Sunday, March 12, 2006

Julian Barnes, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, 1989.

I picked this book off the shelf the other day for a reason I can’t now remember. I hadn’t reread it since I bought it, back at Western. It’s a wonderfully funny and dry book—exactly the kind of humour I enjoy.
What made me reread it now, though, was glancing through it and noticing a passage I had marked:

For the point is this: not that myth refers us back to some original event which has been fancifully transcribed as it passed through the collective memory; but that it refers us forward to something that will happen, that must happen. Myth will become reality, however sceptical we might be. (181)

Barnes captures something important about myth with that idea, though not quite how I’d enter into playing with the idea.

At any rate. A rollicking good read, this book is fascinating in its imaginations. It rewrites the story of the Ark several times, in many different ways, and takes it to places that that story might never otherwise have been thought to touch. I think what I like most about the book is that it does stretch me to read the world, and to imagine, differently than I tend so to do.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Zadie Smith. White Teeth, 2000. On Beauty, 2005.

OK, so first of all? I haven’t stopped reading. School, though, has meant that my reading has been more curtailed than I’d like. It’s also meant that I haven’t had time to post reflections on what little I have read. I’m hoping that may change a bit in the next while, and certainly my summer away from school will help.

Now, Ms. Smith. Wow.
I read White Teeth over Christmas. I greatly enjoyed it. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, though, in retrospect. Smith's clear, deft narration smoothly weaves plots and characters together, but there's something that unsettles me about the book that I can't quite identify. An acquaintance wrote that about the novel that:

I loved Irie and the twins. I love how Samad's wife seems so unsympathetic at first, but that you slowly come over to her side. I loved KEVIN's acronym problem. I loved the part about the Satanic Verses. I loved the first chapter. I loved Dr. Sick and the WW2 flashback.

I didn't love how it sort of fell apart at the end, but that's ok.

I agree with Nav: the characterization was brilliant, but that the plot didn’t manage to stay at the same level throughout the novel. The final melding of the three families seems forced, and lacks the power of many of the other descriptions. A really enjoyable book, though.

I started, and did not finish, The Autograph Man. It bored me quickly, actually: I only read the first fifty or so pages.

On Beauty, though, is phenomenal. It is just… wow. The characters are better: fuller, no sense of stereotyping in any of even the minor supporting characters. Monty could perhaps be slightly more fleshed out. Watching the central family and its various, weaving interactions, is fascinating. It’s enough to send me to read Forster’s Howards End, which I’ve not yet read. (On Beauty is a reconstruction and adaptation of that story.) I’m going to have to read that, and then reread On Beauty.

A quick excerpt:

Rarely does one see a squirrel tremble. It is not necessary to pick up a shovel in order to unearth your rubbish bins. This is because it is never really very cold in England. It is drizzly, and the wind will blow; hail happens, and there is a breed of Tuesday in January in which time creeps and no light comes and the air is full or water and nobody really loves anybody, but still a decent jumper and a waxen jacket lined with wool is sufficient for every weather England's got to give. (27)

Ms. Smith goes on my Keats List, for that kind of writing.