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Wednesday Something or Other

What I've Finished Reading

"Who invented the human heart, I wonder? Tell me, and then show me the place where he was hanged."

I ended up reading JUSTINE twice because I was on a train and didn't have any other books in English. I'm glad I did, because a lot of things were clearer on re-read, if not necessarily less annoying. I loved and hated Justine, but not quite as I love and hate myself. The most surprising thing to me was that, for a book that makes a huge deal about being set in ALEXANDRIA, and for all its many beautiful and startling details of the city, I didn't feel like it had a strong sense of place. That stayed true even on the second read. Or: the sense of place was severely limited by the perspective of the expat narrator (an Irish schoolteacher, whom the untrustworthy author's note assures us is not Lawrence Durrell): there's the same kind of easy arm's length lyricism that you get when young writers come home from backpacking across Asia, with lists of all the shocking things the writer saw out the window of the bus on the way to the yoga retreat. That's so mean I'm convinced it can't be fair, so maybe it isn't.

Anyway, the writing is beautiful, in the sense that lines and sentences and paragraphs are beautiful, but if you're expecting a novel, it might disappoint? Everything and everyone is caught up in the gigantic spiderweb of Beautiful Writing; scenes and characters dangle a little above the ground in sticky shrouds of poetry, out of reach of one another. Almost no one in this book listens to anyone else. They just wait their turn so they can quote Cavafy and summarize each other's psyches in separate cars. That may be the point (bordering solitudes and all of us being unknowable, and all that) but it's hard to say for sure. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the quartet, which I haven't done before. It's supposed to be the same story (or time period) from four angles, so I'm curious to see what will be different.

What I'm Reading Now

I had the good luck to be given a copy of The Girls of Slender Means, which is also on the list and small enough that it can replace Justine in my luggage. The contrast is almost as enjoyable as the book itself. Durrell wrestles showily with everything; the effort is visible even when he succeeds (and this makes him vulnerable and a little likable, despite his total inability to learn anything from anyone). Muriel Spark is like a razor you don't even feel. I may have accidentally read it all in between beginning this paragraph and finishing it, but I probably need to wait until next week to say anything about it.

Today I'm sick (again) so have been watching the ultimate comfort TV, All Creatures Great and Small. It's about the low-key adventures of some veterinarians in a small town, and features plots like "a dog was sick, but then he got better" and "dealing with cows can be tricky but eventually we sorted it out." lost_spook recommended it to me last year and it hasn't let me down.

What I Plan to Read Next

Possibly The Whale, a novel about the relationship between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I'm debating whether or not to do a no-reading week beginning on Sunday, to take advantage of no longer being expected to check emails for work.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2016 08:47 pm (UTC)
I feel in all fairness that I should say that there may be some moments in which a dog/other animals does not turn out to be okay. But I am glad it's being such a useful comfrot-watch when sick for you - I hope you feel better soon!

Jul. 13th, 2016 09:05 pm (UTC)
Don't worry! I've already encountered some situations in which the animal is not ok, and expect there to be more. :( Not all low-key country vet adventures can have a happy ending. But the overall effect is so cozy anyway, a couple of steps beyond the coziest murder mystery, for those days when murder just won't do.

Edited at 2016-07-13 09:08 pm (UTC)
Jul. 13th, 2016 08:51 pm (UTC)
Love 'All Creatures, Great and Small'. Was a favorite when I was a kid and I still rather love it today!

Jul. 13th, 2016 09:12 pm (UTC)
It's so low-key and charming! There are all these dogs that just run around the Vet House whenever there's a scene at the Vet House, or ride in the back of one of the little cars, because the production team thought we might like a few extra dogs on the screen. THEY ARE RIGHT. <3 Plus the human cast is super likable.
Jul. 13th, 2016 09:55 pm (UTC)
there's the same kind of easy arm's length lyricism that you get when young writers come home from backpacking across Asia, with lists of all the shocking things the writer saw out the window of the bus on the way to the yoga retreat.
Oh God, this description is so perfectly accurate that I cackled out loud. I mean, I don't know if it's accurate to Durrell – I haven't read him – but I have read many books of the expat genre, and yes, exactly.

The Whale! I'm very excited to read this myself, though I don't have a copy yet. But I heard about it a few months ago and have been eagerly awaiting its appearance. I'm a huge Moby Dick fan, and this sounds amazing.
Jul. 14th, 2016 02:23 pm (UTC)
I love Moby Dick and I have a lot a vague sympathy for both Melville and Hawthorne, though I've hardly read anything from the latter.

Is it accurate to Durrell? I keep going back and forth. I think probably it's accurate but not exhaustive. The problem is I keep wanting to pan Justine and finding myself unable to. I keep getting caught up, like everyone else, in those isolating webs of Writing. Am I being tricked into constantly thinking I'm missing something, or am I actually missing something? WHO KNOWS.
Jul. 13th, 2016 11:41 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I'm curious to hear what you think of The Whale!
Jul. 14th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
Me, too! It could go a lot of ways, I think.
Jul. 14th, 2016 12:24 pm (UTC)
*looks up The Whale immediately* Ok, gosh, I need to know more about this.

I really loved the James Herriot books as a child - haven't revisited them since, but if the tv show is a faithful adaptation, I can imagine them being just as cosy.
Jul. 14th, 2016 02:03 pm (UTC)
If I have room for it in my luggage and can get a copy of The Whale, I'll start reading it on the plane! If not, I'll grab one when I get back to the US.

I haven't read the books, but the TV show is the single coziest thing in the history of human endeavor as far as I can tell.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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