Claustrophobic and Baroque Experience: "Swann’s Way" by Marcel Proust

Review:

Swann's Way - Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis

I read Proust’s masterpiece back in 1985. What did I know of life then? Nothing!

 

Having recently read a Smithsonian editorial that made fun of the novels, and remembering all too well one particular hilariously snippy Monty Python sketch (the Summarize Proust Competition), I too wanted to be able to rub elbows with the elite intellectuals who mocked Proust, so I picked up the first of three volumes (the weighty Moncrieff editions because I have no french whatsoever) and got started. The first few pages were tough going, but soon I became mesmerized, then I fell in love, and by the end of the summer I was tucking flowers into the plackets of my blouses and wearing bows in my hair.

 

Oh you kids. “Swann’s Way” is the swiftest, plottiest volume in the monster, with “Un Amour de Swann” a little novel in itself, with a beginning, middle, end, and all that sort of thing. Originally drafted in a mere three volumes, the Recherche grew as Proust re-Proustified the later volumes while waiting for publication; many readers have wished that that long mini-book could be recovered. The pace picks up again in the last volume, which the author’s death prevented him from reworking it, so that a dinner party—one of the greatest scenes in all literature, by the way—takes only a few hundred pages to describe, what with the jolts of consciousness with which Proust bracketed it, while the first half of the volume is impossibly brilliant about the first World War without ever leaving Paris.

 

 

If you’re into Mundane Fiction, read on.

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Such a Beautiful Hindquarter of Pork: "Emma" by Jane Austen

Review:

Emma - Jane Austen, Fiona Stafford

I wonder if a variation on the Unreliable Narrator is permissible here? Jane Austen’s Emma, while narrated solely by the author herself, is told exclusively from the title character’s point of view (chime in and correct me if there are scenes in which she doesn’t take part, however minor) so that Austen becomes Emma’s interpreter, and our interlocutor. It’s a very deliberate choice, because Austen then goes on deftly but in plain sight to give you every reason to question Emma’s headlong conclusions, while knowing full well that you’ll simply go right along with Emma anyway. Surprisingly, none of this feels tricksy or opportunistic, though of course it might had Austen not had this particular objective unwaveringly in her sights: The Unreliable Reader. If we look at the story from within Emma’s world, she’s a classic unreliable narrator, primarily to poor Harriet Smith. Emma’s wishful and willful narratives consistently mislead Harriet, who depends entirely on Emma’s versions of things. To make matters more complex, Emma really should have known better, as she admits (to her credit) when her eyes are opened. Nor is Emma the only unreliable narrator. She is misled in her turn by Frank Churchill’s camouflaging accounts of his relationship to Jane Fairfax. Again, the reliability angle is enriched when Frank thinks at one point that Emma does perceive his attachment to Jane.

 

 

If you’re into Mundane Fiction, read on.

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antao.booklikes.com/post/1624202/such-a-beautiful-hindquarter-of-pork-emma-by-jane-austen

Frazzled Frenzy SF: "The Stand – The Complete & Uncut Edition" by Stephen King

Review:

The Stand - Stephen King

One of my favourite SF books was Stephen King’s 1979 “The Stand”, which I read in the full unadulterated double-doorstop version released in 1990, which was considered far to voluminous to release in 1979. This is the second time I’m re-reading it. How did it fare?

 

This is the sort of SF that is all too plausible, an accidental spill from a biological weapons facility releasing a plague-like virus which sweeps the planet in a matter of weeks, leaving 99% of humanity dead. King introduces a scores of protagonists, split into two camps of good and evil, the good ‘uns drawn to Boulder Colorado through a shared dream of a 108 year old black woman, and the baddies under the control of supernatural drifter Randal Flagg.

 

King said he had been wanting to create an American Lord of the Rings, saying he:

 

“…just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Then . . . after my wife and kids and I moved to Boulder, Colorado, I saw a 60 Minutes segment on CBW (chemical-biological warfare). I never forgot the gruesome footage of the test mice shuddering, convulsing, and dying, all in twenty seconds or less. That got me remembering a chemical spill in Utah, that killed a bunch of sheep (these were canisters on their way to some burial ground; they fell off the truck and ruptured). I remembered a news reporter saying, ‘If the winds had been blowing the other way, there was Salt Lake City.’ Only instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas”.

 

If you’re into Massive SF, read on.

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Pax Americana: "Double Star" by Robert A. Heinlein

Review:

Double Star - Robert A. Heinlein

Implausible and impossible to put down- like all of Heinlein’s books I’ve read its hero is a man of action and boundless self confidence, a wisecracking all-American cowboy figure who brushes obstacles aside, a genial dictator figure who knows that as long as he’s left in charge everything will be o.k. The voice is always the same – and I can see why the new wake of science fiction writers reacted against Heinlein: Aldiss, Moorcock, Ballard, Dick. Heinlein’s Pax Americana and paternalism vision of the future certainly does have fascist overtones. But he’s still a great storyteller, his books filled with mind-bending concepts presumably achieved without the help of the consciousness expanding substances that inspired some of his successors.

 

Yes, the Bonforte character was a very macho autocrat…Who cares? Nevertheless, “The Great Lorenzo” doesn’t quite conform to the macho ‘tit man’ narrator as Heinlein… although the authorial voice does creep through in interesting ways in his stereotyped descriptions of Lorenzo’s camp-actor personality and co…Heinlein enjoyed challenging established ways of thinking, and for most of his great period of writing liberal politics was on the rise, so he took great pleasure in poking holes in political sacred figures.

 

 

If you’re into SF, read on.

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Crap on Repeat: "Two Kinds of Truth" by Michael Connelly

Review:

Two Kinds of Truth - Michael Connelly

I used to feel that I shouldn’t like reading Crime Fiction so much, but then sensibly decided that a well written Crime Fiction book has as much “value” as any other book, however much the literary snobs may turn their noses up. Good writing is good writing, whether it’s a spy novel or a romance, a whodunit or a family saga. When I had finished all of the wonderful Wallander books, I started looking elsewhere for Nordic detection. Helene Tursten’s Inspector Irene Huss (Swedish) is wonderful as is Ake Edwardson’s young, hip Inspector Winter, while Liza Marklund’s newspaper reporter, Annika Bengtzon gets herself into some rivetting, nail-biting situations. Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer (Norwegian) is great, as is Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlunder (Icelandic)! These are all excellent translations (unlike the earlier Swedish thrillers by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, whose translations leave something to be desired). When I had got through all the Wallander books I was devastated, which is how I found these other wonderful Scandinavian mystery writers and a few others, namely their American counterparts. There is apparently something about the Nordic climate and temperament that makes for unbeatable crime stories! Unfortunately, it is looking like there won’t be any more Wallanders since Mr. Mankell has gone to another plane of existence – though one can always hope.

 

 

If you’re into Crime Fiction, read on.

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antao.booklikes.com/post/1623678/crap-on-repeat-two-kinds-of-truth-by-michael-connelly

Who am I? : "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick

Review:

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

I’m a big Pynchon fan, too, so don’t get me wrong here, but it seems to me like the main difference between Dick’s writing style and Pynchon’s–or at least, the difference that mostly accounts for Dick being treated as a “pulp” author with some interesting ideas whereas Pynchon is considered a major “literary” figure–is simply that Dick tends to write in crisp, straightforward sentences that just directly say what he means to say, whereas Pynchon’s writing is (in)famously dense with allusion and rambling esoteric figurative expressions to the point where it can be an intellectual exercise in its own right just trying to figure out what the hell Pynchon is trying to say.

 

All of which makes major Dick novels like “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” or “Radio Free Albemuth” sort of resemble, IMHO, what “Gravity’s Rainbow” might have looked like if Pynchon had been working with editors who expected him to actually keep tight deadlines.

 

I think Dick was really gifted as a wry satirist, too, and this is something I think he’s often under-appreciated for. Probably my favourite single episode in all of Dick’s stories I’ve ever read–and I was quite overjoyed to see this faithfully recreated in the film adaptation–is still the “suicide” sequence from “A Scanner Darkly”. In short, I don’t think Dick was ever bad at writing–he just doesn’t seem to have had any real interest in the kind of writing that people like James Joyce or William Burroughs (or Pynchon, for whom to my mind it seems that both Joyce and Burroughs were major stylistic influences) were famous for.

 

 

If you’re into SF, read on.

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antao.booklikes.com/post/1623349/who-am-i-a-scanner-darkly-by-philip-k-dick

On How to Spin a Top-Notch Yarn of Bullshit: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert A. Heinlein

Review:

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein

The usual pretty crude pneumatic sex-fantasies cropped up… But women actually have a pretty dominant role in Heinlein’s lunar society… It’s a penal colony, and Heinlein reckons that means there are going to be far fewer women then men there – so he’s come up with a system called ‘line-marriage’… wherein a few women in a household share numerous husbands… And the head of the household is a woman… and women call the shots… Meanwhile, outside the home, women are treated with far more respect than they are on earth because they are so rare and precious… Obviously, he’s not going to get any badges from feminists, but he does at least ask a few interesting questions about the way women were viewed in his own world…The characters explicitly reject using patriotism as a method to revolution.  

 

I think that Prof De La Paz’s ‘rational anarchism’ is also expressed by Jubal Harshaw in ‘Stranger’, though not in as straightforward a manner. Both seem to say that it’s not that hard to figure out what ideal behavior should be but expecting actual live humans to live up that is impossible. After accepting that point, they both want to move on. Yep, humans are hypocritical and sometimes hard to live with. What of it? The other big point of this is that only the direst situation (near term cannibalism here) justifies butting into other people’s business. Sadly, this attitude is pretty rare today. The characters explicitly reject using patriotism as a method to revolution. 

 

 

If you’re into SF, read on.

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