Very Short Reviews

I would love to write something longer, but I don’t have it in me these days. So here are brief thoughts on some of the books I’ve read lately.

  • Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show. I wanted to love this one, but I didn’t. It started off strong with a main character who thought very unconventional thoughts, but as I read along, I felt more and more detached from the story. I wasn’t quite believing it and got bored. It deals with some very interesting subjects — revolution in 1848 Paris, artists and rebels, unconventional love and wild adventures — but the experience of reading it wasn’t fun. I like the idea of the book more than the book itself.
  • David Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat. I loved these books, which I read for my mystery book group. Why aren’t these more widely known? They take place in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and tell the story of detective Harry Fannin, one of those detectives who keeps getting beaten up and who is amazingly able to keep going. The books are funny and very literary — Fannin is surely one of the best-read detectives out there. Some in my book group thought the plots were a bit weak, and this may well be true, but the writing made these books memorable for me.
  • Muriel Spark’s The Public Image. Spark won’t be a favorite novelist of mine because I prefer an interior, psychological style, which hers really isn’t, but I did enjoy this novel, my third by Spark. The plot moves quickly and the characters are painted in broad strokes, but the style and wit with which Spark writes is immensely fun. This novel tells the story of a married couple, both of whom are actors and both of whom are worried about the relationship of their public image and the private reality. Their attempts to maintain their public image (or fail to maintain it) take them in some unexpected directions.
  • L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. Another one I wanted to love, but I only liked it okay. I enjoyed the story, but ultimately I felt the narrator didn’t quite work for me. He was just a bit too self-important, too serious, too preoccupied with his own world, too … mildly irritating. It feels strange to call a first-person narrator too self-absorbed, because if he’s telling his own story, why shouldn’t he be? But I felt like he assumed his story was worth reading in detail rather than proving it for us. The first sentence is sort of famous, I guess: “The past is a different country; they do things differently there.” That’s true, I suppose, but to me it hints at the pretentiousness to come. On the other hand, the novel captures class uncertainty very well and also what it’s like to be a young person trying to figure out the adult world and generally failing. And I seem to be in the mood only for funny, witty things these days, so maybe I didn’t do it justice.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Very Short Reviews

  1. I hear you – the late autumn seems a time when I really want funny, witty books. Have you ever read David Lodge? He’s very amusing about academia (Nice Work, Small World, Changing Places, Paradise News). And I know you have Sarah Caudwell. Those are the sorts of books that tempt me around now. I’d love to read those David Markson crime novels, though!

  2. I’m going to have to find myself a copy of that Markson book!

  3. I need to try and find those Markson books–they sound good and very different than my usual choices when it comes to mystery–which isn’t such a bad thing as I’ve been feeling like I’m reading the same sorts of mysteries over and over again lately! I see that you are reading Skippy Dies–I’m really curious about it–not sure if I’m correct but it seems as though that is me that it is meant to be humorous?

  4. I’ve never heard of Markson so I need to look those up. They sound like something I might like. I think British authors seem to have more wit in their novels than Americans do, and I’m not sure why; I need to read more of their work for that reason. Maybe on this side of the Atlantic we all take ourselves too seriously?

  5. Nan

    Maybe short, but excellent. I’ve got a real sense of all the books now. Great write-ups.

  6. Litlove — I have read Lodge, and he is great! Hobgoblin really likes him as well. I’ve read the first three you mention, although I don’t think I’ve gotten to the fourth. I’ll have to look for it. And yes, do look for the Markson novels — they are very entertaining.

    Stefanie — the books are lots of fun — and very bookish mysteries, so I think you will enjoy them.

    Danielle — yes, Skippy Dies is humorous, although with lots of serious things going on as well. I’d say it’s about pretty serious issues, but it deal with them in a light kind of way. I’m about 2/3 of the way through and have enjoyed it. The Markson novels are in the hard-boiled tradition, but are particularly funny and literary versions. I think you might like them!

    Debby — you may well be right; Americans can certainly take themselves seriously! I think you would enjoy Markson, and also Sarah Caudwell, whom Litlove mentioned above. In fact, I suspect you would like Caudwell best out of both of them. They are very witty in that fun British way.

    Nan — thanks! I’m glad they were useful.

  7. I’d forgotten to share this, but every time I see L.P. Hartley’s first line, I think of Douglas Adams’ response (I can’t recall which book it was in)
    “The Past is a different country, and they do things exactly the same there.”

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