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Sweet Dreams are Made of Wednesday

As always these days, crossposted to Dreamwidth

What I've Finished Reading

"Women are strange little beasts," he said to Dr. Coutras. "You can treat them like dogs, you can beat them till your arm aches, and still they love you." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, it is one of the most absurd illusions of Christianity that they have souls."

A version of this quote from The Moon and Sixpence was used in the movie poster - but instead of the remark about souls, it concludes that "in the end they get you and you are helpless in their hands," which is all wrong - no one ever "gets" Charles Strickland. After twenty years of perfectly ordinary life as a mediocre stockbroker, he decides to become a painter and to forgo all sense of social obligation forever. He leaves his family for Paris and never thinks of them again. In Paris he makes some paintings, is rude to his benefactors, breaks up a marriage, and flatly refuses to consider anyone but himself. Eventually he moves to Tahiti, settles down, paints a lot, and dies of leprosy - but not before making sure his mural-covered house is burned down, as a final "fuck you" to all those annoying sheeple who kept trying to buy his paintings, like idiots. Screw those guys!



"Who makes fame?" he says to the narrator, back in Paris. "Critics, writers, stockbrokers, women." The worst kinds of people! Strickland doesn't really believe in women, but he doesn't believe in men, either. Women are ok in a pinch if you get tired of jacking off, and men are useful because they will sometimes lend you money. If they do, it means they're suckers who don't deserve to get paid back. I just realized that Strickland is another version of Raskolnikov's "great man"! He doesn't murder anyone that we know of - I don't think he'd notice other people enough to murder them - but he is totally remorseless and indifferent to concerns other than his own, just the ideal Raskolnikov couldn't manage to achieve. We're told that his paintings are good.

The front of my paperback edition calls this, "the classic story of a rebellious genius who sacrificed family and friends to pursue his artistic dream," which makes it sound a little more commonplace than it is. Strickland doesn't really "rebel" so much as check out. He doesn't leave the company of other people like a desert hermit - that might make borrowing money too difficult - he just stops considering them altogether except as means to his end. The back cover informs me it is "inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin." I don't know if Gauguin was as resolute an asshole as Strickland or as completely impossible to talk to, but if you know anything about it, let me know!

I enjoyed this book a lot. It's hard not to compare it to The Horse's Mouth, also about an asshole who paints pictures, and I don't think it's at all a great book in the same way, but it moves quickly and is full of quiet earnest epigrams, and it has that appealing ambiguity of intent that the good Maugham books have - that is, I never feel like I know exactly what the author thinks of all this, in spite of the best efforts of a frank and forthcoming narrator.

What I'm Reading Now

I don't know if Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear is any good or not. I'm leaning a little toward "not," but I'm interested to see where it'll go, and I think the attempt is admirable even if the execution is a little clumsy and heavy on the infodumps. Somewhere in the very distant past, a small child is separated from her family by an earthquake. She follows the river in search of help or food, gets mauled by a mountain lion or similar, and is eventually nursed back to health by the Clan, who are either Neanderthals or not Neanderthals - or maybe the child is a Neanderthal and they're the other one. Anyway, they're shorter and darker than her own people, suspicious of the odd-looking outsider but willing to help.

The infodumping is sometimes very jarring. I don't expect a book about cave people to use only language reflecting the knowledge and beliefs of cave people - we don't have any examples, for one thing, and this is a book written in 1980, for 1980. But when our new clan arrives on the scene, we get a lot of talk about "supraorbital ridges" and other skull-shape jargon. This is both too much and not enough. The transition between the POV of the characters and the POV of an author who has just got back from the natural history museum with an armful of new books is not always graceful. But it's possible that either Auel or I will get used to it eventually.

What I Plan to Read Next

I now have Picnic at Hanging Rock, a book from Australia! and also The Maias by Eça de Queiroz, which can be one of my books from Europe. I haven't forgotten my continents challenge, even if it seems like I have.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
liadtbunny
May. 19th, 2017 02:06 pm (UTC)
I do like a man who believes in equality... of hating everyone;p

I hope Auel has smoothed out her writing for you. It's a big book!
evelyn_b
May. 22nd, 2017 03:36 pm (UTC)
The Clan of the Cave Bear IS a big book, but it's going by quickly. I feel like that's almost as much a result of the repetitiveness than in spite of it. Auel's writing hasn't smoothed out - if anything, it's gotten worse as it accumulates - but I'm still reading, so make of that what you will. I'm enjoying it but I also wish it were better.
liadtbunny
May. 22nd, 2017 03:49 pm (UTC)
You've been booknapped! I hope you get out of it alive;p

(BTW have you seen 'The Mind Robber'? There's a big book in it)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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