The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

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By Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, a great novel. Perhaps maybe it is too aware of itself. And, I do have a dislike of writers writing about writing for the most part.

 

‘A dark country, a hellish place, gentlemen, and if there is anything of which I am certain in life it is that I shall never exchange the liberty of my exile for the vile parody of home …’

 

All is flesh and all is purity. But one thing is certain: I have been happy with you and now I am miserable with another. And so life will go on. I shall joke with the chaps at the office and enjoy my dinners (until I get dyspepsia), and read novels, and write verse, and keep an eye on the stocks – and generally behave as I have always behaved. But that does not mean that I shall be happy without you … Every small thing which will remind me of you.

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The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories

 

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By Nikolai Leskov.

This is quite an amazing compendium of his stories – only recently published. I liked the ebook so much I decided to purchase the hardcover. Leskov has very definitely been overlooked in the west and perhaps Russia too. There’s so much in his stories and you are transported but not just in a purely sensual way – the intellect is at work here also.

Some quotes:

‘Reading is an occupation far too serious and far too important in its consequences for young people’s tastes not to be guided in its selection.

 

Machines have evened out the inequality of talents and gifts, and genius does not strive against assiduousness and precision. While favouring the increase of earnings, machines do not favour artistic boldness, which sometimes went beyond all measure, inspiring popular fantasy to compose fabulous legends similar to this one. Workers, of course, know how to value the advantages provided by the practical application of mechanical science, but they remember the old times with pride and love. It is their epos, and, what’s more, with ‘a man’s soul inside’.

 

The dog dreams of bread, of fish the fisherman. Theocritus (Idyll)

 

That I couldn’t bear, and, in the words of the late poet Tolstoy, ‘having begun like a god, I ended like a swine’.

 

 

 

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Invitation to a Beheading and Despair

By Vladimir Nabokov.

Two very different novels. Despair has plot and psychology and it feels more like Nabokov even though Invitation to a Beheading was written later and has what can be described with the benefit of hindsight ‘Kafkaesque’ elements. Both are strong and excellent reads with much to think about. Nabokov was well in his stride in these mid-thirties novels (both in age and decade).

 

 

 

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The Spectre of Alexander Wolf

By Gaito Gazdanov.

Thoroughly enjoyable. I was going to say that nothing else has been translated – but there do seem to be more novels recently translated and some scheduled for release. They will be read.

“You are beginning to live. Taking part in what is called the struggle for life lies ahead of you. Roughly speaking, there are three types: the struggle for victory, the struggle for annihilation, and the struggle for consensus. You are all young and full of vigour, and so, naturally, you are drawn to the first type. But always remember that the most humane and most advantageous is the struggle for consensus. If you make of this a principle throughout your life, it will mean that the culture we have tried to bestow on you will not have been for nothing, that you have become true citizens of the world, and, consequently, we shall not have lived in this world in vain. Because, if it be otherwise, it will mean that we have merely wasted our time. We are old, we have no more strength to build a new life. We have one hope left, and that is you.”

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Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin

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By Bruce Chatwin

I initially thought I would dip into this as I was reading other books over a few months but after starting it became my main read and I finished Chatwin’s letters in quick time. It is a cliche but the art that you are exposed to in Chatwins’s books was present in his life: the books and letters and the living seem inseparable. There is much of interest here if you like reading. Chitin liked the same literature I like and had many anecdotes and thoughts on writers, artists and travel. Thoroughly enjoyable either as something to dip into or be immersed in.

 

 

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Quiet Flows the Don

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By Mikhail Sholokhov.

I can’t recommend this book enough. A timeless story and detailed interesting characters in four separate volumes that took 15 years to complete. Read this rather than War and Peace. I finished this a year ago and I still think about it regularly.

“And over the village slipped the days, passing into the nights; the weeks flowed by, the months crept on, the wind howled, and, glassified with an autumnal, translucent, greenish-azure, the Don flowed tranquilly down to the sea.”

 

 

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The Name of the Rose

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By Umberto Eco.

Quite a pleasant read. I learnt much about schisms and intrigue in the middle age church. The dominant version of Christianity that survived seems quite random. It could have been very different if one of the sects had taken control.

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

 

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Songlines

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By Bruce Chatwin.

Having had no interest, ever, in going to Australia. This made me almost consider visiting. There were so many great lines in this book and the characters who did exist were made a little more larger-than life by Chatwin as was his want.

“If this were so; if the desert were ‘home’; if our instincts were forged in the desert; to survive the rigours of the desert – then it is easier to understand why greener pastures pall on us; why possessions exhaust us, and why Pascal’s imaginary man found his comfortable lodgings a prison.”

 

“Richard Lee calculated that a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 4,900 miles before he begins to walk on his own. Since, during this rhythmic phase, he will be forever naming the contents of his territory, it is impossible he will not become a poet.”

 

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