0586 | The Master | Colm Tóibín

Context: Went to the dentist at a local hospital for a checkup while reading this.

It’s been a while since I read this, but the impression it made on me hasn’t left. Tóibín has written a melancholic novel of a man much misunderstood it seems. I don’t know enough about its subject, Henry James, to know whether The Master clears or muddies the water. But it certainly held interest for me as perhaps the only novel on the 1001 books list that is about a novelist who features heavily on the 1001 books list.

The Master is slow going, much like a Henry James novel. Thankfully, the clear, careful prose isn’t like a Henry James novel and is quite readable if a little slow. It’s certainly not a biography with the novel beginning in 1895 when James is 52 and ending just 4 years later. Quite why Tóibín picked this period of his life, I’m not sure, but there’s plenty of toing and froing into the past to fill in the details.

Being a kindred spirit, Tóibín has of course to explore the question [click to continue…]

0585 | Ulysses | James Joyce

0585 | Ulysses | James Joyce post image

Context: Mrs Arukiyomi produced a beautifully knitted baby blanket throughout the time I was reading this.

Notoriously difficult to read, even more notoriously difficult to understand, whatever your opinion about this novel it is not notoriously difficult to appreciate the genius that lies between its covers. What Joyce did here revolutionised the novel and showed that the art form could do a lot more than the history of English lit. had so far revealed it could.

As is well known, this is a day in the life of a few characters. It is a testament to the writing that those characters and what they get up to is so peripheral it hardly matters. The writing literally ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. I’d agree with those that argue that there is more of the latter than the former, but I have read enough to know that when I don’t get it, it’s usually my fault, not the author. Usually.

So, I did what most dedicated readers do when then they look for scholarly insight into the works they are perusing: I turned to Wikipedia. Thankfully, the entry for Ulysses is excellent with not [click to continue…]

0584 | Promise at Dawn | Romain Gary post image

Context: Enjoyed the first coffee out after Ramadan while reading this.

This memoir is basically a eulogy to Gary’s mother. Seeing as I have never really had a mother to speak of, this was an interesting one for me to read as a kind of “what if”, all the while imagining I’d had a female role model there to love, encourage and inspire me to head for my dreams.

My mother never wanted children, drank heavily, was emotionally and physically violent, left us when I was 9 and then fought for custody just to spite my father, lost and then won the right to force us to spend one holiday a year with her until we were 18 and could decide whether we wanted to see us or not. Romain Gary’s mother was not like this.

In contrast to me, Gary grew up without a father to speak of although he suspects in the book who it might be. Instead, his mother becomes both parents in one and pursues the unlikely dream [click to continue…]

0583 | The Radetzky March | Joseph Roth post image

Context: went out for breakfast at our local cafe of choice while reading this.

A book filled with melancholy not only for the characters but the world in which they live, The Radetzky March is a carefully constructed memorial to a lost age. Roth depicts three male generations of loyal subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I, focussing on the last, young Carl Joseph. Along the way, we get a picture of an empire in decline, of traditions slowly tottering, and of a society entirely unaware of the cracks appearing around them.

Time and again while reading this, I was reminded of The Bridge on the Drina. Both novels chronicle the history of empires and both end with WW1. But whereas Drina remains fixed on one locus in space, March roves far more widely. The writing has similarities, too. Both depict solid characters who fail in their attempts to stand against the tides of time, and both are written in prose which is very carefully constructed.

[click to continue…]

0582 | The Player of Games | Iain M. Banks post image

Context: Was reading this when we went to the American Mission Hospital.

While I’ve read a few of Banks’ non-sci-fi novels, none of them are as memorable as The Player of Games. The world that Banks has created here is truly original in many ways. I had to keep reminding myself that this was written in 1988 and not 2008.

Gurgeh is the player and his renown for playing earns him an invitation from the shadowy hierarchy of his society. He is asked to take a long journey to another world and there play a game like no other. The game culminates in a life and death situation which Banks does well to spin out to the end of the novel although there is a certain amount of inevitability surrounding the ending which I thought a tad weak.

What impressed me more was the way that Banks uses the two worlds he has created to ask questions about our own society. It’s clear that the world Gurgeh visits is, in many ways, modelled on our [click to continue…]