I submit, surrender, and beg forgiveness; at the rate things are going with getting ready to move and doing home renos, I have finally accepted that I am just never going to get caught up on my book posts unless I corral them. Well then, giddyup.
Barry Lyndon, William Makepeace Thackeray. I wanted to love this novel, more than I can say. But, no. I respect the cleverness and originality of Thackeray’s early foray into the unreliable narrator and the gross verisimilitude of not gussying up or glossing over the things people do. But it doesn’t make for good reading. And I absolutely insist that my books instruct AND delight. The titular Barry is a first-class prick and what’s infinitely more unforgivable, a boring and repetitive one. And it was Henry Esmond that everyone warned me away from as a follow-up to Vanity Fair! I don’t know where to go from here with WMT, which makes me very sad.
Vaudeville!, Gaetan Soucy. A grotesque and demented homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein–and if any novel deserves homage, it’s Shelley’s. Soucy seemed up for it at first but he ultimately fell victim to the Haruki Murakami Syndrome and the narrative spiraled into utter incoherence. This happened at about the 2/3 mark. Gaetan, what happened? Did you lose interest? Forget where you were going with things? Break up with your editor? Because it was at about this point that all the weirdness stopped making internal sense and just started looking like you’d said to yourself, “What craaaazy shit can I throw in here now? A masturbating frog! Alright, cool!” Not cool. Not. Cool. Embarrassing, Gaetan, embarrassing. I will still read your other two novels, however, because you are a good stylist; also The Immaculate Conception.
The Belton Estate, Anthony Trollope. What can I say? Meh. Even Trollope might have resorted to a “meh” if the word had been current during his lifetime; as it was, he had to content himself with this: “It is readable, and contains scenes which are true to life; but it has no peculiar merits, and will add nothing to my reputation as a novelist.” True. Or mostly true. The novel is not, as Henry James claimed, “a work prepared for minds unable to think”. I actually wonder if Trollope thought too much about the novel’s central problem–how a woman can make proper choices while still being appropriately submissive and tractable, especially when completely without financial independence. It’s an insoluble pancake and Trollope ran around in circles with it and never really got anywhere; and worse, this distracted him from just telling a really good story. Still, as it’s Trollope, it’s quite readable; it just doesn’t radiate novelistic brilliance the way The Warden and Barchester Towers do.
Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens. Read over several months, to test my bestie’s theory that lo it is very good to have both an at-home book and a not-at-home book going simultaneously. She was right. Also, it was Dickens so all was hyperbole and jazz hands and hilarity and heart-exploding pain and injustice. Dickens was 24 when he wrote the Sketches, and so it was all these things but more so. In other words, I loved it; and it was pure joy to see his unique style burst into full being as he went on. But also the details, such as one character insisting on being known as Cymon, rather than merely Simon, after his family unexpectedly inherits a truckload of money. Bless you, Chaz.
Anathem, Neal Stephenson. I read this immediately following Middlemarch, so it never really had a chance. Not that I don’t love Stephenson’s crazy, scienced-up brain, I do; not only would I like to live inside his head for awhile, but I’m also absolutely certain that if he’d been my grade 12 Physics and/or Math teacher I would now be a scientist of considerable renown. It’s that after Middlemarch, the characterization in Anathem read like the stuff of mediocre YA fiction. This book was not YA, I’m certain. I just think that if Stephenson could write a novel that didn’t feature people (or humanoids; or anything with consciousness, really) at all, he’d probably explode in a blinding flash of light because the world wouldn’t be able to handle the genius of it. And you know, if anyone could write such a novel and have it still be readable, I think it might be our man Stephenson.
I was about to write, “I can’t promise there won’t be another reading round-up…” but the fact is, I think it would be most honest to admit that there WILL be another reading round-up. This will probably occur after we move (3 weeks or so) and have the computer/interwebs set up. I hope I’ll be able to pop in for some kind of blogging before then but if there is dead air for the next little while, it’s just because we’re in transition.