1001 Books Round-Up – June 2021
This months winners and losers…
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov – BOTM Carryover from 2020. What GR says: The American poet John Shade is dead. His last poem, ‘Pale Fire’, is put into a book, together with a preface, a lengthy commentary and notes by Shade’s editor, Charles Kinbote. Known on campus as the ‘Great Beaver’, Kinbote is haughty, inquisitive, intolerant, but is he also mad, bad – and even dangerous? As his wildly eccentric annotations slide into the personal and the fantastical, Kinbote reveals perhaps more than he should be.
Nabokov’s darkly witty, richly inventive masterpiece is a suspenseful whodunit, a story of one-upmanship and dubious penmanship, and a glorious literary conundrum. This book could be read time and again with a different understanding each time.
My Thoughts: This is a very clever book and a very clever way of telling the reader the story of 2 different men. Our narrator changes over the course of the novel as we come to see him not as a literary critic of standing but as something else altogether. As the joy of the story lies in discovering this evolution there is not a lot more I can say about the actual story itself.
In terms of the writing the reader would do well to pay attention to every word as every single one is deliberately selected over all other choices.
I loved looking out for the literary references and was amused to find reference to other works by Nabokov alongside Shakespeare, Frost and many other great authors. I was also interested to see the term “Dark Vanessa” as this is the title of a new book currently getting rave reviews despite the uncomfortable subject matter. As I have not heard the term before I am assuming it originated from Nabokov…
4 Stars – the author really makes you work for this one and I did prefer Lolita but if you want a project for the rest of your life go for it and watch out for Alice down that rabbit hole.
The Fox by D H Lawrence – Tackle the TBR – What GR Says: Sharply observed and expertly crafted, D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox is a captivating work exploring the dual themes of power and supremacy in the aftermath of the First World War. Banford and March live and work together on their meager farm, surviving hardship only by sheer determination and dedicated labor. The farm is their world, a place of safety—that is, until a young soldier walks in and upsets the women’s delicate status quo. None could have predicted the effect his presence would have on their lives. Men…
My Thoughts – for DH Lawrence this is a short story (124 Pages) and I appreciate this less bogged down in detail approach to storytelling. The story of the Fox is one of obsession and possession.
Banford and March take over a farm only to find they are not cut out for the life but with nothing else open to them they continue on. March has an almost supernatural account with the Fox of the title and instead of shooting it March lets it get away opening her up to an obsession about their spiritual connection which is ultimately realised in the form of the soldier who seems to be a human version of the Fox.
The soldier becomes obsessed with March and with possessing her and this leads to unforeseen consequences.
This being Lawrence things don’t work out well for anyone but then what did you expect?
3 Stars – a very quick read and it was interesting to see how well Lawrence can communicate his point when not concentrating on unnecessary minute detail.
Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard – BOTM – What GR says: Old Masters (subtitled A Comedy) is a novel by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, which was first published in 1985. It tells of the life and opinions of Reger, a ‘musical philosopher’, through the voice of his acquaintance Atzbacher, a ‘private academic’.
The book is set in Vienna on one day around the year of its publication, 1985. Reger is an 82-year-old music critic who writes pieces for The Times. For over thirty years he has sat on the same bench in front of Tintoretto’s White-bearded Man in the Bordone Room of the Kunsthistorisches Museum for four or five hours of the morning of every second day. He finds this environment the one in which he can do his best thinking. He is aided in this habit by the gallery attendant Irrsigler, who prevents other visitors from using the bench when Reger requires it. So where does the comedy come into this?
My thoughts: This is a stream of consciousness novel (not my favourite technique) and there seems to be an unwritten rule that when writing SOC authors must under no circumstances allow any break in the text on the page. (I hate this! My eyes need gaps to rest and my brain needs a point I can put the book down at and still be able to pick it up again.)
As the story unfolds we are given various second hand insights into Reger and what it actually is that motivates him to spend every other day on the Bordone Settee in front of the White-bearded Man. We learn about Reger’s life and family connections, how he met his wife, how he lost his wife and how he justifies continuing to live on without her. We also learn his very strong opinions about all forms of art. Literature, music and of course the old masters.
While most of the group disliked the critique of art works I actually found this fascinating. I am one of those people who Reger disparages as looking only at the big picture. Next time I see a picture with people in it I will really study the detail particularly the hands as Reger tells us the very few artists can actually paint hands. Reger disparages those who visit an art gallery and try to see as much art as possible in a limited time (guilty) but he also disparages those who visit solely to study one painting for academic purposes (basically he hates everyone) . If you were to follow Reger’s advise the best way to visit a gallery is to choose a few works of art to really get into and ignore the rest.
Reger is similarly critical of music and literature and reading things from his point of view did make me think more about how I approach the arts. That said when it comes to music and books I really don’t care about them being great or flawed I just go with what I like.
3 Stars – relatively short, interesting concept once you get past the lack of punctuation.
Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought.