1001 Books Roundup: October 2019
Who are the winners and losers this month?
Loving by Henry Green – BOTM #1 – What the 1001 editors say: “Loving, tells the uneventful story of an English aristocratic household in Ireland during the second world war. The narrative of its little round of daily events is split between the servants of the house and their masters.” They did not lie when they said it was uneventful.
This book was so uneventful that although I only finished it a few hours ago I had to have the book to hand to remind me who the main character was to write this review. His name is Raunce by the way.
The book largely focuses on life “downstairs” how the servants behave and how they view their masters. No-one is particularly well behaved either upstairs or downstairs, add a few children into the mix and confusion reigns supreme.
To cap it all off we have a very abrupt ending telling the reader that the characters live happily ever after. Well that’s just great would it hurt to give us a little more detail?
3 Stars – it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great and as a bonus it wasn’t long.
Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass – BOTM #2. What Goodreads says: Cat and Mouse was first published in 1961, two years after Gunter Grass’ controversial and applauded masterpiece, The Tin Drum. Once again Grass turns his attention on Danzig. With a subtle blend of humour and power, Cat and Mouse ostensibly relates the rise of Mahlke from clown to hero. But Mahlke’s outlandish antics hide the darkness at the heart of a nation torn by Nazi violence, the war, and its aftermath. Any humour in this was very subtly hidden.
I gave this 4 stars. I think there is a lot of it I don’t understand but what I did (or think I did) understand was beautifully crafted. Having researched more about Grass after reading this it has become clear that this is a largely autobiographical novel, there are too many similarities between the author and the narrator for that not to be the case.
This is the 2nd book in the Danzig trilogy and I love the way the protagonist from The Tin Drum turns up at seemingly random points throughout the narrative.
At its heart this is a coming of age story about 2 boys caught up in a horrific moment in history. While the war is largely in the background they are not unaffected by it, everyone has lost loved ones to the war and the boys are all keen to sign up and become heroes. At a time when it is dangerous to stand out the central character Mahlke is proud to go his own way, to be the best at everything he attempts and he is even a reluctant hero. By the end of the novel it appeared to me that Mahlke had begun to question whether what he was doing was actually heroic or not.
My favourite line “You assume that two parallel lines meet at infinity. You’ll admit that adds up to something like transcendence.”
4 Stars – for a novel about the war this is surprisingly light on violence. The choice to focus on teenage boys going about their own lives allows the reader to see a different side to the “evil Nazis” we are all familiar with.
Revolving Lights Pilgrimage Book 7 – Yearly Read – Goodreads calls Pilgrimage “one of the great 20th century works of modernist and feminist literature in English” This volume is full of feminist thinking and philosophy but not a lot else.
For me this volume felt like a place holder, somewhere the author would have an opportunity to throw various thoughts around. While I enjoyed pondering these thoughts I was glad that the volume ended on a cliff hanger as my motivation to continue reading on is waning.
Here are some of the quotes that got me thinking:
“Modern man individually, is in many respects less capable than primitive man.”
“Men – have no personality’ ‘You see women simply as a sex. That’s one of the proofs.”
“It is not that women are heartless; that is an appearance. It is that they know there are no tragedies.”
“the two men walked alone, exchanging, without interference, one side, masculine views.”
“Fighting is too mild for Miriam. She crushes. She demolishes.”
“To shreds she would tear his twofold vision of women as bright intelligent response or complacently smiling audience.”
“Women see in terms of life. Men in terms of things, because their lives are passed amongst scraps.”
3 Stars – If you have read all the way up to book 6 there is no point giving in now.
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith – TBR Takedown – What Goodreads says: “It depicts the fall and rise of the Primrose family, presided over by the benevolent vicar, the narrator of a fairy-tale plot of impersonation and deception, the abduction of a beautiful heroine and the machinations of an aristocratic villain. By turns comic and sentimental, the novel’s popularity owes much to its recognizable depiction of domestic life and loving family relationships.” This description is completely accurate apart from the “recognizable depiction of domestic life and loving family relationships” not sure how true this would have been at the time of writing but nowadays I would say that kind of family is no longer recognizable.
For the most part I enjoyed this story told by the Vicar Mr Primrose. The Vicar is a steadfast and honest man he believes wholly in matrimony and in helping his fellow man and while in some narratives this tendency can come of as preachy and unbelievable for me this narrative managed to avoid this trap. In fact there was only really one point when I wanted to slap the vicar and that was when he had fallen into despair and was turning his back on the positives he still had left.
One of the problems with being a good man and raising a good family is that you fail to see the bad in other people and it is this trusting nature that leads the family into hard times.
This book felt familiar for several reasons despite having never read it before. There is a Jack and the Beanstalk story without the magic beans, then there is a Shakespearean confusion of characters who are not who/or what they claim to be, we have kidnappings and plottings, unjustified jail sentences and finally we get our happily ever after moment (for most of the characters anyway).
It also has several political/social messages about how to treat your fellow human being.
I did enjoy reading this but at points it did feel like the bad luck was overdone and then likewise with the ending the good luck was overdone.
“The two sexes seem placed as spies upon each other, and are furnished with different abilities, adapted for mutual inspection.”
“I found that riches in general were in every country another name for freedom; and that no man is so fond of liberty himself as not to be desirous of subjecting the will of some individuals in society to his own.”
“I armed her against the censures of the world, shewed her that books were sweet unreproaching companions to the miserable, and that if they could not bring us to enjoy life, they would at least teach us to endure it.”
“It is among the citizens of a refined community that penal laws, which are in the hands of the rich, are laid upon the poor.”
3 Stars – There are worse ways to spend your time at least with this your are in genteel company.
You were kinder to Loving than I was. It was a snore fest! I read Vicar a long time ago, and remember really liking it. I remember liking Cat and Mouse, but not much else about it.
My big surprise this month was How it Is by Beckett. It is about a man grieving his wife, and though it takes some getting used to, I found it heartbreakingly stunning. Which is surprising, because I read Endgame by him earlier this month, and I loathed every line.