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What I've Just Finished Reading

Strangers and Brothers
, which I spent a long time dreading due to its being the start of an 11-novel series snuck into Burgess' 99 novels as a single work, was not bad at all. The prose is curiously transparent, like a YA novel, or like what you might expect fanfiction for a TV show to be like -- all dialogue, camera angles, and quick exposition. It's about a lawyer who wants to help everyone and be influential and liked, who gets himself into some trouble because of it. He also keeps an adorably meticulous diary with subject headings. I liked him. The book didn't capture my heart exactly, but it was enjoyable and interesting.

I'm still working out how I feel about My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, but I think it was good? The early scenes especially are creepy, child-like and intimate. I was thrown off by the fact that it never returns to its frame story; instead, the final scene feels like being dropped suddenly off a cliff. There are two other books in the series, and I might read them soon.

Lucky Jim, another one of the 99 Novels, was mostly good and sometimes very funny, and once caused me actual abdominal pain because I was foolishly trying to keep from laughing too loudly on the subway. Jim Dixon is a great semi-sympathetic wanker. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed him without ever rooting for him in the least. It left me with a tremendous confidence in Kingsley Amis, whom I've never read before but will definitely read again.

The Once and Future King was also on the list. I'd read it so many times when I was a child that it didn't even feel like reading, more like singing along. The surprising thing about it was how few surprises it had for me as an adult. Everything was just as I remembered it, maybe with a few more jabs at contemporary politics.

What I'm Reading Now

Emma! I don't have much to say about it yet except that Emma Woodhouse is the absolute worst and I love her. Her cranky dad and her brother-in-law are also great. I hope she learns some valuable lessons about not trying to write bad Jane Austen novels with other people's lives, but it might be a while! I know this is very old news in the literary world, but I'm constantly impressed by Jane Austen's protagonists -- they're so different from each other, but always real and loveable and sharply drawn and complicated.

And I picked up Leave it to Psmith yesterday evening and read almost all the way through it last night. It's a non-Bertie Wooster Wodehouse novel and it's pretty good! The title character is a cash-strapped young bloke trying to get out of his uncle's fish business by any means necessary, and some of the funniest moments are just recording his dismay at having accidentally come into contact with something fish-related, or being touched by a seemingly innocuous fish-based idiom. There is a mistaken identity and several parallel plots to steal a necklace, and plenty of confusion to go around.

R. Psmith has enough in common with P. D. B. Wimsey that I strongly suspect some cross-pollination -- or maybe they are just variations on an existing stock character; I'm not well-versed enough in early 20th century pop culture to know. Anyway, they are obviously brothers in compulsive overdressing, inane chatter, gratuitous proposals, and monocle-wearing for no good reason (is there ever a good reason? All signs point to no). About halfway through, Leave it to Psmith also becomes suddenly chock full of OTT Comedy Americans, my favorite! And Wodehouse being Wodehouse, the Comedy Americans are even more OTT than Ngaio Marsh's. They are always saying things like, "Gosh-dingit!" and "Cheese it!" and "If this ain't the cat's whiskers!" and "Say, if you knew the relief it was to me talking good United States again!" It's magical.

I don't love it as much as the Bertie Woosters, but that is an incredibly high bar. It's cheerful and funny on an ordinary human scale.

What I'm Going to Read Next

SO MANY THINGS, who even knows? Chronologically, the next book in 99 Novels is The Aerodrome by Rex Warner. I know nothing at all about either Rex Warner or The Aerodrome, so that's exciting! Then I have some things I'm supposed to be working on, and I'll probably end up jumping back on the murder train, too, next week or thereabouts.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2015 09:10 pm (UTC)
ooooh, psmith! psmith is my favorite woodehouse's character, in all his fussy superhuman ways - although this is not his best book, or rather, it's not the book where he's at his most human and at once most superior. psmith in the city has all the shenanigans and all the psmith/mike bromance and the best zingers :D

there's also psmith, journalist where psmith does hard-hitting investigating journalism in america! will all the OTT AMERICA you might want (and some really questionable race-related scenes, but just.. ::hands::)
Jul. 15th, 2015 11:01 pm (UTC)
I do want ALL the OTT AMERICA (as for questionable race-related scenes -- well, I guess we'll have to see) and I enjoyed this one pretty well, so I will probably end up reading more Psmith soon.
Jul. 16th, 2015 04:54 am (UTC)
The Psmith books are great! I also recommend them.

And I'm glad you're liking Emma. Personally, I think it's the funniest of Austen's books.
Jul. 16th, 2015 01:52 pm (UTC)
Emma is a delight! I'm finding it funny in kind of a low-key way; even though Emma has already done some potentially serious damage with her matchmaking, it's nowhere near the emotional intensity of Persuasion, where I was snort-laughing and bursting into tears practically every page. Maybe because Emma herself is so essentially unscathable (though I suspect she might get scathed a little at some point).

I've just reached the point where the narrator is trying to explain Emma's peculiar aversion to Jane Fairfax, and it's just so pointed. I love it.

I will report back on any future encounters with Psmith books. I really miss Bertie's narration, honestly; he is my favorite first-person narrator. But I'm sure there will be lots to like even without Bertie.
Jul. 16th, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
I love the relationship between Emma and Jane. Some of Emma's dislike is so petty, and yet so totally understandable.
Jul. 18th, 2015 04:59 pm (UTC)
Me too. The thing I love about Emma is that she's so very, very human, with moments of truly astounding pettiness but also a capacity to rise above that when she tries. She just spends the first half of the book or so not particularly trying.
Jul. 16th, 2015 07:30 am (UTC)
Pg Wodehouse is always so much fun! My favourites are the Blandings series. (Jeeves & Wooster are pretty great, too, obviously, but Blandings is lovely.) (PG Wodehouse spent a lot of time in America, so his OTT Americans are on a level with his OTT British upper class people, really. Do you already know about that one time he accidentally caused a huge Hollywood shake-up by telling the truth in an interview? He was initially over there for show-writing and then later because he wasn't popular in Britain over the whole unfortunate WWII broadcast things (which were actually pretty innocent & ironic and not pro-German; I've read them) from when he was also accidentally caught up in Germany and got interned for a bit.)

I'm glad you love Jane Austen. Can it ever be belated, appreciating her and her characters and humour? I think not. ;-)

I will of course look forward to you being back on the murder train, but the 99 Novels project does sound fascinating. I'm also pretty ignorant about mid20th C Literature. (It all sounded pretty depressing to me; I stuck to the 19th C when nobody except Thomas Hardy was ashamed of a happy ending.)

Edited at 2015-07-16 07:31 am (UTC)
Jul. 16th, 2015 02:05 pm (UTC)
I read a little Jane Austen when I was younger, and the Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Jennifer Ehle was a family favorite for a while, but she's been a joy to rediscover as an adult, now that I read more slowly and can appreciate a lot more.

No, I didn't know about P. G. Wodehouse's Hollywood shake-up! Details? I did recently hear about his German broadcasts and A. A. Milne being angry about it, though the details of that are not clear to me, either (through no one's fault but my own).

99 Novels has been great! I'm reading so many books that in my ordinary life it would never occur to me to pick up (because I don't know anything about them, or because I've pre-emptively categorized them as Whiny Dude Problem Masculinity Dirges). Some of them have been amazing, and even the ones I didn't love as much were worth the effort in some way, with maybe only one exception so far.

I completely forgot to take One Corpse too Many back to the library when I went out of town, so finishing that should be my next step.

Edited at 2015-07-16 02:06 pm (UTC)
Jul. 16th, 2015 05:37 pm (UTC)
Aha, well, the Germany broadcasts thing is complicated, but the Hollywood thing is that PG Wodehouse gave an interview in which he (naively, or possibly at least partly deliberately blowing the whistle) said:

They paid me $2,000 a week - and I cannot see what they engaged me for. They were extremely nice to me, but I feel as if I have cheated them. You see, I understood I was engaged to write stories for the screen. After all, I have twenty novels, a score of successful plays, and countless magazine stories to my credit. Yet apparently they had the greatest difficulty in finding anything for me to do...

It hit the headlines, and provided the financiers with the excuse to get on and reform Hollywood (probably coming anyway due to the Wall Street Crash), but the legend has rather become that Plum did it single-handed by accident, which is only partly true. But true enough!

As for the WWII stuff, PG Wodehouse unwisely agreed to make several broadcasts from Germany about his life as an internee (he and his wife being in France when it was occupied) & did four or five talks, which were humorous & not pro-Nazi, and mostly about how they were keeping their spirits up and so on. However, mostly people didn't hear any of the broadcasts, but they did read and hear the accusations after as it spread from letters in the papers to an official BBC/government broadcast condemning them, and in the end, post WWII, PG Wodehouse went to live in America, because there was a possibility he might be subject to court proceedings against him for treason if he came back to the UK. He believed the broadcasts to be innocuous (which in themselves they are) so it took him a long while to even understand what he'd done. He assumed that people who heard them would get what he was doing - but mostly they didn't hear them, and of course, in the context, even making them was a step too far for a lot of people.

The whole thing being largely kicked off into being a full scale incident by A A Milne was very odd, and I don't think anyone knows why A A Milne did it (who was supposed to be a friend of his did it), because he wrote a very odd piece simultaneously 'defending' Wodehouse and rather venomously smearing him with a vague phrase.

Mind, PGW's post-war continual insulting of AA Milne is pretty amusing still:

Nobody could be more anxious than myself, for instance, that Alan Alexander Milne should trip over a loose bootlace and break his bloody neck, yet I re-read his early stuff at regular intervals with all the old enjoyment and still maintain that in The Dover Road, he produced about the best comedy in English.

Anyway, people are interesting, really. :-)

I'm enjoying your 99 Novels ride by proxy, too, I have to say!

ETA: Good luck with finishing One Corpse Too Many, even if it sounds as if it's also being a few pages too many...

Edited at 2015-07-16 05:39 pm (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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