writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: ::classic but shite::

Review: Joan Lindsay’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock”

joan lindsay picnic at hanging rockMy Lord, this book was shite. Overwritten, melodramatic, one suspects of woolly historical accuracy and little interest, it was PAINFUL. The last 20pp I just skimmed through to confirm that the headmistress was actually the devil incarnate. Otherwise, yes, those chicks went missing, oh dear, no-one knows what happened to them, oh woe is them and the college, and there’s no reason to write a terrible novel about it. And thank god this didn’t include her posthumous final chapter that speculated that the lost women had fallen into a time warp (I kid you not). The only moderately interesting features were the rudimentary class analysis acted out by the characters, and the fact that so many of the characters were clearly gay: Albert and the Hon. Michael, most of the girls in the college re Miranda and the French Mademoiselle. Still didn’t remotely salvage this book from awfulness.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading:
Increasingly tedious bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Historical novel desperadoes
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley


Review: Beatrix Potter’s “The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit”

And in the second of the chefly entertainments… a Beatrix Potter which neither of us had even heard of, telling the naff story of a mean rabbit who steals carrots from cute bunnies and therefore gets shot tailless. We suspected that a less-famous relative had written this one and was in dire need of income from the BP brand. Skippable.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Also out loud to entertain the chef
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Famous writers need editors more than non-famous ones
Who I’d recommend it to: Kidlets
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods

Review: William Faulkner’s “The Reivers”

Faulkner’s last novel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963, made into a movie with Steve McQueen. Eleven-year-old boy Lucius runs away with his grandfather’s chauffeur, his black servant and the new family motor-car – and what adventures they get up to! This was meant to be a comedy, but I didn’t even laugh accidentally in the 170pp I made it through. Abandoned once I got to the men fighting it out for the whore with the heart of gold: there’s many a better book awaiting my attention.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: Disinterestedly about six months ago, and another week of attempting it in the same mood
Where it went to: Farm Bookshelf
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: No.
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Review: Mary Webb’s “Gone to Earth”

There are various things I could say about this book. One is that it’s the second novel by the author of one of my top two novels in the world, Precious Bane. Another is that it seems to be another Edwardian novel driven almost entirely by lust (cf. the Mr Lawrence reviewed below). Or alternately, that it’s interesting to read an Edwardian novel set among the lower classes rather than the rich, debauched and vapid.

But what I’d really like to say is that you shouldn’t read this book. It’s badly written, too wooden and explicative, the nature writing drowned by excessive moralising – quite a tiresome read. I thought I had the plot sussed and would have given up were it not for the beauty of Webb’s first novel. The greater sin, however, was the book’s moral core, where a heroine who sleeps with the Bad Man rather than the Good Man is subsequently punished in a violent and horrendous way. Not to mention that she gets “thrown in the bracken” (raped), but she’s lust-smitten, so was she really raped and why did she stick around? Shocking, slightly traumatic, and altogether awful.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Over a couple of days, with feelings of surprise, tedium and horror (in that order)
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Review: James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”

This book was tiresome and self-important. I liked the first small section of Joyce’s childhood, but not the next one (“woe is me, I’m more profound and less understood than my schoolmates”), or the next one (as above, but with family), or the next one (“I shagged prostitutes then filled 30pp with Catholic guilt”) or the bit I skipped to where Stephen Dedalus was now a university student who was still bathed by his mother – “because you enjoy it,” he tells her – before running late to class. Eww: duly abandoned.

The only reason I struggled through as far as I did is because it’s on my sister’s 178 Best 100 Novels of All Time list. To introduce this element of my lectoral life: KAM glommed the All-TIME 100 Novels list – Time’s best 100 novels in English since 1923 – with another, as-yet-unidentified, more Brit-based, foreign-friendly list; skimmed off the duplicates; and, voilà, devised her reading plan for about the next five years. (Her Christmas and birthday presents are now considerably easier than they used to be.) The list’s contents is terrible for the ego of one (who shall remain nameless) who considered herself well-read – BUT it’s a great addition to the Slow Rotation. Except, however, when the books are Classic but Shite, like this estimable specimen.

Where it came from: Farm Bookshelf
Time taken to read: About 6 months of listless, desperation-only, handbag reading
Where it went to: Back to the shelf in shame
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Bah! No one.
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell; “Trash” by Dorothy Allison; “The Mountain” by Kate Llewellyn