Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Enormous Room (1922) by ee cummings

ee cummings- US poet and memoir-ist.

Book Review
The Enormous Room (1922)
by ee cummings
Liveright Press (1978 edition)

  Is this a novel? A memoir? An autobiographical novel?  Something like that.  It's literature, to be sure.  Basically, cummings, like many other to-be Artists, joined the French ambulance service early on in World War I.  In 1917, he was arrested, and essentially held on suspicion of being "anti-French."  He spent three months in jail, and he writes it up like he sees it, in a style that is kind of like early Beat prose, with interludes of untranslated French and various varieties of pidgin English.  It is a confinement narrative at hear- you hear the routine, and then get character detail.  The Enormous Room is light on actual incident, no escapes or vile torture to speak of, the worst that it gets is cummings being forced to spend time in solitary confinement, or at least his description.

  You could call it Beat, you could call it Existentialist, or Kafka-esque or early Lost Generation, something like that.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot as depicted in the PBS mystery series

Book Review
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
 by Agatha Christie

   Would I ever had read an Agatha Christie novel without the impetus of the 1001 Books project?  I highly doubt it.  The reasons are numerous: I don't have any friends who read Agatha Christie novels, I'm kind of a snob about "popular fiction,"  I'm kind of a snob about Agatha Christie herself.   But it's a snobbery that has evolved in a vacuum.  In fact, the only concrete idea I have in my head about Agatha Christie is that my Mother if a life long fan of the PBS adaptions of her novels.  Christie had two main detectives: The Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and the English detective Ms. Marple.  Poirot is more along the lines of a Sherlock Holmes figure, complete with a Watson, while Marple is like a precursor to the Angela Lansbury Murder She Wrote heroine.

  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is often referred to as Christie's masterpiece because she uses  an unexpected plot twist to resolve the murder. (Spoiler alert) In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the murderer turns out to be the narrator/Watson figure, who tells us the tale, only to be revealed in the end.  This is either brilliant, or very, very cheap, depending on your point of view.  I found it delightful, particularly amid all the experimental twenties modernism I've been digging through.  It was nice to just kick back and read some straight forward genre fiction.

  Sorry for spoiling the ending, but my sense is that there is no one who would read this review, then go read the book.  It occurs to me that maybe the main point in writing these reviews is to offer proof that all these books were actually read, because otherwise, who is to say.  Like many of the recently reviewed books, I got The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from the Central San Diego Public Library, and readers can assume that every book from here out is from that source.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Living (novel) (1929) by Henry Green

Book Review
Living (novel) (1929)
by Henry Green
Penguin Classics

  Almost 25% done with the 1001 Books Project- the next review will be #250/1001.  Generally speaking, the 20th century books are distinctly less of a challenge than the 19th or (shudder) 18th century books.  First, they aren't written in old timey English.  Second, they are shorter.  Third, they aren't so deadly dull.  Green is another example of why this project is so interesting- English writer- literally, had never heard of him, ever, and he's got at least five books on the 1001 Books list, so here I am, getting familiar.

  Living is not his first novel- he wrote Blindness whilst still a lad, but according to John Updike, who wrote the introduction to the three-in-one Penguin Classics edition I checked out from the library, Green more or less disavowed Blindness, totally omitting it from the autobiography he wrote before heading off to World War II.

   Living tells the tale of a bunch of folks who either work or own a steel plant in.... Birmingham- I think. Green wrote Living in a particular style that rates as "experimental" but is separate from the typical "stream of consciousness" narration that James Joyce brought to the fore in the mid 1920s.  Particularly, Green omits articles from his sentences, so no "the's" or "A's."  I'm actually sympatico with that effort, but it does make Living, in combination with Green's insistence on having factory workers speak like factory workers, a bit of a slog.

  Still not totally sold on the brilliance of Green as a writer, but I've got what, two, maybe three more books to read so there is still time.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A Passage to India (1924) by E.M. Forster

Book Review
A Passage to India (1924)
by E.M. Forster

  Hard not to enjoy an E.M. Forster joint.  This is my third after Where Angels Fear To Tread (1904) and Room With A View (1908.)   Of course, his big hit was Howard's End (1910), and then a gap between that book and this one.  The idea of a trip to India is very much something that was in vogue in pre-World War I Europe.  Forster went after Howard's End was a hit, but A Passage to India wouldn't be published until 1924, and India itself was picking up steam as it moved towards independence. The India that Forster had visited was a more placid locale.  The India depicted in A Passage to India is somewhere between the India Forster knew and the India that actually existed around the time of publication: The British Raj is still in control, but the reins are fraying.

  It's very easy to enjoy A Passage to India as a light, early 20th century Novel about class and colonialism.  Reading it from a more critical perspective- one informed, say, by Edward Said and his landmark book Orientalism, is more problematic.  After all, Forster is a white, English author who has no compunction about using Indian Muslims and Hindus as primary characters in his text. I can see where someone from India might take offense.  On the other hand, you can just read it an relax.  Forster's novels are pleasurable, nuanced and well-written.  Almost every list of "Top 100 English Novels" has either this book or Howard's End included.

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