1001 Books July 2019 Round Up
This months winners and losers…
Slow Man by J M Coetzee BOTM: What they say – The story concerns a man who must learn to adapt after losing a leg in a road accident. The novel has many varied themes, including the nature of care, the relationship between an author and his characters, and man’s drive to leave a legacy. Is this an accurate summary? Yes
While I was reading this book I really didn’t enjoy it much and that was because a lot of the narrative was focused on an older man trying to force his attentions on a younger woman who was employed to care for him after a traumatic accident this felt creepy and unnecessary. This was then compounded by the arrival of another female character Elizabeth Costello who went out of her way to force the issue.
I didn’t like the role Elizabeth Costello played in this novel however her inclusion is actually very clever. Elizabeth Costello is an author created by JM Coetzee in her own book and she is trying to write about Paul within this novel by Coetzee.
The last few chapters turn the main thrust of the narrative on its head and makes the reader consider how far we can trust the view of one person especially if that person is a narrator or an author of a story.
While I can appreciate that this is a clever book it just doesn’t work for me. That could be a case of it’s not you it’s me.
3 Stars – Only 263 pages that read quickly you might as well give it a go.
Wise Children by Angela Carter BOTM: What wiki says: Wise Children was the last novel written by Angela Carter. The novel follows the fortunes of twin chorus girls, Dora and Nora Chance, and their bizarre theatrical family. It explores the subversive nature of fatherhood, the denying of which leads Nora and Dora to frivolous “illegitimate” lechery. The novel plays on Carter’s admiration of Shakespeare and her love of fairy tales and the surreal, incorporating a large amount of magical realism and elements of the carnivalesque that probes and twist. Twins Yes, Shakespeare Yes, Fairy tales Maybe, Surreal Yes, Magical Realism Yes, Carnivalesque Oh Yes Indeed.
I loved this gloriously over the top story of show biz twins and their famous family. Margaret Atwood describe this story as lush and that is the perfect word for it.
The story is narrated by Dora and it is great fun listening to her memories and her wry observations about the people in her life. From the opening of the book you know this is going to be a fun ride:
“Good morning! Let me introduce myself. My name is Dora Chance. Welcome to the wrong side of the tracks.”
We are affectionately introduce to such characters as “Wheelchair” and “Daisy Duck”. When the narrative progresses we learn who these characters are and their relationship to Dora. We also learn about past love affairs, show biz triumphs and failures and a whole lot of family skeletons. Throw in a whole load of Shakespeare references and tropes and I was in my happy place.
My favourite quotes include:
“if the past weren’t deeper than the sea, more difficult to cross.”
“But he kept insisting on forgiving me when there was nothing to forgive.”
“He was also faithful, and where he loved, he never altered, nor saw any alteration.”
“He was not the love of my life but all the loves of my life at once”
4 Stars – Everyone needs some colour in their life so what are you waiting for dive in.
The World According to Garp by John Irving. TBR Takedown. What they say – This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields—a feminist leader ahead of her times. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes—even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with “lunacy and sorrow”; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. Did I find this book funny? No. Did I find this book sorrowful? No. Is it full of sexual extremes? Yes.
Biographical detail: John Irving’s mother, Frances Winslow, had not been married at the time of his conception, and Irving never met his biological father. As a child, he was not told anything about his father, and he baited his mother that unless she gave him some information about his biological father, in his writing he would invent the father and the circumstances of how she got pregnant. Winslow would reply, “Go ahead, dear.” I wonder what Winslow thought of the conception and father Irving gave Garp/himself?
I was really looking forward to reading this having already read and loved Owen Meany & Cider House. While the narrative technique in this book is very cleverly used the story itself lacks the heart and soul of my previous Irving reads.
This is a clever narrative where we have several stories within stories. First of we have Irving telling the story of Garp and his family, then we have extracts from Garp’s mother’s own book and finally we have extracts from several books that Garp himself writes.
Garp’s mother (Jenny) is writing a factual autobiography about her decision to be asexual yet still have a child this book becomes a feminist masterpiece and leads to Jenny becoming an influential figure in the woman’s movement despite her insistence that she doesn’t want to be labelled a feminist.
Garp writes books that allow him to process and deal with real life in a fictional way, part of the appeal of his stories to his family is working out which bits are actually true and which are made up.
Central themes in the novel are feminism, the treatment of women, love, the worries of parents about children, the dangers of extreme behaviour (the Ellen Jamesians), the problems faced by writers – to be serious or to be popular and of course sex and sexuality.
I appreciated the diverse cast of characters (especially Roberta) but I never actually warmed to any of them. There are several tragic events in the book but I never felt anywhere close to tears because the characters were too remote.
I think this would make a great book for discussion and I appreciate the important themes that Irving has chosen to pursue however I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the reading experience as a whole.
4 Stars for clever narrative technique 3 stars for enjoyment. Read it if you want to be forced out of your comfort zone.