Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sanshiro - Natsume Soseki (Japanese)
I was surprised at how this novel – Japanese, written in 1908 – seemed so modern (including the direct, clear style of writing). Pleasurable throughout. The main character is real and appealing; what concerned him concerned me. The other, secondary male figures are strong too. Yet there’s something elusive about this novel: I couldn’t understand Mineko. I found her to be an intriguing character, but I could never gain access to her emotions and motivations. What were the demons troubling her? She made mysterious statements that were never resolved – and I wanted them to be. Perhaps the mystery surrounding her is one Sanshiro, and thus the reader, can never penetrate. One more note is struck here – Soseki recreates the golden world of youth, just before disillusion sets in. At the book’s end it seems that Sanshiro has undergone an experience that he’ll look back at with deep regret, yet he remains resilient and hopeful. I’ll read more of Soseki. *

The Farewell Party - Milan Kundera (Czech)
Kundera is a cerebral writer, more a moral philosopher than a novelist. Plot is subservient to his intellectual pursuits, and though we’re constantly in the minds of his characters, they function mainly to convey his ideas. Because they aren’t fully-developed individuals, I was only mildly involved in their unlikely predicaments. Still, if you’re in the mood for a cynical look at human nature in the abstract, Kundera does it at a high level.

All the Little Live Things - Wallace Stegner
An elegant prose stylist, an intelligent mind at work. Yet this novel suffers from tidiness – everything is arranged too perfectly; I was aware of the author fussing over his craft. And once Stegner sets up his premise, there’s no forward momentum. We get the main character’s thoughts in monotonous and repetitive detail. I couldn’t finish the book.

Chatterton - Peter Ackroyd
Everything in this novel is aggressively bizarre. Initially this quality was intriguing; the plot had mystery, the main character was interesting. Then other characters were introduced who were exceedingly nasty. The book took on an ugly aspect; even the humor was distasteful. When Chatterton finally made his appearance he was a crucial disappointment – just another bizarre and nasty player on a stage already crowded with them. At this point I had enough of an author whose aim is to fascinate and repel.

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