Short Reviews Backlog, Pt. 1: English-language Fiction (a)

There haven't been a lot of posts recently, in part because my mind spent its limited cognitive and emotional capacities on coming to terms with recent family issues - lots of death, hospitalizations and hard feelings recently - but it now seems most of the work on this front is done (though you never know what the next phone call will bring), and also work proper will not be too demanding during the coming week, so I hope to get out some long-planned posts these coming days.

A main part of this will be to work through my review backlog. The plan at the start of the year was to review every film and book I finish, but it seems that around March or so, this idea somehow got forgotten. So here's part 1: Some of the English-language fiction books I can remember. (Links on the books' titles lead to Wikipedia.)

1. A.S. Byatt: Possession (1990): The unsuccessful academic Roland Mitchell finds hitherto unknown notes by Victorian writer Randolph Henry Ash, which lead to a stack of letters by the famous author. Will the literary history have to be rewritten? As Roland tries to solve the mysteries of the past, rivals try to wrestle the discovery from his hands. (Hey, nobody ever said it was hard to write those crappy little texts they put on the covers of paperbacks.) - Byatt's present-day narrative is interspersed with texts by (fictional) Victorian authors. It's a good idea in theory, but in practice most of those (which make up about a third or fourth of the novel) aren't terribly good literature. I'm not complaining because this makes the premise of the story incredible (nowhere is Ash described as some sort of literary genius), but rather because they weren't that much fun to read, quite in contrast to the present-day strand of the book. In other words, I would have liked the novel to be a little more like a Tom Wolfe book and a little less "literary". (7/10) (I quoted bits from the text here and here.)

2. Dick Francis: Second Wind (1999): One of those thrillers that, like most of them, aren't particularly thrilling, but nice enough ways of spending one's time on the underground. (6/10)

3.-4. Philip Roth: Everyman (2006), Indignation (2008): In both of these short novels by Roth, who was born in 1933, death takes centre stage. In Everyman, a friend's funeral triggers the unnamed protagonist's rememberance of relationships past, which, in summary, he didn't handle too well. Indignation chronicles the clash between college student Marcus Messner and the restrictions imposed by 1951 US society. While Everyman is the heavier of the two books and will probably remain a critics' favourite in decades to come, Indignation almost seems like a small project chosen by the author to give him time to breathe between more demanding tasks. Yet Roth's craft turns even this one into a work of fiction that is nowhere near average. (8 and 7.5/10, respectively) (And here's J.R. Lennon on Indignation.)

5. Douglas Coupland: Hey Nostadamus! (2004): It deals with a school shooting and midlife crisis and psychics, but none of this is really important; what's important is that it's written in Coupland's usual style, only more so - it's almost as though there's light shining through the pages. Reminded me of the fact that he wrote the liner notes for Saint Etienne's Sound of Water album and how that's a perfect choice of author if there ever was one. (7.5/10)

1 comment:

Steve Sailer said...

"Possession" is very similar in concept to Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," which came out about the same time, only with Byron researchers rather than Browning researchers.

The movie version of "Possession" is pretty good if you didn't like the fake 19th Century stuff in the novel.