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Wednesday Walls Closing

What I've Finished Reading

Yet it had to be faced, down, down he had gone, down till-- it was not the bottom even now, he realized. It was not the end quite yet. It was as if his fall had been broken by a narrow ledge, a ledge from which he could neither climb up nor down, on which he lay bloody and half stunned, while far below him the abyss yawned, waiting. And on it as he lay he was surrounded in delirium by these phantoms of himself, the policeman, Fructuoso Sanabria, that other man who looked like a poet, the luminous skeletons, even the rabbit in the corner and the ash and sputum on the filthy floor-- did not each correspond, in a way he couldn't understand yet obscurely recognized, to some faction of his being? And he saw dimly too how Yvonne's arrival, the snake in the garden, his quarrel with Laruelle and later with Hugh and Yvonne, the infernal machine, the encounter with Senora Gregorio, the finding of the letters, and much beside, how all the events of the day indeed had been as indifferent tufts of grass he had half-heartedly clutched at or stones loosed on his downward flight, which were still showering on him from above.
I'm still not sure what to say about Under the Volcano. It's about a British ex-consul who drinks himself to death in Mexico, and some of the people who can't help him. That, and the fact that a huge percentage of the dialogue is pointed malapropisms, probably makes it sound a little tedious, but I don't think it is. It's not perfect, either, I think, but it's so ambitously abject and head-hammering and terrible (I mean terrible like a volcano, not terrible like Pompeii in 3-D) that I only notice its imperfections drunkenly and at a distance, if they are imperfections at all. It captures a very strange and dangerous feeling very well: the one where you think you can already remember having done the stupid thing you are about to do, so it must be inevitable and important that you go ahead and do it. That and the feeling of being so black-hole drunk that your own impending hangover has snuck up behind you from the other side of the space-time continuum. Drink lots of water while reading Under the Volcano; that's my advice.

What I'm Reading Now

Saul Bellow's prose in The Victim is a relief after Under the Volcano, which was impressive but exhausting. The Victim is full of paragraphs that are like perfect stereoscopic rooms:

At a picnic on the Chesapeake shore one Fourth of July, he fell in love with a sister of one of his friends. She was a tall, heavy-moving, handsome girl. With his eyes, he followed her in the steady, fiery sparkle of the bay when she climbed to the dock from the excursion boat and started arm in arm with her brother toward the grove and the spicy smoke of the barbecue clouding in the trees. Later he saw her running in the women's race, her arms close to her sides. She was among the stragglers and stopped and walked off the field, laughing and wiping her face and throat with a handkerchief of the same material as her silk summer dress. Leventhal was standing near her brother. She came up to them and said, 'Well, I used to be able to run when I was smaller.' That she was still not accustomed to thinking of herself as a woman, and a beautiful woman, made Leventhal feel very tender toward her. She was in his mind when he watched the contestants in the three-legged race hobbling over the meadow. He noticed one in particular, a man with red hair who struggled forward, angry with his partner, as though the race were a pain and a humiliation which he could wipe out only by winning. 'What a difference,' Leventhal said to himself. 'What a difference in people.'

I like Leventhal and his absent wife and want the entire book to steer away from its stalker plot and turn out to be about grocery shopping in New York, or something equally hectic but wholesome. It's not going to happen. Leventhal has a stalker, who is convinced that Leventhal ruined his life by being deliberately rude to his boss years ago; the stalker keeps turning up at his apartment to demand acknowledgement and also to share all his theories about the Jews. The back cover has already assured me that Leventhal is going to "[descend] into a nightmare of paranoia and fear." NO, STOP I just want everyone to be happy (why do I even read books, I wonder sometimes). Anyway, excellent so far; Burgess' 99 have been nearly all hits as of. . . I guess I'm only at 17% after all this time, whoops.

Just started: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, one of the books I bought a while ago that have been languishing on my shelf, and a book about the fall of the Soviet Union, same.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Man in the High Castle, from the same book group that brought you The Gods Themselves, and The Heart of the Matter, when I finish The Victim.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2016 02:56 pm (UTC)
I must say, I'd be tempted to read 'The Victim' if it didn't have a stalker plot. The paragraph you quoted is quite nice!
Mar. 9th, 2016 11:56 pm (UTC)
Bellow writes beautiful paragraphs! If stalkers of any kind are a deal-breaker, that's understandable, but if you only read one book with a stalker in it this year, I'd recommend this one.
Mar. 10th, 2016 03:32 pm (UTC)
That's a tag line if ever I heard one!
Mar. 9th, 2016 08:13 pm (UTC)
You read in case everyone WILL be happy. But then, you'd likely find that book and be bored after a bit 'why is there no ACTION' 'seriously, reading the phone book again?!'


Mar. 10th, 2016 12:05 am (UTC)
I don't know. . . I might get bored if every book was just a lot of joyful moments on a string, but it might take a while to get there.

I think the craving for happy stories has only gotten stronger as I've gotten older -- maybe by the time I'm 70 I won't want to read anything but Georgette Heyer, P. G. Wodehouse, and the Betsy-Tacys, and I'll just sit around watching My Neighbor Totoro on a loop. I'll have to give up L. M. Montgomery because too many characters die or are sad.

(Maybe it won't come to that).
Mar. 10th, 2016 09:09 am (UTC)
I'll be interested to see what you think of The Man In The High Castle. I only read it last year, myself. I won't say more right now, because spoilers. :-)

I feel guilty when everyone is reading classics and I'm not! Still, my current classic reading is Mikhail Strogoff, a "new" Jules Verne book - it has never gone out of print in France, but the last English translation was published around a century ago. A small press here in Australia, whose head honcho, children's writer Sophie Masson read it in French, has published a new translation with gorgeous illustrations and gold edged pages, using crowd funding to help. A typical Verne adventure - not SF.
Mar. 10th, 2016 02:15 pm (UTC)
A new translation after a hundred years, how great! :D I hope it's good! The only Jules Verne I've read was Around the World in Eighty Days, and that was years ago; maybe I should amend that sometime.
Mar. 14th, 2016 04:30 am (UTC)
Around The World In Eighty Days was great fun, wasn't it, with its OCD hero and his over-the-top servant and the policeman following them all the way! It was a lot tighter than this one, which spends quite a lot of its length so far in travelogue mode - the hero diesn't even appear till Chapter 3, and apparently he made up the whole business about a Tartar invasion and was told off for it by the Russian ambassador. But still, it's an entertaining journey across Russia by the Tsar's courier and a sweet young thing he picks up along the way. I'm halfway through. Will let you know how it pans out.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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