Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saints and Strangers - Angela Carter
An abundance of riches on display, both imaginative and verbal. Talent galore. Overflowing. Am I saying too much? The point is that Carter often says too much. The riches flow too copiously, overwhelming the narrative. And sometimes the subject is not worth the image-filled verbiage lavished on it. Three stories succeed, and their atmospherics are remarkable: “The Fall River Ax Murders,” “Peter and the Wolf,” and “The Kitchen Child.” But some stories are flops; Carter can be boring. To put it mildly, this is a mixed bag.

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult - retold by Bedier (French)
Graceful translation by Hilaire Belloc (who must have been true to Bedier). Graceful in the simplicity of the language. The book gives insight into the medieval mind and perhaps shows us the origins of romantic love. The love is caused not by two people responding to each other but by their drinking a magic potion; they’re bound supernaturally. Although the Christian religion pervades the story, it’s intermixed with spells, healing herbs, hairy giants, etc. And much brutality. These began as oral tales and were gradually compiled into one narrative. It doesn’t flow seamlessly – there’s repetition. Also, Tristan and Iseult are two-dimensional; love is their third dimension, controlling them. I found that the book couldn’t hold my attention when taken in large doses, but one chapter a day was rewarding.

The Old Beauty - Willa Cather
Three long stories, done near the end of Cather’s life, all concerned with mortality. They’re not dark; rather, a detached sadness prevails. And, unfortunately, a tiredness. In two stories Cather goes through the motions of creating emotions, but characters who can convey those emotions are missing. Only “The Best Years” has resonance. It succeeds because Cather tells about the people of a past time – the time of her prairie youth – and this lit a spark in her. And thus in me.

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