Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
Most of these stories shouldn’t have been published; they weren’t meant to be. Nabokov was doodling self-indulgently (probably with failed ideas for novels). He displays his intelligence and his verbal acrobatics, but to no purpose. That said, in this huge collection there are about ten stories in which Nabokov is at his masterly best. But how does one find them in this haystack?

Entertaining Strangers - A. R. Gurney
Mildly pleasant humor that ran out of steam. The first person narrator was likable, but the situation (academic politics) couldn’t carry the action. A weak villain didn’t help. At the 150 page point the author was slogging along to get fifty more pages, so that he could call it a novel. I quit befor he did.

The Egoist - George Meredith
A novel of extreme intelligence – almost too much so. It’s difficult to follow Meredith’s convoluted prose and his ideas. However, it’s well worth the effort. Two great characters – Willoughby and Clara – in a struggle: he to retain his sense of superiority and she to break an engagement to a man who has become repugnant to her. Clara is also breaking from the confining mold of the Victorian female – she’s going against society’s edicts as to how a woman should act. Her desperate need, at any cost, to free herself is presented wonderfully; she’s an exhilarating character. The setting for their struggle is a country estate, the cast is limited to a half dozen people (including one of the most appealing and genuine little boys in literature). This framework allows concentration on some basic and important issues. The book is about values, about what really matters in life. The ending, in which the author tries to emphasize the comic confusion, is more confusing than comic and is the novel’s weakest stretch. Also, the man Clara loves is merely a composite of virtues. But Willoughby’s defeat (in which all he can salvage is his reputation in the eyes of the world) is depicted with force. I even felt a bit sorry for him. *

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