Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Indigo (1992) by Marina Warner

Book Review
Indigo (1992)
by Marina Warner

  Historic meta fiction involving the retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and set in between a fictional Caribbean island and 1950's and 60's London/Paris?  You can't get much more 1990's literature then that.  You don't need to be intimately familiar with the play to enjoy the book, but it's best if you are intimately familiar with the techniques of late 20th century metafiction.  It's not our history exactly- the Island, like the island in the Shakespeare play, is fictional.   The plot details are informed by advances in colonial studies.  The white planter class, despite being major characters, are not particularly sympathetic and Warner extends the antipathy towards them across the hundreds of years Indigo spans.

  I'm not positive that Warner accomplished anything in Indigo that Jean Rhys doesn't accomplish in Wide Saragasso Sea, but it does serve as another worthy entry on the shelf of historical metafiction with Caribbean locales. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Crow Road (1992) by Iain Banks

Book Review
The Crow Road (1992)
 by Iain Banks

  I quite like Iain Banks- a Scottish author who achieved success in genre science fiction and literary fiction without ever really making it in the United States.  The Crow Road is straight forward literary fiction, a very 1990's blend of a regional Britiish bildungsroman (Scotland) and airport-book-shop suspense.  It is a testament to Banks skill as an author that the whole thing comes together, and it reads much shorter than it's 500 pages led me to expect.  Partially, it's because Banks keeps the suspense angle hidden.  He also uses craft, utilizing the familiar post-modern techniques of flipping between, time, place and narrator to build the suspense plot without making the reader especially aware that a suspense plot is developing.

  He did a good enough job that I found myself asking, 200 pages in, if I was just reading a Scottish version of Less Than Zero or an upper class version of Trainspotting.  It certainly was nice to read a book written by a Scottish author about Scottish characters where those characters weren't desperate working-class losers.   The blend of bildungsroman and suspense leads to particularly satisfying resolution, but there is nothing here to make The Crow Road a break out hit for Banks. 

Written on the Body(1992) by Jeanette Winterson

Book Review
Written on the Body(1992)
 by Jeanette Winterson

  The 1990's were the break out period for LGBT literature. Specifically, points of views started to emerge in the 1980's and 1990's that expanded LGBT voices beyond wealthy white men and artistic bohemians.  Winterson is one such standard barrier, a working class, "out" at 16 lesbian who left her super religious home earlier and ended up studying at Oxford.   She burst onto the scene with her bildungsroman, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which I think is the first novel about a working class lesbian in the English mid-lands.  It sounds absurd- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was published in 1985, but is actually in line with the state of law in the British isles.  Male homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1967 in England, and in places like Scotland it remained illegal until 1980.

   For my money, Written on the Body is preferable to Sexing the Cherry- her other mid-career 1001 Books representative. Sexing the Cherry is close to Kathy Acker territory in terms of its impenetrability . Written on the Body, on the other hand, is a conventional yuppie-love-heartbreak story with the twist that the gender of the protagonist is never revealed.  It is an interesting technical achievement, and like her lesbian coming of age tale, I'm not sure it's been done before.   So many English people, though, in the 1001 Books project. I guess English people from outside London are a different life experience, but the characters of Written on the Body are run of the mill sophisticated Londoners, so that aspect of Winterson's appeal is missing here. 

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