The Golovlyov Family - Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (Russian)
This is an oppressive novel, heavy with negative emotions. Characters carry the burdens of their distorted selves, which makes them grotesques (but grotesques distinguishable as real people). Though religion consumes them, they face a frightening void where their souls should be. They rely on hypocrisy to justify their actions and attitudes. This can be seen as a critique of a certain way of thinking and conducting one’s life – the absolute wrong way. In that sense, it’s a moral book. But how unyielding! It’s an excoriating Calvinistic sermon. I felt that the ending wavered, showed a lack of direction. How to end a book about emptiness? A difficult task, one that eluded Shchedrin, for he turns a bit melodramatic, which he had previously avoided. Still, a remarkable work.
The Gaudy Place - Fred Chappell
The structure of this book is a disaster. In the early chapters I was diverted by vivid writing about engrossing lowlife characters, but soon I began to ask myself (with increasing irritation), Where is this going? Good question, one the author never answered. The final chapter was his last chance to pull the whole misshapen project together, but it was the worst in the book – the nonsense at the end actually negates any good things that came before. Chappell possesses the tools a writer needs, but I have doubts about his ability to use them to construct a coherent novel.
Dream Children - A. N. Wilson
Wilson may have thought he was serving up a wicked brew, with bizarre characters and a provocative situation, but he was indulging in cheap manipulation (with an ample dose of cruelty). Characters morph as different perspectives are introduced (the point being, I suppose, that people see things through the obstructing filter of their individual belief systems). But there has to be a core of authenticity. This was especially lacking in Oliver; he was a puppet being jerked into various freakish poses by the author. What caused me to stop reading was the ugliness rampant in this book; I could no longer stand to be with these horrible people as they did horrid things.