Books Read – Jan/Feb 2011

Mini-reviews here.

Obscurer writers:

  • Madeleine Bourdouxhe is a Belgian writer, around the period of the Second World War (at least, this was when she wrote her novels – she lived a lot longer, but seems not to have written anything in later life). No English Wikipedia page; not much of a French one.
  • Yusuf al-Qa’id is an Egyptian writer (he might or might not have a Wikipedia page, but if he does then I can’t find the right transliteration of his name to uncover it). He seems to experiment a bit in narrative technique: this book, War in the Land of Egypt, had a narrative told from various points of view. Also seemed quite a timely book title.
  • Emmanuel Bove, marvellous French writer, read his book My Friends.
  • Xavier de Maistre, c19th French writer, the first of the many Sterne-clones I have lined up to read. Has the advantage over Tristram Shandy of being very short.
  • Juan Carlos Onetti, Uruguayan writer, generally regarding as one of the great c20th Latin-American writer, though being pre-Boom entirely ignored in the English-speaking world. One of the very few writers who is genuinely pessimistic (makes Beckett, to whom he’s often compared – I think he started earlier than Beckett too – seem very positive about the human condition [actually, I’ve been thinking about this this evening, and all things considered I do find Beckett quite a positive writer / truly pessimistic writers, like truly pessimistic philosophers, are few and far between]). – The other writer he’s often compared to is Faulkner: he does resemble him: in his style, in the types of people he writers about, and he has a world (Santa Maria) much like Faulkner does (Yoknapatawpha County). [ed. Technically it’s March now, and I still haven’t finished this Onetti book].
  • Roger Vailland, a French writer, mid-c20th, Prix Goncourt winner. One of those writers who’s really, really a lot more famous in France than here (compare the amount of information on the English and French Wikipedia pages). Since I became aware of Vailland, reading The Law last year (perhaps, the year before) I’ve noticed him mentioned casually in conversation in two French films (I think, Claude Chabrol’s Nada and Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours. An interesting character, generally dealing in unsettling questions of morality.

Ivan Morris’ The World of the Shining Prince I read as part of my long-on-hold Heian Literature Project (though I did read Over the Bridge of Dreams last year). It’s a really good background to the whole world: next, I shall be proceeding with The Kagero Diary (for which I paid the most I’ve ever paid for a secondhand book – the Arntzen translation, which is meant to be superior (always take with a pinch of salt) and has copious notes (i.e. they double the size of the book)), and then onto the two great classics, The Pillow Book and Genji [ed. so, finishing some time in 2015, then?].

I also expect to read a whole lot of Schiller in the coming months, though Wallenstein has to wait now till I polish up my knowledge of The Thirty Years War.

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