Monday, October 4, 2010

Voyage in the Dark - Jean Rhys
In my reviews of Quartet and Sleep It Off, Lady I concluded that Rhys (an autobiographical writer) wasn’t able to capture who she was as a young woman. In this novel she succeeds – and I understand why the task was daunting. When the book opens Anna has left her childhood home in the West Indies and is working as a chorus girl in England. The job is far from glamorous. Anna can’t adapt to the people or climate (both seem cold and alien). She has an affair with a wealthy married man; she’s in love with him, but he abruptly breaks off their relationship. Other men follow, she drinks too much; things go steadily downhill. A sordid story, but the Anna that emerges arouses sympathy; she’s trapped in an emotionally predatory world. To a large degree her problems have their roots in her early years in the West Indies; she arrived in England damaged, full of diffuse fears. She’s depressed, directionless, needy; her most important need is for someone to love and care for her. Yet the men she comes into contact are only willing to give her money (which she takes without compunction). The other people in her life – mainly chorus girls and landladies – are a mixed lot of distinct and colorful individuals. The book isn’t dreary or static, even though Anna is often in a deep funk. I found the use of stream of consciousness to be less successful than the direct narrative and dialogue. Maybe these impressionistic forays are an attempt to show Anna groping her way in the dark. As for her reaching a place of light – I didn’t see much hope for her.

The Book of My Life - Jerome Cardan (Latin)
Written in the late sixteenth century, this book attracted me because it was described as one of the first psychological autobiographies. Yet Cardan is not insightful, nor is he able to tell about the events in his life in an interesting or coherent way. He isn’t likeable or believable; he comes across as a deluded and boring old man. I began to skip parts, then I skimmed the book. Cardan was a noted mathematician and doctor, proud of his powers of logic, but – even for the times – he seemed overly influenced by the supernatural; his life story is full of superstitions, premonitions, guardian angels, et cetera, et cetera.

Thieves Like Us - Edward Anderson
Crime and love in conflict. Though in many ways this novel belongs in the noir genre, it’s deceptively complex. It’s also moving. I wanted Bowie to do the right thing. He loves Keechie and she loves him – Anderson succeeds in making that relationship, which we follow from their first meeting, convincing. Yet Bowie is a thief at heart; he’s unable to let go of that life. I was disappointed with the ending, in which he makes bad choices – stupid, fatal ones. Initially I thought that Anderson blew it (actually, he did, to a degree – the events are improbable). But on reflection I realized that I was mainly disappointed in Bowie. He’s the one who blew any chances for peace and happiness, and he dragged Keechie down with him.

Successful Love - Delmore Schwartz
Unsuccessful stories. Schwartz starts out with a bizarre premise, then tries to say something meaningful. But the bizarre was gimmicky, the meaning wasn’t there. After reading four stories, I called it quits.


jimmy scoville said...

Your reviews are always entertaining, always well written. I pale before them. It's difficult to tap anything out in the form of a comment & not sound like an idiot. Your reviews say it all. I wish there was a "like" button as one finds on Facebook. Also, I wish you had a job on some big time newspaper where your reviews are viewed by millions. People would tip their proverbial hat as you pass & ask you to write up blurbs for book covers. Your talent is that defined, that accessable. But media is often too stupid to find the true Geniuses who rock our world intelligently.

Phillip Routh said...

As for your generous wishes - no one's interested in buying the carriage harnesses I'm making.
Anyway, as a newspaper reviewer I'd have to read the stuff they assign to me, and there's no way I'd subject myself to that torture.