Thursday, January 1, 2009

Heat and Dust - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
The author does her usual competent job. All the characters are interesting, though a bit fuzzy. It’s this fuzziness that makes the book no more than competent. Motivations don’t quite convince; relationships are a bit dubious; people’s actions are only partially accounted for. Not that they ring false; they just aren’t deep and grounded. The novel’s format is twofold: a journal in present time alternates with letters written by the journal writer in which she reconstruct a long-ago episode. But the author doesn’t provide insight into the emotional life of anyone, not even her journal writer. I can’t say that what Jhabvala does is a failure – this is an engrossing work. But the withholding that’s so prevalent kept me at arm’s length.

Stories by Frank O’Connor
A real stylist at work – working carefully, polishing until he has it just right. There’s even a distinct lilt and cadence to O’Connor’s writing. He explores the Irish sensibility (making it as exotic as a South Sea Islander’s, particularly in regard to the relationships between the sexes). The problem is that too many of these pieces are humorous glimpses of life; they’re brimming with local color but aren’t full-fledged stories. When there’s a solid plot and characters O’Connor can be wonderful. The best story is “Guests of the Nation,” in which he tells of a horrible act while making the inexorable proceedings seem friendly and light – until the end. Also outstanding are “The Majesty of the Law,” “The Luceys” and “My Oedipus Complex.” Some stories miss due to garrulity, a storyteller’s love of hearing himself go on to the point where he overdoes it. But this collection as a whole left me with a feeling of enjoyment, satisfaction and a fresh appreciation of the importance of style in writing.

Lolita: A Screenplay - Vladimir Nabokov
A dalliance. Strangely, I don’t recognize the Lolita in this one. Could I have missed the whole point of the novel? Kubrick never used this script, but I hope Nabokov got a nice paycheck.

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