writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: June, 2012

Review: Evelyn Waugh’s “A Handful of Dust”

Another one on KM’s list, and it was a good’un. It starts off as a pretty good comedy-of-manners type book – “oh look, aren’t the upper classes rippingly self-important and funny!”. Lady Brenda Last has an affair with gormless John Beaver, abandons her manor-devoted husband Tony for him, and behold, the world falls apart in nasty ways. But wow, it went so far beyond intramarital spats and invitation sponging, and ended in particularly dark place (continental pun not intended). Extreme and unexpected. Made it a much better novel. Good read.

Where it came from: KM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Devotedly during a 12 hour road trip
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: The novel I can’t damned well think of, written by a British woman, minor aristocracy, comedy of manners, bisexual character called “Boy”, really quite good — Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Who I’d recommend it to: It’s a good one, especially if you want to relish the decadence of the dying upper classes
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner

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Review: Hermann Hesse’s “Gertrude”

Gertrude only makes an appearance about halfway through, but she sure is a heartbreaker. Mr Kohn is crippled at music school, makes friends with Heinrich Muoth the opera singer, and composes him into a leading duet and (and himself into due heartache) with the beautiful Gertrude. It’s absorbing and tormenting at the same time: it’s painful to read of others trapped in the throes of self-destructive passion. Not a bad read, gives you a glimpse of early Hesse warming up to his own later ideas.

Where it came from: KT’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Slow start but then pretty good
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Quite a good read; give it a try
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Moonbot Studios’ “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”

The spin-off iPad app from the Academy Award winning film, this is an e-book which lets you play with the story of Mr. Morris Lessmore and his bookish life – you can make a hurricane, play piano, mend books. It’s charming and whimsical, and I enjoyed it, but it makes me sad that this is the realm books are entering into – cutesy retro charm, rather than daily sustenance.

Where it came from: AM & CB’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: One playful e-read
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: How terrible it is that books have become charming e-nostalgia
Who I’d recommend it to: Seekers of literary adventures
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Christina Stead’s “Seven Poor Men of Sydney”

Stead writes about the daily lives of seven poor Sydney men [sic; one woman apparently counts as a bloke] between about 1915 and 1930. The contemporary details were fascinating for one who knows nothing of historical Sydney, despite being born there: picnics in Lane Cove, the building of the Harbour Bridge, the fact that women were called “flossies”, how poor the working classes actually were and how many of them investigated Socialist and Communist ideas and tearooms. Who knew any of these things about Sydney? And how rich and shallow we are by comparison! The ambience and the factoids were fabulous, but my God, a bad novel. All the “dialogue” is nothing more than one character ranting at another, and they’re all stroppy buggers with an awful lot to rant about. I got through about 182pp, but that’s well enough. Abandoned so I can get onto the more interesting books this one’s been keeping me from. I will, however, read others of hers, given that she’s so famous and all and this was her first novel of about 15.

Where it came from: KT’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Too many failed, sleep-inducing attempts
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: Steinbeck again, actually, for that daily look at the lives of the poor working classes in the same era
Who I’d recommend it to: Those in need of some Australian literary-style history (which I suspect is most Aussies!)
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”

Warning: Cover dysphoria

A bridge falls into a ravine in the outskirts of Lima, Peru, in 1714. Five people fall with it. A brief, tidy book (take that as a compliment), fluidly and soundly written, the novella traces the stories of the difuntos (deceased) – the Marquesa de Montemayor, Uncle Pío, Esteban, Don Jaime and Pepita – and considers the state of their hearts. I enjoyed it. It was simple, moving and heartfelt. Recommended. And I must say the author has the most *amazing* name.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: One bath, with close attention
Where it went to: KM
Reminds me of: Steinbeck’s novels made up of interlocked short stories, East of Eden and Cannery Row
Who I’d recommend it to: Someone wanting a quick-but-good, absorbing-but-contemplative read
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Seven Poor Men of Sydney by Christina Stead

Review: Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom: A Novel”

First things first: this doesn’t compare to The Corrections. That positively bristled with vicious brilliance. This, however, lacked any such attractions: it’s a mega (562pp), middle-of-the-road novel. There are four main characters who are dully warped and reprehensible, and, worst of all, *uninteresting* (but phew, they’re slightly better people by the novel’s end). Franzen knows how to write – not a line of this is a “clanger”, as one friend terms it – but I never really cared about his boring characters or the two-event plot or the 500pp wrestle on the theme of “who do you really love and how do you know”? The title made a spate of appearances between page 250 and 350, as though the author got a reminder that he needed some sort of theme to give universality to his Twin Cities/New York tale. One can imagine the readers’ group supplement, featuring astute questions such as “Was ‘freedom’ really at the heart of this novel? Do you think Jonathan Franzen approves of freedom? Why was that bird on the cover?” A fat and banal book. I remain, yours truly, Unenthused.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Bed-nights and days and a bath, but really just cos I wanted to finish the damn thing
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of: For no reason I can pinpoint, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
Who I’d recommend it to: Sneh. Not excited enough to recommend.
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Seven Poor Men of Sydney by Christina Stead

Review: Rose Tremain’s “The Colour”

1864. One husband, one wife and his mother move from Norfolk, England, as “cockatoos” to set up a new life in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Husband finds “the colour” (gold) in Harriet Creek, then chases the Gold Rush to the West Coast of NZ’s South Island. Mother dies. Home is no more. Wife follows to seek husband and a Maori woman who has befriended a friend’s young son. There’s gold in them thar hills, but how does it shine in the long dark teatime of the soul?

Rose Tremain is one of my old-faithful writers: I’ve read various of her novels and the odd short-story collection, and she never fails to write tightly, originally, well. This book is no exception: solidly written, absorbing. Her heroine Harriet grows progressively taller and more honorable in the course of the novel, while her husband Joseph’s receding jaw line sinks into his neck and progressive oblivion: he is a small, pitiable man. (NB: Metaphor alert; no ailments in this blog reflect the characters’ corporeality in any way.) Tremain writes beautifully but without unnecessary adornment, and this is the best illumination for her heroine and the landscapes she traverses. Her characters are so rich and entirely lifelike, I find myself imagining friendships with Harriet and Doro.

It’s an excellent novel, read this and anything else you may come across by Tremain. I will be: Restoration is on Pile No. 3 and I’m most looking to reading it.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: Two bed-nights and a bed-afternoon, quick quick, can’t put down
Where it went to: MR, for in-flight entertainment
Reminds me of: Infinitely better than that trash-fest Isabel Allende novel set in the California Gold Rush, Hija de la fortuna (Daughter of Fortune)
Who I’d recommend it to: Oh, anyone. She’s so good, why would you not read her?
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Seven Poor Men of Sydney by Christina Stead; Freedom by Jonathan Franzen