Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Girls - Henry de Montherlant (French)
This isn’t a novel; it’s page after page of extreme self-indulgence, a mishmash of the author’s ideas, philosophy, etc. Letters, journals, narrative, all slapped together. Everything goes on too damn long, and repetitively. Not one person was believable – not the love-struck women, not the conceited Costals. In fact, that’s what the book is: a grand conceit, false to the core. It’s the first of a tetralogy of novels. God help us! That this author could have done something as excellent as The Bachelors seems miraculous.

The Case of Mr. Crump - Ludwig Lewisohm
Anne Crump. One of the most vivid monsters in fiction. Herbert (Mr. Crump) has the misfortune of being snared by her in his youth; he’s never able to free himself. What does her monstrosity consist of? A nature coarse, deceitful, greedy; a vileness of spirit; a malevolent need to destroy anything pure. And she’s indomitable. Her will to conquer is enormous, stronger than Herbert’s will to escape her polluting presence; escape is something she will not allow. Lewisohm no doubt knew – and suffered at the hands of – such a person. He couldn’t have written this book if he hadn’t. He knew an Anne so well that he was able to examine her closely. She’s presented in many manifestations, though her essence remains incomprehensible. Herbert cannot understand her and thus is unable to combat her; maybe a male brute would be able to deal with Anne, but her type preys on weak, vulnerable men. What I’ve described is a considerable and unique achievement. It’s written with fire, passion. But for much of the book the author keeps the passion under control; there’s a clinical intelligence guiding and measuring his words (this is reflected in the title). The novel’s problems begin near the end. The tone becomes strident, melodramatic. A young beloved appears on the scene, but she’s an unbelievable prop (even her name, Barbara Trent, reflects her artificiality); the perfect spiritual bond between her and Herbert is described in purple prose. Herbert’s murder of Anne, smashing in that hated head with a poker, is presented as “Justice” – Herbert wins by destroying evil. But he doesn’t win. He’ll go to prison; Anne had him imprisoned for fourteen years, now he’ll go into another prison, also one of her making. He won’t have his beloved Barbara Trent. Lewisohn needed to continue telling his story with restraint, but he lost it. Still, this book is a cautionary tale and should be read as such. Anne is not a caricature; her type is commonly found among us. And on these pages she lives.

The 39 Steps - John Buchan
A mystery/adventure novel, and it would be nice to read a good one. Unfortunately, this is so full of improbablilities that it became nonsensical stuff for boys. So why read more than half?

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