Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wisteria Cottage - Robert Coates
Coates enters the mind of a warped and dangerous individual. To do this convincingly is an achievement, but the real value of the novel lies in the empathy and pity I felt for Richard. He’s a victim of a harrowing mental affliction, and, being in his mind, I saw the logic in his thinking as he distorts reality; I awaited his shifts in mood; I felt his irresistibly rising anger and his despair. Because I understood Richard so intimately, his violent acts seemed all the more terrible. This powerful, strange and disturbing book is not just a study of a killer; it’s a work of compassion. *

Clayhanger - Arnold Bennett
This is a solid and well-constructed novel, but it’s an example of how those virtues can be stifling. Bennett does everything right, but there’s no spark compelling the characters and action forward. The pace is a plodding one. When events became predictable I lost all interest. In its finicky carefulness, this struck me as a self-conscious effort. I think that Bennett was at his best when he wrote from a female’s perspective – as in his wonderful The Old WivesTale.

After Such Pleasures - Dorothy Parker
Parker wrote in the heyday of the American short story, when authors were paid well because they produced a desired commodity. She displays the virtues of writers of this era – her stories are highly readable; they do not tax or disappoint. They offer fifteen minutes of entertainment. One of Parker’s strengths is her wit; she had the deft touch. Still, none of these stories rose to excellence. They’re lightweight. Was Parker capable of digging deeper? She could (and did), but in this collection her objectives were modest.

Bend Sinister - Vladimir Nabokov
What I liked: an interesting main character, Krug (I admired his mind and personality); a study of Krug’s love for his dead wife and his son; a meditation on mortality and the great scheme of life (with no answers provided); a comical look at a totalitarian state malignantly malfunctioning. In the last aspect this is strong stuff, displaying how horrific humor can be. As for drawbacks, one was the obscurity of much of the prose; the book is full of Nabokovian word games. Also, the author indulged his cruel streak too fully in the nightmarish ending. A child being tortured before his father’s eyes? Repellant in the extreme, and this ultimately turned me against the book.

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