Friday, October 03, 2008

Roth's American Pastoral

I just finished reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth. It one a Pulitzer in 1998 and several other prizes since then, so evidently someone likes it. I had to read this one for a class (which actually doesn't start until next Monday, but we were advised to do as much of the reading as possible before hand). If it were just me, if I had picked this up at a bookstore I would have put this right back on the shelf after the first page.

In the third chapter, the narrator attends his 45th high school reunion and the main character's brother tells the entire story (and the most important facts are also on the back cover) but the book goes on for another 300 pages. During that time, a few additional questions are answered, but not the ones I wanted to have answered. OK one I wanted answered: how did Merry die?

The writing itself was very stream-of consciousness: the narrator goes off on wild tangents, and then jumps back to the point he was making 10 pages before, says one more line on the subject and then goes off on another tangent. I found the whole thing very frustrating, not so much because of the rambling (I do that all the time) but because there were no surprises in the story itself and because I genuinely did not care about any of the characters. 423 pages of rambling about characters and a story that I don't care about is 423 pages too many for me.

The blurbs on the back cover seem to have been written about a different book. For example, this bit from the "Financial Times", "Full of insight, full of sharp ironic twists, full of wisdom about American idealism, and full of terrific fun...a profound and personal meditation on the changes in the American psyche over the last fifty years." I don't remember any insight, sharp ironic twists (there were no twists of any kind), wisdom, fun (terrific or otherwise), or anything profound.

2 stars out of 10


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Le tour du monde en 80 jours

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, is one of my favorite reads, especially when I'm on the road.

The plot is dead simple: a guy bets some other guys that he can travel all the way around the world quickly, then he travels all the way around the world quickly. There is very little in the way of character development. At the end of the book, the reader knows the little more about the characters than he did at the beginning. Phileas Fogg is rich and English. Passepartout is French and gullible. Inspector Fix is set in his ways. Aouda is pretty. Nor is there much of the tour guide about the book; the characters don't stop to admire their surroundings or see the sights. They just move from one place to another, staying only as long as it takes them to walk from the port to the train station.

In spite of all that, I keep coming back to this story. I've read it half a dozen times in various English editions, and I'm currently struggling through it in the original French. I think the thing that endears it to me, and keeps me coming back to it, is the way that Fogg never lets any of his adventures bother him. His little group misses boats, get attacked by thugs, buy an elephant, rescue a damsel in distress, go through storms at sea, and are harassed by Inspector Fix but nothing ever shakes his cool. That unflappable 'nothing can stop me: I'm British' attitude is what makes the book. When delays on the Metro turn my half an hour commute into an hour long ordeal or when I spend a transatlantic flight stuck in the second to last row between two fat guys, Phileas Fogg is a good friend to have along.

10 out of 10

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Camus's Stranger

I'm taking a class over Albert Camus's life and works. I won't torment you all with a review of every single thing the man wrote as far more qualified people than myself have already done so and given him a Nobel Prize for it. What I will torment you with is the first paragraph of the essay I wrote over l'√Čtranger which is called the Stranger in English.

The plot of l’√Čtranger is simple. Meursault kills a man at the end of part one, and he ends part two awaiting execution, the rest is just maneuvering him into position for those events to transpire. What makes the maneuvering interesting is the way in which he learns to think about the world around him. The question remains: what exactly does he learn, that the reader is compelled to return to l’√Čtranger again and again? One might say it is the brutal honesty with which Meursault address the world and himself. While that is compelling, I answer that honesty is a trait which he has had since the very beginning of the book, when he admits that the telegram informing him of his mother’s death “doesn’t mean anything” . What Meursault learns is that only the man who knows the exact time and manner of his death can really live.

I'll give it 9 out of 10. The last star taken a way because the reader spends most of the book trying to tell the protagonist that he's an idiot.

-Yami, who promises that next time she'll review a book she read for fun.