Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Flaubert's Parrot (1984) by Julian Barnes

Book Review
Flaubert's Parrot (1984)
 by Julian Barnes

   You could argue that Julian Barnes, with only one novel on the 1001 Books list, is underrepresented.  He's been Booker Prize shortlisted three times, including for Flaubert's Parrot, and he won in 2011 for The Sense of An Ending, not included on the 1001 Books list.  Flaubert's Parrot is a little slip of a book, not 200 pages all in.  It has a structure that flows back and forth between subjects related to the narrator's quest for a stuffed parrot said to have inspired author Gustave Flaubert and subjects related to his own personal life.  The book is simultaneously "about" the narrator and his life, and different interpretations of the life of Flaubert.

  Narrator Geofrrey Braithwaite is a retired Doctor, widowed, English, tracing the foot steps of author Gustave Flaubert at various locations in France.  As you might expect from a narrator who is obsessed with Gustave Flaubert, Braithwaite has opinions about literature, and he shares those thoughts with the reader.  This commentary on literature (Example- Braithwaite would ban novels that contain incest as a plot point) creates one of the first memorable "meta" moments in literature.  Emphasis on the "memorable."   One of the major. mainstream events of the 1980's was the introduction of humor into post-modern books, and an attendant widening of the audience for works that contain dense, self contained arguments between the narrator and a long-dead English critic about the attention that Flaubert paid to his description to the color of Emma's eye in Madame Bovary.

  Flaubert's Parrot, alongside Waterland, represents a flowering of the type of literature I would equate with my personal taste- starting in the 1970's but really coming into form by the mid 1980's and beyond, up through the publication of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, in 1996.  It's a vast flourishing of literature that encompasses specialist-only areas of knowledge and embraces footnotes and other accouterments of twentieth century graduate student life.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, beard and text
Jamey Johnson on tour with Margo Price and Brent Cobb.

Stagecoach Spotlight Tour
Jamey Johnson
Margo Price
Brent Cobb

04 25 The Observatory North Park - San Diego, CA.
04 27 The Theatre at Ace Hotel - Los Angeles, CA.
04 28 Brooklyn Bowl - Las Vegas, NV.
04 30 Marquee Theatre - Tempe, AZ
05 03 Ogden Theatre - Denver, CO.
05 08 Crystal Ballroom - Portland, OR.
05 09 Showbox Sodo - Seattle, WA.
05 11 Warfield Theatre - San Francisco, CA.

   The rise and rise of Margo Price has been nothing short of astonishing, one of the best stories in indie music in the past decade and a true inspiration to legions of "local musicians" nation wide who are on the verge of throwing in the towel.  From the perspective of a record label operator, what stands out is that Price had a finished record that she was trying to find a label to release.  She just couldn't find any takers until Third Man, in what was a borderline reckless decision, decided to put some umph behind the release.   There are a million bands like that in dozens of markets.  It's the equivalent of lighting striking, but the question is what kind of fire does the lightning strike set.  It could be a small fire, a big fire, or just smoke.

   My point being is that the lightning strike is just a brief moment in time, and it doesn't repeat. The process of fanning the resulting spark into a fire, that is why you need a label, a booking agent and a manager, or need to be able to do those things yourselves.   You can also try to get the label, booking agent and manager and try to make lightning strike- either way it's a tough bid.  But the point of the Margo Price story is that you have to be ready to make and finish a record without financial backing.  Doing that increases your chances of a lightning strike by a hundred fold.  That is what Margo Price did, against great odds.

The Sorrow of Belgium (1983) by Hugo Claus

Book Review
The Sorrow of Belgium (1983)
by Hugo Claus

   It is both easy and accurate to describe The Sorrow of Belgium as a "Flemish  The Tin Drum."  Whether that description means anything depends on how familiar you are with the Flemish and The Tin Drum, respectively.  The Flemish are a Dutch speaking minority in the modern nation of Belgium, where the French speaking Walloons (and Flemish who emulate Walloons by speaking French) is dominant, and the Flemish, while not exactly oppressed, are not at the top of the pyramid.

  Thus, for Louis, the narrator, and son of a middle class Flemish household in the time before World War II, the rise of Hitler is viewed with excitement.  The Flemish were part of the greater Germanic nation (a group which also included the Eastern Germans of The Tin Drum) and they benefited from the German occupation, economically and socially.   The pro and anti German locals of the Flemish part of Belgium were known by the color of their shirts, Black shirts for pro, White for anti.  Louis, mirroring his family line, is pro-Germany, and he goes so far as to enroll (and then dis-enroll) in the local analogue of the Hitler Youth (called the VNV. )

  I didn't particularly enjoy reading a 700 page memoir from a Flemish Hitler Youth, but I suppose The Sorrow of Belgium is proof of the enduring appeal of the European realist novel well into the 20th century.  The Sorrow of Belgium wasn't even published in English until 1990 which brings the publication history almost up to present day.   Like The Tin Drum, there is insight to be had from those on the periphery of World War II- first of all, they weren't wiped out like the more affected groups, and second they maintained some distance from the center of the maelstrom created by Hitler and the National Socialist.

  It is interesting reading about how the local Dutch speaking Belgian minority debated the rise of National Socialism as it related to their own quasi-nationalist leanings.  Other than that, there is a limit, a personal limit, when it comes to pro-Nazi memoirs, even if narrated by children.

Waterland (1983) by Graham Swift

Book Review
Waterland (1983)
by Graham Swift

  Waterland is an inventive novel that manages to make a palette of seemingly unpromising locales and themes into something more than the sum of its parts.   Loosely speaking, Waterland is a work of historical fiction or historical meta-fiction, centered around the history of an area of the East Anglia Fens/Wetlands.  Tom Crick, the narrator, is a history teacher on the edge of (forced) retirement. He is told by the headmaster that history is being phased out as a separate department, and almost simultaneously his wife is arrested for attempting to steal a baby.  These events spur a series of recollections about his personal history and the history of Waterland, which he in turn describes to his class of high school students, a last act of defiance that forms most of the "action" of the present time of the plot.

  Wikipedia identifies Waterland as strongly affiliated with "New Historicism," which was a cross-discipline movement to use literature to illuminate history and vice versa.  Waterland achieves both those goals, seemingly effortlessly, while keeping Waterland well within the heartland of the tradition of English fiction, with sex, death and madness along for the ride.   There is a familiarity about the themes and events of Waterland that serve to mask the theory behind, the literary equivalent of a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

  In 1983 the meta-historical novel barely existed, and it is easy to see why this early example found such a receptive audience,

Blog Archive