Monday, December 29, 2008

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel - George Meredith
A Victorian novel done in Meredith’s intricate style – his prose is crafted like delicate metal latticework. The author expects the reader to be as intelligent as he is, which can be demanding. Still, this is interesting as a psychological study. Did the impetuous, foolhardy pride Richard displayed as a boy compel him as a man to go through with a duel he could have avoided? The book has depth and ambiguity, and that’s good. The problem is that the main characters are almost feverish in their emotions (did people in Victorian times really carry on this way?). The minor players stay earthbound, and succeed very well there.

The Finishing School - Muriel Spark
This is a long short story packaged as a novel. The author, nearly ninety, doesn’t have the wicked bite of years ago; her attitude toward her flawed characters is one of mild amusement. Her subject is publishing and the relationships between writers, focusing on their machinations to achieve success. Though cynical (I liked her use of the word “crap” to describe the novel that has long been the mysterious center of attention), this is no New Grub Street. Still, I enjoyed my leisurely stroll with Dame Muriel.

A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe (Japanese)
Dark, passionate, driven, this is a cathartic journey in which Oe succeeds in digging deep into a character (Bird) and at the same time giving us a dilemma worthy of the intensity. The novel moves the reader to turn the page but also compels him to go places emotionally. Oe presents his intimate story in a direct, easy to read style, though the matters he explores are densely tangled, almost too complex to deal with. There’s a lot of sex, much of it distasteful, but it’s an integral part of what Bird experiences. Nothing Oe does is gratuitous; he cared far too much. This novel is raw honesty, but raw honesty is very difficult to convey artfully. Problems with the book? The ending is too abrupt. Maybe Oe couldn’t do justice to the tangle he had created without another fifty pages, and he wasn’t up to that task. Himiko, an extremely appealing, well-drawn female character, is given the short shrift, which I kind of resented (because I cared about her). But I forgive Oe for these shortcomings. He wrote a great novel. *

No comments: