Saturday, October 4, 2008

New Grub Street - George Gissing
A novel about the literary life, written in 1891 but relevant today. I liked the anger and cynicism in this portrayal of writers and the business of writing. The manipulator wins out in the end; the two true artists are dead and forgotten. The book is a bracing antidote to cheery platitudes. But it’s more than a polemic. The subjects of love, poverty and the calcifying effects of failure are also explored with honesty and perception. All of Gissing’s characters have depth; Marion, in particular, was a strong feminine presence, and her loss of love was moving. The book has one foot in Victorian times – in the prose style, the depiction of emotions – and so it’s somewhat dated. But Gissing thinks and understands. When those qualities in a writer no longer have value, the cynicism of New Grub Street will be fully justified. *

Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
Pleasant, funny, but not enough for me to continue reading. I like a more character and plot-based type of humor. This book is composed of riffs.

The Middle of the Journey - Lionel Trilling
An intelligent novel. That’s its predominant quality. It may go too deep into motivations, and the subject (communism in the USA) is no longer relevant, but I still read with interest. What helped is the prose, lucid and pleasurable. However, I was perplexed by the romantic angle (which interested me more than communism). Laskell’s attitude toward Emily and Susan lacks compassion. Yet it was Trilling who created those two female characters – he created my feelings for them. It’s because of him that I can censure Laskell for not caring enough. Was Trilling revealing a lack in Laskell? Or had he, like his character, simply lost interest in the women? I think the answer is to be found in the introduction, where Trilling writes about politics exclusively.

The End of My life - Vance Bourjaily
A novel by a young man – and it shows. Immaturity is its major fault. The author presents us with a hero who has everything a man could desire – even a smashingly good woman in love with him – and he shows this hero indulging in the pleasures that are at his beck and call, doing everything with wit and authority. But then the author imposes on this character (as opposed to it arising from the character himself) a fatal flaw: an indifference to life. Life is so empty, don’t you know, for this generation that grew up between the wars. Or some such nonsense. The anomie deepens, suicide is contemplated, etc. The last scene has a prison meeting between our hero and the good woman, but he spurns her love because Life is, don’t you know, empty for us lost ones.

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