Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Lover (1984) Marguerite Duras

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Jane March memorably portrayed the Duras character in the movie version of her novel, The Lover.
Book Review
The Lover (1984)
Marguerite Duras

  It's clear that the average length of a book on the 1001 Books list shortens over time. In the 18th century, novels often eclipsed 500 pages and were published in 10 volume sets.  In the 19th century, serial publication and the publishing convention of printing single novels over three volumes ensured that the length of individual works was often over 300 pages, with many books over 500 pages.  In the 20th century, books over 500 pages are notable for being "long."  Throughout the first part of the 20th century, the 300 page novel became the standard.  After 1970, the average length of each book begins to plummet.  By the mid 1980's, it feels like the average 1001 Books list is somewhere under 250 pages long.  The Lover, at almost a hundred pages, doesn't even feel like a novella, just a short novel. It's a truism that attention spans declined after the introduction of television, and I think the average length of books on the 1001 Books list clearly supports that contention.

  The Lover is another book on the "international best seller" sub-list, notably the publicity surrounding the popular film version, released in the mid 1990's.   The Lover is a spicy meatball for real, the autobiographical tale of the love affair between an underage, impoverished french girl living in Vietnam and her older Chinese lover, the scion of \a local business magnate.  The love depicted between the unnamed child girl and her 20 something lover is the kind of thing that gets you arrested in 2017, and I think that gives The Lover it's edge.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Old Devils (1986) by Kingsley Amis

Book Review
Old Devils (1986)
 by Kingsley Amis

  Old Devils was the Booker Prize Winning book that Kingsley Amis deserved for  a career that began with him as a fringe member of the "angry young men" of post-War English fiction, and ended with laureates, accolades, and a son who was arguably even more successful at being a novelist than his dad.

  I love this two sentence summation of the plot from Wikipedia:

       Alun Weaver, a writer of modest celebrity, returns to his native Wales with his wife, Rhiannon, sometime girlfriend of Weaver's old acquaintance Peter Thomas. Alun begins associating with a group of former friends, including Peter, all of whom have continued to live locally while he was away. While drinking in the house of another acquaintance, Alun drops dead, leaving the rest of the group to pick up the pieces of their brief reunion

   There you have it, people, Old Devils in a paragraph.  Old Devils is also very...Welsh, in the sense that it takes place in Wales, outside of Swansea, I believe, and Alun Weaver is a "writer of modest celebrity" in that he is the pet Welsh poet/public intellectual for the BBC.  He is also a compulsive philanderer, in his very British way.   Like his other 1001 Books qualifier, The Green Man, Old Devils concerns itself with a group of men who, one imagines, were known directly to Amis.  It doesn't seem like any of the characters are meant to be Amis himself.

  It's not hard to call Amis pere a dinosaur.  His characters are bloated, white, privileged, alcoholics and philanders.  Not the landed aristocracy of the 19th century novel, but the the class of 20th century professional intellectuals, some successful, some not so much.   He couldn't be further away from the hot trends in 1980's literature- no diversity, racial or economic, no post-modern pyrotechnics, no infusion of magical realism.  Just unhappy British people.  But it's so, so well done.  Amis manages to draw some universal truths out of a creative milieu that had been left for dead by a half century of literary progress.  And he won a Booker Prize, an award that did not exist when he started writing.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Name of the Rose (1980) by Umberto Eco

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Sean Connery and Christian Slater in the movie version of The Name of the Rose (1980) by Umberto Eco.
Book Review
The Name of the Rose (1980)
 by Umberto Eco

  The Name of the Rose is one of those super unlikely international best-sellers, which didn't just ensure everlasting fame and audience for the author, Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, but also single-handedly created the genre of the medieval detective story.   The Name of the Rose had to prove itself as a top seller four different times:  First, in the original Italian, where it was a best seller.  Next, in French and German translations, where it was a best seller.  Then, in England, where it was a surprise best seller, finally, in the United States, where it sold millions of copy and became a film starring a young Christian Slater and Sean Connery.

  Today, The Name of the Rose is very much in print (last edition in 2014) and still selling.  The copy I checked out from the Los Angeles Public Library was the Everyman's Library edition, published in 2006, the same year as the first edition of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.   Whoever would think that a book that is one part Sherlock Holmes and one part exegesis on the paths of heresy in Southern Europe in the 13th century would prove such a hit?  Part of the credit due Eco is his recognition that the Europe of the pre-Black Plague era was a pretty interesting place, intellectually speaking.  The other part is being able to write a tale that translated fetchingly into four different languages and finding an audience in all of them.

  Eco wasn't exactly a one hit wonder- other of his novels have proved to be best-sellers, notably  Foucault's Pendulum, but Eco never prostituted himself in an attempt to match the qualities which inspired the success of The Name of the Rose.  

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