Friday, November 21, 2008

The Misalliance - Anita Brookner
As I neared the end of this book I realized that its success depended on whether Brookner could nail the landing. She didn’t come close, and this undermined all the good things that went before. The intriguing issue she explores – the nature of happiness, and how some are unable to grasp it – is tossed aside when Bernie returns. Is the reader to believe that all will be well? The author avoids major problems sure to follow. Also, if Bernie is so integral to Blanche’s happiness, he needed to be more clearly portrayed. He’s sketchy. Still, Blanche’s musings on her unhappiness and her effort to understand those who have the knack for enjoying life are interesting. For a novel so cerebral, this was absorbing. As for that stumble at the end, maybe Brookner cared too much about Blanche to subject her to the truth.

Orlando - Virginia Woolf
An extravagant and sometimes wondrous mess. When Woolf went wandering deep into La-La Land I would promptly get lost. But when she worked from a realistic base – sometimes firmly, sometimes not so – I enjoyed this. Especially the parts about the creative process and, most of all, her hilarious and scathing portrayal of an author replete with all the authorly vices; this six page sequence is worth the price of admission. Still, the book is a mess, full of aimless digressions, boring ruminations, inconsistencies, obscure prose. Yet all that is offset by energy, a joyous pulse, a look at life from a heightened perspective. This is Woolf unleashed.

The Same Door - John Updike
Early stories, and good ones. But the three best – and they’re wonderful – are included in Olinger Stories.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter - Simone de Beauvoir (French)
I liked her honesty and intelligence. Also, how literary and intellectual matters were of such importance to her. The book’s appeal dropped off somewhat when she got into her late teens; there was too much soul-searching (which is what goes on at that time of life). But Simone makes the story of her mental and moral development interesting. Being part of the French upper class, she lived in a constrictive world for women. Her ridding herself of constraints, her choosing to enjoy life on her terms, is admirable.

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