Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Patagonia - Bruce Chatwin
Well written, but for me a travel book needs a vital human presence at its center. Theroux did this in The Great Railway Bazaar – he was what the book was about, and I found him interesting. Chatwin reveals little about himself. He describes the characters he meets well enough, but they have little affect on him. Also, there’s a lot of filler – facts he researched and presents at length. At the halfway point I decided I didn’t care enough about Patagonia.

The Greengage Summer - Rummer Godden
The last third was disappointing. Up to then the book had been an atmospheric evocation of youth and budding womanhood in a delicately-rendered French setting. An expert job. Then Godden launched into the plot (which had been dormant) and things turned melodramatic and silly. Characters I liked I stopped liking. The final insult is the “ending” – actually, Godden just hurriedly wraps things up, leaving many important issues unresolved. Maybe she realized what a shambles her lovely novel had become.

A Woman of Means - Peter Taylor
A very good novella. It’s a psychological study of three people. The father is the weak link – he’s a wooden character. But the boy and his stepmother come across strongly. This is a complex work in which thoughts and motivations are explored in all their tangled and contradictory aspects. But it’s a tribute to Taylor’s exploration that, when the stepmother goes crazy, it’s startling and yet in keeping with all that preceded. We see the seeds of her mental disintegration in what went before (although we may not have recognized it). The novel is static – not much action takes place – but it was engrossing throughout.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s - Truman Capote
Holly Golightly is an interesting creation, and because of her this is a mildly diverting novella. Though it got a bit thin, even for its short length, and Capote resorted to makeshift plot twists to keep it going. I didn’t care to read the other stories, though I had previously read the last one, “A Christmas Memory.” Now there’s a gem!

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