The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle

By Tobias Smollett.

This was an absolutely brilliant and amusing read. It twisted and turned as Peregrine matured and immatured, traveled, fought duels, learnt lessons, caused havoc, fell in and out of love and generally encapsulated many aspects of the human experience. Smollett is a writer you don’t hear much of. Maybe, his books are too easy to read and are passed over in favour of Sterne and Tristram Shandy. But, there is much to be entertained by in this novel – and the scenes stay with you leaving you to consider them, but only if you feel inclined. Smollett also translated Gil Blas and Don Quixote – so you can see where his influences lie.

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Gargantua and Pantagruel – Book One

By François Rabelais.

This first book is quite cohesive. I guess Rabelais didn’t know himself  if he would write another and the impetus seems to be his own amusement and that of his friends. This was a very enjoyable experience and  as a result I took my time reading Book One. I like the way the episodes aren’t really connected they just sort of flit about and are not as linear as most novels.

Pantagruel makes you laugh, consider things philosophically and stimulates the imagination: it doesn’t get much better than this. I can now see where many of the writers I love got a great deal of their inspiration. There were free translations I could have found for the kindle but I decided that if I was going to make the effort to read all five books then it should be with the best translation – by most accounts Professor Screech’s translation is the best. There are many footnotes – but they don’t get in the way as the book is the kind that stimulates you in bursts as it is all angles and the footnotes don’t interfere but add to the richness of the text. The rest are coming up shortly.

 

 

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Happy Moscow

By Andrey Platonov.

It is the second time I have read Happy Moscow; though, this is a new translation. The novel really does have the most unique and unusual atmosphere – in the same vein as ‘Soul’. This was  unfinished and so it is likely that there would have been a substantial amount of changes.

Platonov moves his prose about as though it is a socialist realist movie camera. He follows minor characters for a while, who often never reappear, and then latches on to another character as they come in contact. I really wonder where the novel would have ended up had it been finished.

Reading this book made want to learn Russian. I want to see how exactly how the strange atmosphere is invoked and compare this to Pushkin with his French sentence structure, and Lermontov. The linear way the novel moves from one character to another is similar to reading habits: one writer leads to another and you follow them for a while until you catch another, sometimes they lead back to the original author but you were changed by the writers you followed in-between – and then you follow another. ‘Soul’ remains my favourite Platonov followed by the stories in ‘The Return’. I have a new translation of ‘The Foundation Pit’ and so will re-read that in the next while.

I really need to understand exactly how Platonov creates such an atmosphere in his strange world. In the mean-time here is a picture by Malevich which is a window into Platonov’s ‘Soul’ novel.

 

 

 

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Pnin

By Vladimir Nabokov.

The character Timofey Pnin is right up there with the greatest characters in Russian literature: Chichikov, Raskolnikov, Oblomov, Anna Karenina etc…

I spent some time trying to work out what I liked so much about this eccentric Russian emigre that Nabokov had created. Pnin is eccentric, clumsy and is seen as an absurd figure by most of his colleagues and they regard him with some derision. What is so admirable about Pnin is his strength of being. He is Pnin and he lives and acts against the grain, he has a strength of character that his detractors do not.

The novel is written brilliantly as you would expect from Nabokov. The chapters are mostly separate vignettes that present a certain scene or period in Pnin’s life and all of these snapshots create a moving and whimsical picture of the man. Pale Fire was very complex and contained many ideas but Pnin, which is still part of the loose trilogy of Pale Fire, Pnin and Lolita, is focused primarily on Pnin. This is similar to Luzhin in ‘The Defence’ – maybe Nabokov was again attempting to build a character that had foibles but could still command our respect and admiration through their uncompromising behaviour.

I thought this was a fantastic book and it was, so far, the novel I enjoyed the most from Nabokov. Pale Fire was maybe more of a triumph in its ideas and complexity but Pnin really was pure enjoyment. The same pure enjoyment I got from reading Dead Souls or The Twelve Chairs.

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Flatland

By Edwin Abbott.

Thoroughly enjoyable. This  was wise, engaging, amusing and tremendously imaginative. It is a shame that this is the only work of its type that Abbott wrote. To understand Flatland is a real paradigm shift and to look at the worlds within the worlds described is an excellent philosophical and literary mechanism. There’s so much in this book. The edition that I read on the kindle also had some great illustrations that further elucidated the analysis given by ‘the square’ who narrates. I was reminded slightly of Swift (due to the satire and imaginative content) but the attack on social structures didn’t quite seem as strong as Gullivers Travels or even A Modest Proposal.

 

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A Modest Proposal

swift_modest_proposal-173x300By Jonathan Swift.

A genius work of satire. I can’t believe Swift was writing this stuff in 1729. Reading it, you can’t help think think of the current crop of politicians and their attitude to the poor which doesn’t seem to have changed much. The best line of the piece would be:

“I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

This is essential reading. I can feel a re-read of Gulliver’s Travels coming on.

Soundtrack: Motorhead – Eat the Rich.


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