Books Read – Oct/Nov 10

Up to 93 now (little reviews here) – so 7 to go in December to reach my target (or really 11, since I’d decided not to count anything less than 100 pages), which should be achievable, I think.

Some more obscure writers:

  • Karel Čapek, Czech writer, who gets 2 books on the list in one post. – OK, he’s not obscure – in Obooki’s world, he’s quite famous; but, in the real world, he is obscure in terms of his non-SF stuff (i.e. the majority of his output; check out, for instance, the ridiculously SF-oriented Wikipedia page); – and he is always, I feel, obscure in the sense that the Czechs seem to regard him as their greatest c20th writer (the whole nation mourned when he died etc. – though that did have something to do with world politics at the time); – greatest writer, that is, barring none (by which, I mean, certain Jewish Czech writers writing in German around the same time).
  • Camilo José Cela – not entirely obscure either, Nobel-prize winner etc., though in my opinion, going by this, highly overrated.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet – also not obscure – and almost, like Čapek, getting 2 novels in in this batch – but I just didn’t quite finish the second one. Much more enjoyable than from what I remember last time I tried him (that time, it was The Voyeur).
  • P.D. Ouspensky – Russian mystic-type, a genuinely interesting character – who wrote only the single novel, and very strange it is too.
  • Miguel de Unamuno – the most underrated writer of the c20th, at least in terms of editions published recently in English (i.e. none). One day soon he’ll be “rediscovered”, and people will wonder why he’s been so overlooked.
  • Amalie Skram – Norwegian, late c19th, women’s rights, Nietzsche-influenced, sort of Ibsen-period. She was locked in an asylum for a time (possibly just for being a woman), and I’ve got another 2 novels of hers about the experience.
  • Pavel Kohout – another Czech: – this was just a serial killer type thing.

8 thoughts on “Books Read – Oct/Nov 10

  1. When I did my Balzac roundup, I barely said anything – maybe nothing – about THe WIld Ass’s Skin. I didn’t know what to do with it, I guess, because, as you say it’s so distinct.

    Agree about Cela; agree about Robbe-Grillet. Agree, agree, agree. How dull. Must read Unamuno & Čapek.

  2. I was going to write a post about The Wild Ass’s Skin (likewise Čapek’s The Cheat), but as usual never got round to it.

    The Wild Ass’s Skin neatly demonstrates a lot of things that I like to demonstrate: – that, firstly, Balzac isn’t always Balzac: – he’s not quite the epitome of Victorian realism, of everything that is wrong with modern writing, people like to claim. Can we not find a few traces of modernism in this: the overwrought construction, the obsessive referencing, the symbolism that leads inevitably to modernism (most similar perhaps to another book I’m reading at the moment, Bely’s Petersburg), the questioning of metanarratives. The last 4 pages are mysterious – especially since in the text of Balzac, or so we’re told, he, in his unmodernist way, doesn’t seek to question the authority of his own works; some very obscure pages, but – from what I can make out – a statement by the author that his creations are nothing more than fancies brought on by memories he’s seen in the crackling of the fire.

    (If The Wild Ass’s Skin reminds me of one work more than any other actually it’s Petronius’ Satyricon: – the Parisian subculture, the nouveaux riches, the long party scene, the orgies.)

    I have to admit, I’m not otherwise the greatest Balzac fan. I’ve read a few: Eugenie Grandet, Pere Goriot, Ursule Mirouet, and I’ve been halfway through Cousine Bette for a few years; – I’ve never found much of interest in him. (A more extreme example of the same is Flaubert – a writer whose genius is a complete mystery to me). But some of the short stories which I’m puzzling my way through in French and this novel have made me a little more interested.

    It’s led me to look (or it will, soon) to his more philosophical novels: Louis Lambert (on which, I see, you comment unfavourably – and which certainly looks unreadable); the Analytical Studies (not even sure what sort of work this is – fiction? non-fiction?); Seraphita (looks possibly readable, starts in Norway?); The Alkahest (also might be readable) – all found on Project Gutenburg. – Unfortunately Balzac is another fine proof of another of my favourite literary theories: that novelists should steer clear of “philosophy” as far as they can; it’ll only ruin their writing, if it’s given too much time.

  3. If you’re going to try “Louis Lambert” I also recommend it’s entirely different semi-sequel, “A Tragedy by the Sea” (” Un drame au bord de la mer “), a more symbolic, non-philosophical (better) approach to the problem.

    The idea of stapling the label realism to Balzac, as if that is sufficient – as if “A Passion in the Desert” or A Harlot High and Low have the slightest relationship to “realism,” whatever that is. It’s simply wrong, ignorant of Balzac’s enormous capacity.

  4. OK, I have “A Tragedy by the Sea” among my French short stories. – I read your opinion of A Harlot High and Low, so might track that down too – I’m sure I sure it in some secondhand shop recently.

  5. I don’t know how you could read ‘Un Coeur Simple’ and not think Flaubert a bit out of the ordinary. Balzac writes with a log in comparison. You’re a Zola man, aren’t you? Or am I thinking of someone else?

  6. Yes, I am indeed a Zola man – and I might even read some soon, since I picked up two of his obscurer books the other week (Zest for Life and Restless House – actually, the second one isn’t so obscure perhaps) – it’s about time, I haven’t read any in a while, five years perhaps.

    I am reading Madame Bovary at the moment, about 50 pages in and bored out of my mind. The only thing that keeps me going is the idea there’ll be some violent sex scenes later on (like you get in Zola, for instance) – though possibly I’m mixing it up with Belle de Jour.

  7. I can’t remember much about Madame B, but the lesbian orgy near the end is forever engraved on my mind.

    No Canal in the library, so I have to buy it, and feel obliged to pay full price. It has a lot of five star reviews on Amazon, so I know I’m getting a quality product.

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