Friday, June 29, 2018

Money



Money
by Martin Amis
read: 2018
Time 100 NovelsGuardian 1000 Novels

Much of Money is a hedonistic spiral like The Ginger Man, but Martin Amis also puts a metafictional spin on things. Amis himself (or a fictionalized version) appears in the novel. Towards the end, Amis (the character) relays a bit of wisdom:
... I'd like to return to the motivation question. It seems to me it's an idea taken from art, not from life, not from twentieth-century life. Nowadays motivation comes from inside the head, not from outside. It's neurotic, in other words. And remember that some people, these golden mythomaniacs, these handsome liars—they're like artists, some of them.
This mirrors a conversation protagonist John Self had with Doris Arthur, another writer, earlier in the novel, when he pooh-poohed her when she asked about the motivation of one of the characters. The characters in the movie Self is directing have uncertain motives, but the motivations of the characters in the novel Money are just as inscrutable. That stands out most in the case of producer Fielding Goodney, but Selina, Martina, Doris, Martin, and John himself act in capricious and random ways constantly. Is that how life is? Most of us would probably like to think not, but there's quite a bit of truth in the quotation above.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Ginger Man



The Ginger Man
by J.P. Donleavy
read: 2018
Modern Library #99

The plot of The Ginger Man (as well as that of Money, which I read right after), isn't linear so much as a spiral. Sebastian Dangerfield's marriage, debts, drinking, and love life wheel further and further out of control as the novel progresses. He's not really a sympathetic figure; part of the reason things go so far is Sebastian doesn't really seem to care about anything, abandoning his law studies, not holding down employment, unconcerned about his wife and child, vandalizing the property he's renting, dodging creditors, and sleeping with everyone he can. Despite that, Dangerfield ends up oddly sympathetic, with something of an artist's soul:
And at times in my heart there is a music that plays for me. Tuneless threnody. They called me names. I was so afraid of them. And they could never look inside me and see a whole world of tenderness or leave me alone because I was so sad and suffering. Why did you do it. And hearts. And why was love so round.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Homegoing



Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi
read: 2018

Reading Roots (OK, listening on Audiobook) was an eye-opening experience for me. Slavery was an abstract evil, but seeing how it destroyed Kunta Kinte's African culture - taking his name, music, and religion, and splitting him from his family - hammered home how dehumanizing it was. Part of Homegoing exists on a similar track, following a family generation-by-generation, through slavery and through the virtual slavery of the prison system.

Alternating chapters follow a parallel family branch that stayed in Africa. That struggle, I had little understanding of before. Slavery not only damaged African culture in the United States, but its tentacles crippled African society as well. European colonies pitted African tribes against each other, waging wars where the victors sold captives into the slave trade. Homegoing paints a picture of an Africa that whites have trampled on. Ultimately, it does suggest that there is something enduring about African culture that the evils of slavery and colonization could not kill. I hope that is true.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Violent Bear It Away



The Violent Bear It Away
by Flannery O'Connor
read: 2018

Flannery O'Connor doesn't make it easy to like her characters. Protagonist Francis Tarwater vacillates between the obsessive religious dogma of his great-uncle Mason and the atheistic revolt of his uncle Rayber, and isn't sympathetic in either mindset. Rayber and Mason are equally intolerant and unreasoning, coming from opposite sides, and Francis holds the same flaws. His faith is a compulsion, and his atheism puts him at war with himself. It's a morality tale, but one that almost excludes the possibility of goodness.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Here to Eternity



From Here to Eternity
World War II Trilogy
by James Jones
read: 2018
Modern Library #62, Guardian 1000 Novels

I've read some war novels in the past, but never a book that delved into what the the peacetime military. The primary concern for Private Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt's unit in From Here to Eternity is the success of the boxing team, and Prew's refusal to join shows kind of a heroic integrity. The "jockstraps" get all the top ratings and cushy gigs, whether they deserve them or not. Prew, because he declines to fight, is not only passed over for the coveted bugler position, he is punished with KP duty, physical challenges, and, ultimately, the stockade. The possibility of war hangs in the background, but mostly the principals are concerned with playing guitars, gambling, getting money from gay benefactors, and frequenting whorehouses.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Crome Yellow



Crome Yellow
by Aldous Huxley
read: 2017
Guardian 1000 Novels

Crome Yellow, like Lucky Jim or A Dance to the Music of Time, satirizes early 20th Century British upper class society in ways that I don't really understand. I did identify with protagonist Denis, who possessed the lack of self-awareness, pretense to greatness, and cluelessness with women that I did in my early 20's. Uh, 'cause I've gotten wiser since then. Or something.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tropic of Cancer



Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller
read: 2016
Time 100 NovelsModern Library #50, Guardian 1000 Novels

Why did people think On the Road was so revolutionary? Miller was doing almost the same thing 30 years earlier. I have to be in the right mood for this sort of thing, and I wasn't here, but I did enjoy some passages:
Every time I pass the concierge's window and catch the full icy impact of her glance I have an insane desire to throttle all the birds in creation. At the bottom of every frozen heart there is a drop or two of love - just enough to feed the birds.