Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Hive - Camilo Jose Cela (Spanish)
A novel made up of snapshots in words (most less than a page long); each depicts people carrying on with their lives in Franco’s Spain. There are over 160 different characters; some reoccur, some appear once, some are dropped in the midst of a dilemma (how about an unsolved murder?). But there’s no need to follow all the characters or lines of plot. Cela (a Nobel Prize winner) is trying to present his vision of life in a kaleidoscopic manner. That vision, as regards human nature, is unrelentingly bleak; of those 160 people, a few are good souls but most are greedy, cruel, amoral, hypocritical, crazy, etc.

The Story of an African Farm - Olive Schreiner
I liked the parts that were grounded in everyday life, but too often I felt as if I were reading a tract on spiritual matters (done in hard-to-understand language). The author’s obsession with religiosity weighed down the book – and finally sank it for me.

Up in the Old Hotel - Joseph Mitchell
Mitchell wrote these articles and profiles for The New Yorker. He was a reporter searching for material that would make a good story. There’s no doubt about his ability to write smooth, clear prose; but many pieces are uninspired. The clincher – what caused me to stop reading the book – was his portrayal of Joe Gould. I was interested in this character, but Mitchell wasn’t. He was bored with Gould – the loser, the moocher – and wished he was elsewhere than in the company of the guy. Instead of understanding and compassion, what we get are long descriptions about the minutia of their contacts. It’s sad to have an unsympathetic person writing what is, more or less, an extended obituary.

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