Monday, February 9, 2009

The House in Paris - Elizabeth Bowen
Bowen works in the tradition of Henry James. Simplicity in any form is not allowed – not in the prose, the descriptions, the emotions. Particularly the latter. An emotion is not allowed to just exist; it’s explored extensively, often going into areas beyond me, as if my perceptions of the human heart are limited. To read this type of writing is tiring. Spontaneous, ragged life is killed off by too many perfect words. The pity of it is that there was the core of a good story. The children (Bowen is good with children) interested me, as did the old lady. But then we shifted to Karen and her impending love affair. I stopped reading at this point; I couldn’t face the complexities, especially since Karen struck me as a phony creation. Or, to put the blame where it belongs, Bowen was burdening that character with her stultifying care.

The Sweets of Pimlico - A. N. Wilson
This first novel by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed is so inconclusive in every way that reading it amounts to an exercise in futility. The characters, even when on center stage, are inexplicable. Why do they do things, how do they feel? What the hell are they? Nothing can be pinned down, not even their sexuality. Is Mr. Gormann an ex-Nazi who had been active in homosexual orgies? That’s never resolved. Does the main character, Evelyn, love the old man, and he her? Can’t really say. Who will get Mr. Gormann’s money? That’s a stumper. Why is Evelyn thinking of marrying a homosexual drunk with a mean streak? Don’t ask me. Is her brother having sex with Angela or Angelo? Since the last letter of a name in a letter is unreadable, that’s a mystery too. The ending resolves nothing – adamantly so. And about Evelyn, whose head we’re “in.” She has sex with her brother (a pretty big deal) but it’s presented in an offhand way, free of any conflict. Is this woman capable of real feelings? Despite Wilson’s narrative gift, I was aggravated by this book.

Esau and Jacob - Machado de Assis (Spanish)
Too clever by half. Machado was fully capable of creating characters and plots (in his idiosyncratic way), but in this novel he indulges in intellectual games. The narrative is tediously convoluted and constantly interrupted by the author’s sly comments or his deep (and cryptic) thoughts about Life. The worst of it is, I love Machado’s work. This was one of his last books, written when he was much-honored in Argentina. Maybe fame went to his head.

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