grist

 

Friday, April 16, 2004
Catch-up! For the first time in many moons, my reading has been outpacing my time to post so here goes:

Listened to William Brodrick's The Sixth Lamentation, which was cast as a "literary thriller", but which, I am coming to understand, people mean that the writer actually cares about the language, as opposed to trying to get out of its way as much as possible. I've got nothing but praise for Brodrick's book. His language is careful and rich and lyrical, and I got grabbed by his premise: an Auschwitz survivor's health is degenerating--will she lose the ability to communicate just as the SS officer who sent her to the camps comes to trial?

The plot was intricate, and (I suspect) would have worked better for me if I had read it, rather than listened in the car--it had plenty of plausible twists, though it seemed to be a few too many at the end, and everything revealed as too tightly intertwined.

His characters were strong and their dynamics well-presented, and I surprised myself by constantly expecting the narrative to veer into the fantastical--huge Da Vinci Code style conspiracies, maybe the Ark of the Covenant, etc. But it remained in the realm of the real. 3 stars, a good, solid, well-written book with more substance than your thrillery thrillers.

And, to continue the listening front, I've been zipping through Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything (4 stars? I'll wait till I finish), which is mostly thoroughly engaging scientific gossip. (That the discoverer of Uranus wanted to name the planet "George" is delightful; that it ended up named Uranus seems to be the revenge of some Lord Beavis in the pre-Butthead era). Bryson is endlessly entertaining and the book rolls along with great zest--not something one normally says of thick scientific survey books. This doesn't have the density of something like Brian Greene, but it is most definitely worth a listen or read (and it does a fine job of filling in, to cocktail party depth, your neglected understandings of a dozen fields). More to come--Cheever--journals and then his stories--don't tempt me to read the letters again also. And another stab at Anil's Ghost, which I confess at 50 pages is a little baffling in its flatness. It seems impossible to revere The English Patient in the way I do and not find more in it.

I find there are few writers (none?)for whom I like everything or even several things they write. I usually find one work of great strength and resonance, and then works that echo it with weakening intensity, or push its elements out to inhospitable hinterlands where I find the explorations lifeless. I am always suspicious of writers who advocate for the greatness of the lesser known works--it often (but not always) seems to be an attempt to show their discernment more than a genuine expression of the "lesser" work's power.

I'll have to mull on this a little, and find a way of comprehending the baffling Trollopesians who read the 50, 60, 70 books with great avidity. How does that not get tiring? Also, might be interesting to chart the majors and minors for their threads, from the obvious (Byatt's Possession to everything else by her) to the less obvious (Faulkner's Light in August to the titantic, but overhyped The Sound and the Fury or the fetishsized Absalom, Absalom; and still revising my opinions about Joyce....



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