Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Boon Island - Kenneth Roberts
This is solid and well-written, and Roberts doesn’t pull any punches as to what being shipwrecked on godforsaken Boon Island does to people (cannibalsm raises its very ugly head). However, I never finished the book. It’s too nautical for my tastes. Roberts knew his subject, but he includes a lot of technical matters that I didn’t understand. So I was often just reading words. And though he goes into the psychology of the men, the stoicism to his approach and in his portrayals kept me from feeling close to anyone’s emotional life. Maybe the men were stoical; still, for me the human element was missing.

The Day of the Owl - Leonardo Sciascia (Italian)
This was Sciascia’s first venture into the novel. It’s a literary mystery in which he probes the subject that consumed him: the Mafia in Sicily. He was a man on a mission – to show how the Mafia functions. He begins with a murder of someone of no obvious significance; we’re then taken through a labyrinth to the source. The main problem is that the social message (about the Mafia) is predominant over characters and plot; too often we get brief sketches which lack depth. The exception comes at the end, in the long interview between the police Captain and the old Mafioso; two people emerge in all their complexity. Another problem is Sciascia’s prose; he needed to simplify it. In a later novel, To Each His Own, he corrected all the mistakes he made in this one.

Wise Virgin - A. N. Wilson
Initially I didn’t think I was going to like this book, primarily because the three main characters were distasteful. Yet Wilson is writing about transformation. The people soften, deepen; their dignity and worth emerges. The reader is moved in this direction with patience and subtlety. I found no falseness in the transformation; in fact, it dawned on me slowly that my feelings toward the characters were changing. This is a book with something meaningful to say about life. It ends with two couples – one young, the other old(er) – at the point where they believe they will love forever. And they just might. But that’s not the end. Wilson pulls off something amazing. In the last four pages he goes into the mind of a peripheral character. The insight we get into this person, the contrast between his lonely, empty existence and those of the happy lovers – the poignancy of it all – is deeply moving. The last sentence is amazing. So I wound up not merely liking Wise Virgin – I loved it. *

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