Saturday, November 01, 2008

Novel Thoughts

While I've read a number of novels since In Search of Lost Time, I probably won't get around to writing much about them. But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say about any of them, however brief or truncated. Here are notes on some of them; other novels have their own posts.

Molloy, Malone Dies, & The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett:
Gabriel Josipovici has written in a few places about how, as a young man feeling urgently the need to write, he felt overwhelmed by the examples set by such writers as Tolstoy, Conrad, Dickens, George Eliot. Their works seemed complete, hermetically sealed, sure of themselves. It was writers like Proust and T.S. Eliot who helped show him the way out of his problem, with their inclusion of, awareness of, failure in their work. Beckett, too, of course. "Fail better", and so on. I've felt a twinge of recognition in reading Josipovici's words. As I've said here before, my problem was even more acute: I refused to even acknowledge the need to speak. There were however times when words would occur to me, formal ideas perhaps, and I'd immediately discount them as invalid. Which brings me to Beckett's prose trilogy. I actually read these before finishing Proust. Where I'd previously said that I didn't want to read any other fiction till I'd finished In Search of Lost Time, I found myself bogged down, unable to get started with the fifth volume, The Captive. With none of my available non-fiction doing it for me either, I opted for Beckett. It was just what I needed: I quickly read Molloy and Malone Dies, though The Unnamable was somewhat slower going, as might be expected. I feel a great affinity with his writing, in a way that's hard to describe, so I won't try to cram it in here. But there's something familiar here, a recognition. I'll be reading a lot of Beckett in the coming years.

Bartleby & Co. and Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas (both translated by Jonathan Dunne): It's uncanny: here is a writer seemingly addressing the very things I've been thinking about, perhaps without my always knowing it, though certainly the correspondence with what have been ongoing concerns here is obvious. Lars is right, of course, there are no models. But it was nice, semi-inspiring even, to come across such assemblages of writers confronting these similar types of problems. Writers of No; refusals; the sickness of literature, literature as sickness. I must, however, admit that my attention flagged while reading both, and the second was in particular a slog for me to finish. Almost as if he'd made his point, and I grew increasingly weary of the elaboration (though no doubt he needed to see his conception through, and can I blame him?).

To the Lighthouse and Orlando by Virginia Woolf:
Ten months into the year, and I've only read two books written by women? Wow. Woolf was long one of those writers, like Joyce, who represented for my imagination "difficulty" in literary Modernism. This, of course, was without reading a word of her writing. Mrs Dalloway changed that slightly, some years ago. These even more so. They were a great pleasure to read, particularly To the Lighthouse. In both, I especially enjoyed the short passages describing the artist's vision and process, one of which I excerpted elsewhere. Other than The Waves, which is already on my to-read list, what else of Woolf's fiction should I read? All of it?

Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee:
I'm with Waggish and Steve on this one. Actually, in this case, I suspect I will have more to say about it. For now let me just say that I'm amazed that readers still insist on assuming that the "opinions" in this book are necessarily held by J.M. Coetzee himself, and that their content have much to do with the success or failure of the book.

The Immortal Bartfuss by Aharon Appelfeld (translated by Jeffrey Green):
This is the first Appelfeld novel I've read that takes place after the Holocaust. I'm sorry to report that I have very little to say about it at this time.


Rebecca H. said...

I'm on a quest to read all of Woolf's novels, although it will take me a decade or so. Her first two -- The Voyage Out and Night and Day are excellent, but not in the same category as Mrs. D. and To the Lighthouse -- they are much more traditional. You can see her beginning to work out some ideas she will develop later but she is still very much influenced by the Victorian novel.

Richard said...

Hi Dorothy. Thanks for the thoughts on Woolf's novels. I'd been under the impression, which you more or less confirm, that The Voyage Out, for example, is not quite "mature" Woolf, with her own voice.