Books Read – June 2020 (Part 2)

The Prelude, by William Wordsworth

I think this is the first English language epic poem I’ve read (at least, in its entirety). I guess it’s a literary form which has been pretty much out of fashion these last two centuries; today it would just be an autobiographical novel. Basically it’s an enquiry by Wordsworth into how he became Wordsworth: the growth of the artist within, how he’s sustained by his love of the natural world (mostly the Lake District), and less so by human society (more specifically the French Revolution, or what it led to). In general interesting enough, but that didn’t prevent me getting very bogged down at times. I’m still not sure epic poetry is at all suited to English.

The Invitation, by Claude Simon

If you’ve read all of Faulkner, and want to read some more Faulkner, then you could read some Claude Simon. He even employs a lot of Faulkner’s syntactical tics. Structurally, his works tend to be more broken up, and the subject matter is certainly not Faulknerian. This novel is about an invitation extended to 15 famous figures from around the world to visit the newly perestroikaed Russia (or, at least, this is what I derived from the text – the essay afterwards says it would be reductive to claim this was what it was about). It kind of starts and ends and doesn’t really go anywhere or say anything or have a point. (I’ve got another novel, which I must finish reading, called Perestroika in Partygrad, by Alexander Zinoviev, which is much the same, but from a Russian satirical point of view). But as with Faulkner, I mostly enjoyed just the pure writing.

Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis

This is certainly my favourite of his novels – far better than his other two more Sterne-like, post-modernist affairs (Epitaph of a Small Winner and Quincas Borba, the latter of which I remember not enjoying at all – and possibly not finishing). This is the accepted view too. (Although I did enjoy the previous more realist novel of his I read, which I haven’t the effort to look up now but I’m sure is somewhere on this blog [I looked it up later, it was Yaya Garcia]). Basically a story of adolescent love flourishing, perhaps, into mature adult love (i.e. marriage) – and not even particularly against the wishes of anyone’s family.

The Double Tongue, by William Golding

This the last novel Golding wrote, and the last of his novels I had yet to read. (It’s very rare for me to actually finish an author’s complete works). I think it’s far from his best novel. As we observed a few months ago about Golding, he has a great interest in extreme states of mind (far from the modern Western one). This novel is about a woman who becomes the voice of the Pythian oracle at Delphi, but it didn’t really satisfy on this account. There was too little examination of what the mind of an oracle might be; and too much religious scepticism (I’m always sceptical towards scepticism of ancient religion; in many ways the ancients took religion a lot more seriously than we do). Additionally, there’s a counterplot about a Greek conspiracy to rid themselves of Roman imperium which, while I’m inclined to believe lots of people living under the Romans would rather they didn’t, I found unlikely (especially for the Greeks, who ultimately throve to the extent of completely taking over the eastern empire).

Ion, by Euripides

I re-read this because it’s referenced in The Double Tongue, though aside from being set around the oracle of Delphi, and occasionally the Pythian priestess appears in it, it doesn’t have all that much in common with it. The back of my copy claims it’s a play about “reconciling religious faith with the facts of human life”, but this seems to me a very Christian point of view and not at all evidenced in the text (though now I guess I’m going to have to read it again to make sure!). The ancient Greeks had no difficulty in reconciling religious faith with the facts of human life: they simply didn’t believe the gods had our best interests at heart in the first place. Something of a proto-#MeToo play as well, in which the central character Creusa finally years later decides to speak out about how she was raped as a young girl.

Knight’s Gambit, by William Faulkner

Usually I take months (if not years) to complete any given book of short stories, but these six I read in six days. There are all detective – or at least crime – stories, revolving around that familiar Faulknerian character, Gavin Stevens. Aside from the first story, which is mostly a Poirot-like everyone-gathered-together-to-reveal-the-mystery affair, mostly in these pieces one wonders if the chain of detection is quite as important to Faulkner as the cultural environs of the crime and the corruption of the legal process (or society at large in which it exists), not to mention the extension of the general mythology of Yoknapatawpha County. The last and longest story is somewhat different, in which Faulkner’s digressive garrulousness itself is used to distract you from the clues as to what’s going on. Far-fetched perhaps at times, but wonderfully written – he is in his full story-telling mode.

6 thoughts on “Books Read – June 2020 (Part 2)

  1. Which translation did you read? I made the mistake of reading the Scott-Buccleuch translation, only to discover afterwards that 9 chapters are omitted from it. I then ordered the Gledson translation a few days later, which I plan to start in the next few days.

  2. Oh, it’s Scott-Buccleuch. You’ll have to let me know if those chapters are worth reading. It seems a very strange thing to do, considering the chapters are only about a page, a page and a half long in general.

  3. It seems there was something of an academic controversy around it, as Scott-Buccleuch made no mention of the fact that his translation was not complete. This was only picked up a few years later. I don’t think he responded to the criticism, so we can only speculate as to his motives. Maybe to make the narrative less digressive (in a book where digression is central to the concept)? I may write something about it on my own blog in the coming weeks.

  4. Curiouser and curiouser. It seems the missing chapters are not missing from every edition of the Scott-Buccleuch. The translation was first published by Peter Owen in 1992 and then by Penguin Classics in 1994; it was this Penguin edition that was at the centre of the controversy. The version I read was published in 2016, again by Peter Owen; all the chapters⁠—which are mainly from Bentinho’s time in the seminary, including the stuff about the Panegyric of St. Monica and the uncompleted sonnet (does that ring a bell?)⁠—are present, and there’s a little note near the front to say that it is a ‘complete and unabridged paperback edition’. So what’s not clear to me is whether the 1992 version is complete; I suppose I’d have to consult a copy of it to find out.

    From what I’ve read, it seems very unlikely that the chapters were omitted in error, as they weren’t all omitted entirely; some portions were retained, as if to paper over the cracks. If the 1992 edition was complete, this would mean that there was a conscious decision to make the cuts for the higher-profile Penguin edition. Whose decision was this? Both parties are reported to have met enquiries with silence, and Scott-Bucchleuch doesn’t break his silence in the 2016 edition.

  5. I certainly can’t remember the passages you refer to, although I’m quite capable of forgetting books from one month to the next. As you say, it’s all very strange.

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