New Grub Street

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By George Gissing.

I had never read Gissing before but he was referenced somewhere – it may have been Berger – and this was worthwhile. Very difficult to put down; you were transported into the atmosphere and poverty of Victorian literary London.

‘A man who comes to be hanged,’ pursued Jasper, impartially, ‘has the satisfaction of knowing that he has brought society to its last resource. He is a man of such fatal importance that nothing will serve against him but the supreme effort of law. In a way, you know, that is success.’

 

Reardon had never been to Brighton, and of his own accord never would have gone; he was prejudiced against the place because its name has become suggestive of fashionable imbecility and the snobbishness which tries to model itself thereon; he knew that the town was a mere portion of London transferred to the sea-shore, and as he loved the strand and the breakers for their own sake, to think of them in such connection could be nothing but a trial of his temper.

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The Adolescent

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By Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The last of Dostoevsky’s novels that I had not read. For large parts of it I didn’t enjoy it. Sometimes the exposition seemed a little ham-fisted. And, I didn’t really care about any of the characters too much, I wasn’t too interested in what was going to happen to them. Still, at the close of the novel I was glad I had read it. It lacked something that his great works have.

I don’t know, but I like it better when books are scattered about in disorder, when studies are at least not turned into a sacred rite.

 

life is all wanderings and perplexities, and suddenly—the resolution, on such-and-such a day, at five o’clock in the afternoon! It’s even offensive, isn’t it?

 

 

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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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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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Kolyma Tales

 

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By Varlam Shalamov.

This a powerful collection of stories. Part of the intensity is given by the seemingly objective and non-involved narration. Shalamov did this on purpose – there is no moralising by the writer – he lays everything out. The message that good can come from hardship is not present. There is just hardship.

“Friendship is not born in conditions of need or trouble. Literary fairy tales tell of ‘difficult’ conditions which are an essential element in forming any friendship, but such conditions are simply not difficult enough. If tragedy and need brought people together and gave birth to their friendship, then the need was not extreme and the tragedy not great. Tragedy is not deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends.”

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The Jean Christophe Cycle

By Romain Rolland.

Comprising ten novels:

L’Aube (“Dawn”, 1904)
Le Matin (“Morning”, 1904)
L’Adolescent (“Youth”, 1904)
La Révolte (“Revolt”, 1905)
La Foire sur la place (“The Marketplace”, 1908)
Antoinette (1908)
Dans la maison (“The House”, 1908)
Les Amies (“Love and Friendship”, 1910)
Le Buisson ardent (“The Burning Bush”, 1911)
La Nouvelle Journée (“The New Dawn”, 1912)

This is a very impressive work. It feels slightly dated – though this could be the translation. I don’t understand how Rolland could have been marginalised as much as he has, being a Novel Prize winner. Perhaps because his preoccupations with pre-WW1 Europe have been forgotten to an extent. There’s a great amount here about creativity and art – the novel(s) are really an excuse for his musings on these.

 

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Chess and Journey into the Past

By Stefan Zweig.

Two short novels. Chess was the first bit of writing I had read by Zweig – having found him by mentions on the Pushkin press website and the fact he wrote a biography of Balzac. The novella was excellent  and I followed it closely with Journey into the Past. Both were lyrical, melancholy, and filled with the past and reminiscences. The framework was a touch trite for these – but the strength of the evocation meant I was happy to let it go. Something in these reminded me of Nabokov – probably the appreciation of the backward gaze. And, the chess theme.

 

 

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