Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Exercises in Style (1948) by Raymond Queneau

Raymond Queneau

Book Review
Exercises in Style (1948)
by Raymond Queneau

 Exercises in Style is the retelling of the same two paragraph story in 99 different styles.  A man is on a bus, another man steps on his shoes, he begins a confrontation and quickly abandons it in favor of occupying a recently vacated seat.  Some time later, an acquaintance tells him to add a button to his jacket.  

  The styles are legion:  Surprises, Dreams, Hesitation, Precision,  Visual, Auditory, Gustatory, Apheresis, Reported Speech, Insistence, Ignorance.  The list goes 99 deep. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Unnamable (1953) by Samuel Beckett

Book Review
The Unnamable (1953)
 by Samuel Beckett

  The Unnamable is the final novel in his so-called trilogy, which also includes Malone and Molloy Dies.  The Unnamable is the most abstract of the bunch which seems to be "simply" a stream of consciousness narration from an immobile character who, I thought, was burning in some kind of eternal hell fire.  I can't find any support for my theory that the narrator of The Unnamable is literally trapped in hell, but I suppose you could explain the hell references as exaggeration for narrative effect.

  The saving grace of The Unnamable is that it is only about 130 pages long, otherwise you'd be looking at something as difficult to get through as Finnegan's Wake.  No plot, no characters, no location, no time, just the stream of consciousness narration. 

Book Review: The Long Goodbye (1953) by Raymond Chandler

Nina van Pallandt as Eileen Wade in the 1973 Robert Altman movie version of The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler.

Book Review
The Long Goodbye (1953)
by Raymond Chandler

     Phillip Marlowe had the distinction of being one of those characters in literature who was ahead of his time when he introduced to the public and lasting long enough for the world to catch up with him.
  Marlowe's world weary cynicism, well in evidence from the first page of the first book, has by the time of the 1953 publication date of The Long Goodbye, become a popular attitude, with Marlowe himself being a role model for a generation of hipsters across the globe.

   If you look at contemporary takes on detective genre as literature, artists like Thomas Pynchon and the Coen Brothers, it's easy to see how it is The Long Goodbye, rather than earlier detective-literature classics, that serves as the point of departure.     The Long Goodbye feels literary, less like a story written for a genre audience and more like a book written for an existing, appreciative critical audience as a defining statement of a spectacularly popular character, the private detective, Phillip Marlowe.  More than the plot, with its familiar mix of wealthy and intoxicated Angelenos getting themselves into murderous circumstances, The Long Goodbye is about Marlowe himself.  There are segments of the book that describe his life away from the action central to the plot, with several pages being devoted to his relationship with "normal" clients, i.e. not the kind of statuesque blondes that show up in Chauffeur helmed Rolls Royce's.

  I especially appreciated The Long Goodbye as I enter the period of literature typically called "post-modernism" where characters and plots begin to evaporate into thin air.  I'm not saying that every novel needs to follow some set of rule in regards to character and incident, but the often disorienting techniques of post modern literature make every such novel a struggle.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Malone Dies (1951) by Samuel Beckett

Book Review
Malone Dies (1951)
 by Samuel Beckett

  Malone Dies is the second book in Beckett's so-called "trilogy"- even the wikipedia page for Malone Dies uses quotes around trilogy because books one and two don't share much in common in the traditional definition of that word.  Both Molloy (first book in the trilogy) and Malone Dies share some thematic similarities- protagonists who are trapped in a single room with little or no ability to leave.    Where Molloy teeters on the edge of what you might call "post-modern" literature, Malone squarely occupies the space.

   In his most well known work, the play Waiting for Godot, he famously developed the "play about nothing."  The aesthetic principle of "de-construction"- taking apart a work of art element by element and then reconstructing it with some or all of the elements missing- is a hallmark not just of Waiting for Godot but also the three novels of the trilogy.  In both Molloy and Malone Dies there are essentially no characters or details of plot.  Prior of the publication of these works, the idea of a novel without a plot or character might be considered impossible but not after.


Book Review: The Last Temptation of Christ (1955) by Nikos Kazantzakis

Book Review:
The Last Temptation of Christ (1955)
 by  Nikos Kazantzakis

  First things first, the last temptation of Christ is to NOT go through with the crucifixion.   While he's actually being crucified at the end of the book he has a little dream state where he has faked, or not gone through with, his plan to be crucified and if living out life as a normal guy.  That episode right before the end of the book, which has him dying on the cross.  So that is the last temptation of Christ, and it has nothing to do with Mary Magdalene, although she does show up a fair amount in this book, which treats Jesus as a real historical figure and places him in the Roman Near East setting that is similar to the area in Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

  Although I'm not a Christian or Catholic, I can see how one might be offended with the depiction of Christ as very much a man, one who is arguably schizophrenic and certainly clinically depressed and probably manic depressive.  He also spends a lot of time thinking about Mary Magdalene and the book is explicit about her whorishness.    While the subject matter might be racy for some elements of the reading public, the writing style is strictly conventional.  Other than the fact that the plot explicitly deals with the life of Jesus Christ, The Last Temptation of Christ reads like a book written and publish in the early days of the 20th century, or even the late 19th.

   Besides the explicit treatment of Mary Magdalene's sexuality, Kazantzakis adopts a gnostic approach to the role of Judas Iscariot in the execution of Jesus.  Here, Judas is asked by Jesus to set up the crucifixion after Jesus has a vision that his sacrifice is required to save humanity (or something to that effect.)   In the New Testament, Judas famously betrays Jesus for a payment of silver, later he commits suicide in remorse.   It was a rapid rise and fall for Jesus- the whole of The Last Temptation of Christ takes place in one take, so to speak, with brief dreams, reveries and flashbacks.   

Blog Archive