, the intensity sometimes moves into melodrama; Mauriac went full out when he should have pulled back. The final section is burdened by endless (it seems) people and events and complications. One complication – the young man becoming romantically involved with the aging Therese – rings false. Mauriac made bad choices. Still, parts of this book have the potency of a poison – like the arsenic Therese gave her husband.

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