Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

August is a Wicked Month (1965) by Edna O'Brien

The author photo from the original edition of August is a Wicked Month is called by Wikipedia, "The greatest author photograph of all time."
Book Review
August is a Wicked Month (1965)
by Edna O'Brien

 Edna O'Brien is a forerunner of the popular "chick lit" genre of the last few decades, featuring women who are sexually active and outside the normal world of marriage and children.  By the mid 1960s, O'Brien wasn't the only writer working this territory, Doris Lessing for one, Francoise Sagan for another.  But O'Brien  was unique by virtue of her Irish heritage.  Her books were banned in Ireland, and this gives her work a heroic sheen that would otherwise be absent, were the reader to judge strictly on the text itself.

  Ellen, the heroine of August if a Wicked Month, is the disaffected Mother of a young boy, divorced from the father, dreaming of escape while living and working in London.  When her ex takes their child to the woods for a week of camping, she decides to travel to France, where she has a variety of sexual and social encounters.

   August is a Wicked Month is unremittingly dark.  Ellen's behavior is understandable within the context of 20th century women's history, but it doesn't make her very likable.  Her unusually frank depiction of sexual activity raises an eyebrow today, a half century after publication.  She is straight forward about contracting sexually transmitted disease and methods of ejaculation.  Her eagerness to engage in casual sexual encounters is almost nonparallel in the history of literature.

  What appears to be a book almost without a story is brought to live with a shocking third act, that is no doubt the reason that it was included on the 2006 1001 Books list.  In 2008, it got the axe, reducing O'Brien's contributions from three to two.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Promise at Dawn (1960) by Romain Gary

Romain Gary was married to Jean Seberg, American actress.  She killed herself in 1979 and he followed in 1980.

Book Review
Promise at Dawn (1960)
by Romain Gary

   Who is Romain Gary, exactly? He is a French author of Russian-Jewish ancestry, by way of present day Lithuania and Warsaw.  He was a popular fellow in his day, an actual French diplomat and certified French war hero.  Promise at Dawn is his biography-novel, written in the first person, about growing up with his heroic Russian-Jewish mother.  The end product is like a cross between Woody Allen and Ayn Rand, with humor and remarkable self reliant achievement walking hand in hand.

  I think the essential combination that makes Romain Gary interesting is the combining of a nerdy French/Russian/Jewish momma's boy with a mid 20th century man-of-action.  It bears mentioning anytime a 20th century work of literature contains anything resembling "action."  Although authors that portray virile, macho, alpha male types might not be in favor of these days, they really did represent a departure from the mainstream literary culture of the time.   Gary is not any kind of theorist of literature but he spins a good yard.  He's like a variation on the dashing English gent that you might encounter in a Graham Greene novel.


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