It’s was nice to get annoyed at the books I was reading the other week and decide to give up on a whole bunch (perhaps permanently, perhaps not). Always having to be finishing books bores me so much; I much prefer merely starting them. Anyway, it got me looking round my bookcase at the vast and frightening expanses of unread novels that are still patiently waiting. The book I actually ended up picking out and reading was Dostoevsky’s 1876 novella, The Gentle Maiden. (The date, you’ll notice, puts it between The Demons – or, more specifically, the interestingly obscure The Adolescent – and The Brothers Karamazov in his bibliography).
The Gentle Maiden is a fascinating novella – one of those ideas of the c20th which the c19th has inconveniently borrowed. A man’s wife commits suicide by throwing herself from a window – the novel beginning with her husband standing in front of her body a few hours afterwards, and consisting of his attempts to construct a coherent narrative which might explain why she did it and what his part was, if any, in her decision. You can’t get more unreliable-narrator than this! – It must have been perplexing to a Victorian audience though who, as we all know, could see into other people mind’s at will, thanks to the existence of God (or something like that, I forget exactly how the argument goes).
Anyway, it’s got me interested in reading some novellas – something I’ve been lax at doing – I think, because of the pressure I put on myself to get Books Read – but which I enjoy, so I thought I’d have a week (a week and a day?) of them: – something I last did about fifteen years ago – you know, back in the age before the internet, when I did things like that just for the hell of it, rather than in order to have something to (not) blog about. Here’s my choices, some of which I’ve been meaning to get around to for a long time now:
- The Landlady, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (97pp)
- Un Bel Morir, by Alvaro Mutis (104pp)
- Michael Kohlhaas, by Heinrich von Kleist (96pp)
- The Forest Path to the Spring, by Malcolm Lowry (71pp)
- Master Flea, by E.T.A. Hoffmann (137pp)
- Cutting It Short, by Bohumil Hrabal (131pp)
- Autumn Sonata, by Ramón del Valle-Inclán (83pp)
- A Week in a Quiet House, by Jan Neruda (107pp)
- Travels of Benjamin III, by Mendele Moykher-Sforim (116pp)