Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
While I can understand why this was such a success in England, I increasingly lost interest until, just short of the end, I skimmed. I found things too pat. The monstrous country bumpkins turned out to be pussy cats (which was a letdown). Flora navigates too smoothly, with all her plans panning out without a hitch. Everybody has one dimension. It was humorous for a while, but petered out.

Bitter Lemons - Lawrence Durrell
Until the halfway point I was somewhat involved. This first part concerned Durrell’s life in Cyprus (getting to know the colorful characters, buying a house, etc.). But then he goes into the labyrinth politics of the country, and I felt no desire to wade through that.

The Incurable Wound - Berton Roueche
These pieces first ran in The New Yorker. As “narratives of medical detection” they’re as good as it gets. The writing is concise and clear; the author embeds technical information in true-life stories. I found every one of these pieces to be entertaining – and also learning experiences. My favorite was “Ten Feet Tall,” in which Roueche follows a man’s mental disintegration.

The Passion - Jeanette Winterson
Winterson’s rarified world is rampant with the fantastic (a web-footed woman, a man with a telescopic eye, a walk across Russia in “Zero Winter,” etc.). Though emotions are supposedly of primary importance, they’re presented in a fragmented and cryptic way; the dots don’t connect. Anyway, I need characters to be human for me to care about them, and even the the female character at the center of the novel is an extravagant concoction. What insights could Winterson offer me? – just that she’s self-indulgent and pretentious (complete with a precious, aren’t-I-wonderful prose style). And she can be awfully gross and cruel at times – another aspect of her profligate imagination.

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