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1001 Books December 2022 Round-Up

This months winners and losers

Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor. BOTM#1. What GR says: A finely nuanced exploration of responsibility, snobbery and culture clash from one of the twentieth century’s finest novelists.

When Amy’s husband dies on holiday in Istanbul, she is supported by the kindly but rather slovenly Martha, a young American novelist who lives in London. Upon their return to England, Amy is ungratefully reluctant to maintain their friendship, but the skeins of their existence seem inextricably linked as grief gives way to resilience and again to tragedy. Reversals of fortune and a compelling cast of characters, including Ernie, ex-sailor turned housekeeper, and Amy’s wonderfully precocious granddaughters, add spice to a novel that delights even as it unveils the most uncomfortable human emotions. Not sure I found any spice in this…

My Thoughts: This is a very tightly written work exploring the nature of grief, guilt and of course blaming. There are so many things the characters rightly or wrongly blame themselves for and the book tackles these and the aftermath of unexpected death and the human reaction to it in a very believable manner.

Most of the characters are unlikeable but they are all so real that you can’t help but care what happens to them and despite the serious nature of the book there are still some real light hearted moments as life goes on.

3 Stars – a quick, sharp and entertaining read. Got a spare couple of hours? Go for it!

As a Man Grows Older by Italo Svevo. BOTM#2 What GR Says: Not so long ago Emilio Brentani was a promising young author. Now he is an insurance agent on the fast track to forty. He gains a new lease on life, though, when he falls for the young and gorgeous Angiolina-except that his angel just happens to be an unapologetic cheat. But what begins as a comedy of infatuated misunderstanding turns darker, as Emilio’s jealous persistence in his folly – against his friends’ and devoted sister’s advice, and even his own best knowledge – may lead to severe consequences in his other relationships. Marked by deep humanity and earthy humor, by psychological insight and an elegant simplicity of style, As a Man Grows Older (Senilità, in Italian; the English title was the suggestion of Svevo’s great friend and admirer, James Joyce) is a brilliant study of hopeless love and hapless indecision. Older man, younger attractive woman and jealousy ***sigh***

My Thoughts: I have a lot on my mind at the moment and that may not be the best point in time to read about a self-obsessed man and his take on the behaviour of the women in his life. We run into the classic virgin (sister) whore (lover) complex in this novel. It is fine for the men to toy with feelings and affections but for the women it is damnation, this is the prevailing attitude of the time period of the book but honestly I am so over that especially from a male perspective.

For me the contrast between the female characters is the most interesting thing. The two male protagonist are interchangeable and therefore forgettable. I say good on Angiolina for playing them. Girl power.

3 stars – A better frame of mind might have made this more enjoyable. It’s short so get it ticked off your list.

Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson. Yearly Read. What GR says: As a novel, Uwe Johnson’s masterpiece, Anniversaries, is at once daringly simple in conception and wonderfully complex and engaging in effect. Late in 1967, Johnson, already one of the most celebrated German novelists of his generation, set out to write a book that would take the form of an entry for every day of the year that lay ahead. The first section was dated August 20, and Johnson had of course no idea what the year would bring – that was part of the challenge – but he did have his main character: Gesine Cresspahl, a German emigre living on the Upper West Side of New York City and working as a translator for a bank who is the single mother of a ten-year-old daughter, Marie. The book would tell the story of a year in the life of this little family in relation to the unfolding story of the year, as winnowed from the pages of the New York Times, of which Gesine is a devoted if wary reader. These stories would in turn be overlayed by another: Gesine is 34, born just as Hitler was coming to power, and she has decided to tell Marie the story of her grandparents’ lives and of her own rural childhood in Nazi Germany. It is important that Marie know where and what she comes from. The days of the year are also anniversaries of years past. The world that was and the world of the 1960s – with the struggle for civil rights leading to riots in American cities and, abroad, the escalating destruction of the Vietnam War – are, in the end, one world.

Anniversaries was published in four volumes over the more than ten years that it took Johnson to write it, and as the volumes came out it became clear that this was one the great twentieth-century novels. The book courts comparison to Joyce’s Ulysses, the book of a day, and to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the book of a lifetime, but it stands apart in its dense polyphonic interplay of voices and stories. Anniversaries is many books: the book of a mother and daughter, of a family and its generations, of the country and the city, and of two times and two countries that seem farther apart perhaps than they are. It is a novel of private life, a political novel, and a new kind of historical novel, reckoning not only with past history but with history in the making. For me I feel GR is over selling this reading experience.

My Thoughts: I read this as an day a day and looking back on it this is not the best way to experience the book. There isn’t a central narrative and events move back, forth and sideways on various days so that by the time you get back to one narrative it has been a couple of days and the detail is no longer in your mind.

I might have had a better experience with this if I had read it as I would a normal book as that would have left less gaps between the time I read one narrative and when the book returned to that narrative it would have also made it easier to track the characters…but…I do not believe the payoff for reading it again would be worth the time I would lose when I could be reading other books, so I have no plans to attempt a re-read.

The sections I enjoyed most were the New York Times sections it was fascinating to see what was news worthy at the time and what the newspapers opinion of it all was. Scarily for an outsider a lot of the same events seen in these sections are still occurring in American today, specifically the killing of black men by white police officers.

I appreciate the effort the author put in to writing this time I just never fully engaged with the result.

3 Stars from me if you are laid up for a while and need something to occupy your mind this book could be a good choice. Alternative uses for the book would include giant doorstop…the choice as they say is yours.

 

Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought.

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