Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Read & Written

Some recent readings:

Troubles by J.G. Farrell
This is a book and an author that have only recently come to my attention thanks to the Lost Booker Prize - and for that I'm very grateful because Troubles is a sensationally good novel. It's a big and winding creation that succeeds on many levels: as a study of colonialism, as a tale of love and loss, as an exploration of human motives and the impulse of youth. There are strange images, such as the feral cats in the abandoned floors of the hotel, and echoes of other histories and stories from Ireland's past.

Farrell's other works are now on my "must read" list.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This has been on my "must read" list for 20 years - it's a long list - but I finally got around to it and it's everything I expected: sensual, evocative of a time and place, and full of insight - I felt I understood Dick Diver's situation almost too well as he slipped from brilliant potential in to dull middle age. But best of all is the writing: oh what prose, what poise, it dances and thrills continuously.

The Infinities by John Banville
I've been a fan of Banville for a long time - "Eclipse" and "Shroud" are amongst my favourite books. Now of course he's justly famous after his Booker win and his latest works are anticipated worldwide. "The Infinities" is a clever work, as Banville plays God with the characters he's created for his and our amusement. Clever, but unsatisfying as it feels that he really is just playing and not really taking the work seriously. So while I enjoyed the novel it did peter out in the end and won't remain long in the memory. Hopefully this is just a warm-up to something much more challenging for Banville and his readers.

My Correct Views on Everything by Leszek Kolakowski
I discovered the Polish philosopher through his obituary which described a fascinating life journey through the turbulence of the cold war, armed with a dry wit and sharp eye.

"A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading. "

He may have been thinking of Sartre when he said this; it made me think of that phony Bernard-Henri Lévy.

This is a collection of essays where he points out the failings of communism to its cheerleaders in the west.  Naturally they don't want their dearest ideas punctured by this man who has actually lived through the tyranny  - but that just gives him the opportunity to skewer them with their own pretensions. He also has many interesting things to say on religion and morality in the modern world in a series of shorter essays.

The essays have mostly been translated into English by his daughter and she has no little skill as they read very well. It's a good book to dip in and out of.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
This is a companion to her earlier novel "Oryx and Crake" and is very similar in all respects. I enjoyed it - Atwood is a fine writer - but enough with the dystopias already! I think "The Blind Assassin" is her masterpiece and would love her to get back to that sort of work.

The Dublin Review Reader edited by Brendan Barrington
I'm a subscriber to The Dublin Review and this selection of essays is well worth reading - well except for Colm Toibin's graphic description of his sexual awakening in Barcelona which I think is a memory he should have kept precious for himself.

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