Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Counterfeiters - Andre Gide (French)
A book which engages the intellect. Ideas and feelings are observed meticulously. In the beginning there was some action and color, a spirit of adventure, and I enjoyed it; but in the second half it turned arid and leaden. The use of a writer’s journal to record events leached all liveliness from the narrative. Gide relied on too many plot coincidences to get characters where he wanted them; people appear and disappear; their motivations, even their personalities, shift. The homoerotic undertone never emerges from the shadows. Ideas and feelings pile up haphazardly while still being scrutinized laboriously. The seriousness and intelligence of it all began to seem ostentatious. There’s an iron-like rigidity to this book, due to its intellectual rigor – but the rigidity excludes the necessities of good fiction. Geniuses can go their own way, but I don’t think Gide was a genius.

The History Man - Malcolm Bradbury
An entertaining book, odd in purpose and structure. There’s much talk about abstract concepts and sociological ideas (though the characters doing the talking are flesh and blood creations). The dominant force is Howard Kirk, achieving his devious ends with an unflappable drive. I caught whiffs of evil from this master manipulator. I wanted him to get his comeuppance – and, maybe, at the end, he does. This ending is good, leaving one with conclusions and life histories to be mulled over beyond the last page. A problem is that the characters, once established, don’t change much, and even the secondary ones are unappetizing (while spouting theories about social and personal justice, they cannot act decently and seem to have no consciences). There’s a repellent feel to this book. But the repellent can be entertaining – up to a point. Bradbury was smart enough to put a halt to the proceedings before I became alienated.

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