Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

What I've Finished Reading

Vanity Dies Hard by Ruth Rendell. Why did Alice's friend Nesta disappear, and why is everyone in Alice's life trying to keep her from finding out? Can she trust anyone? Wonderfully creepy, atmospheric and economical, with a genuinely surprising ending about which I have mixed feelings. I'm not going to spoil it here, even under a spoiler cut, because it really is worth reading the book without prior knowledge. I'll say that I loved what the ending did with my expectations, but I'm not sure if I liked it specifically. Come talk to me about it in the comments (under a spoiler cut) if you've read this one!

I loved the chapters of Giant's Bread dealing with Nell's experiences as a volunteer nurse while Vernon was away - which have nothing to do with the genius-musician plot, but everything to do with Nell defining an area of competency for herself and becoming a "real person" after all - and with grisly medical details and hospital office politics, of course. This part is quite good, and much more convincing than Vernon's occasional forays into the primitive sensual hungers etc..

One of the interesting things about this book is that we get a lot of other people discussing Vernon's genius and what to do about it, and what the proper relationship is of non-genius characters to The Genius, but once Vernon grows up and discovers music there's very little interiority for him. He hates the idea of Nell working as a nurse, and never neglects to tell her so in his brusque letters home, but why?

There's one twist you can see coming a mile away, and one that I didn't expect at all. [THIS SPOILER MAY SHOCK YOU] Vernon is reported dead in Europe, and Nell marries the nice rich American. There's nothing wrong with him as far as anyone can see, except that he's rich and Not Vernon. But Vernon isn't dead after all; he tried to commit suicide in Holland by jumping in front of a truck, but lost his memory instead and is now perfectly happy working as a chauffeur named George Green. Through a series of coincidences, Jane and Sebastian find him, restore his memory through good old hypnosis, and send him to have a private talk with Nell to see what she wants to do. Nell is torn but hates the idea of hurting George or going through the trouble of divorcing Vernon, and even though she's been remembering Vernon fondly all these years, it would be a wrench to leave her nice home and go live in a shabby flat with Mr. Easily Distracted Visionary - so she lets Vernon think she's going to have a baby and he offers to pretend he's still dead.

Then Jane comes by and tries to make Nell jealous so she'll tell Vernon the truth and take him back, but it doesn't work. Vernon and Jane emigrate to Russia and kick around Europe for a while before finding themselves in a Titanic-esque shipwreck (here the Resplendent). The final twist, the one I didn't see coming and shouldn't have, because it's a bit much: Jane and Vernon are on the same ship as Nell! Not on purpose, it's just a big ship. There's a moment in which Vernon has to make a split-second decision and he can only save one of them, and he grabs Nell and lets Jane slide into the water. The final FINAL twist, which isn't really a twist at all, is that the mysterious Boris Groen from the prologue is really Vernon, having lost everything and sent Nell away in tears and buried himself in his work. THE END. This final act, covering Vernon's Russian journey and return, is very, very rushed compared to the rest of the book - no details about Russia at all except a pebble-spray of vaguely Taylorist commonplaces, though there were certainly enough reports floating around from this time period to allow Christie to fake up a couple of physical details if she'd felt like it.

I don't think my paperback edition is being very accurate in calling it "a spellbinding novel of romantic obsession." Everyone is a little bit obsessed with someone, but romantic obsession is decidedly not the driving force of the book. You get the feeling that the driving force should be Vernon's musical ambitions, but it's actually not - Vernon's ambition wavers a lot and disappears completely at times, and has to be jolted back into him by outside forces at great personal cost.

Vernon isn't much of a character, and I'm not sure if that's deliberate or not. He just gets knocked around by the plot and his musical destiny, which is largely engineered by his friends. There's talk about whether a genius should marry a "real person" as in last Wednesday's passage, but is Vernon a "real person," by those standards? Maybe geniuses are a third category.

This was an interesting book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I was aware the whole time of how much less interesting and enjoyable it would be if I didn't know it was written by Agatha Christie. As a literary novel, it's an earnest failure with some bright spots. As a literary novel by Agatha Christie it's fascinating.

What I'm Reading Now

I didn't give up on Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, but I had it shelved for a while - I almost tossed it in the giveaway box as a sacrifice the day I went into a thrift store looking for a tape deck (boring story) and came out with six new books, but soon after realized I did want to stick around and see if I ever managed to figure out what was going on. So here we are again. It's 1972 and professional wrestling is under threat from point-missing spoilsports who think match outcomes shouldn't be decided ahead of time. I don't know how much of this picture is accurate to wrestling culture in the early 70s, but it's fascinating to see how much protocol goes into maintaining the illusion of "legitimate" matches, real beefs, etc.. Lenny Long, driver, wrestling fan, and smart mark, has been dreaming of being on the inside since he was a kid, but will his dream destroy his family? Probably!

It's just been revealed that the long-running feud between two regional wrestling bosses [Spoiler, sort of]was really another script, an "angle" to whip up drama and raise the stakes -- though their mutual animosity was also real. Also, Gilbert Proctor, son of one of the bosses and designated heavyweight champion-to-be, was only pretending to be in prison for extra drama. We know from the prologue, that the big championship turnover in Shea Stadium is going to go very wrong. Not exactly a mystery, but a novel with some crime in it. I'm not sure if this is a good book or not, but it's an interesting one.

Just started Plain Murder by C. S. Forester - not a murder mystery in the traditional sense, because we follow the planning and the aftermath of a crime. Morris and his two co-conspirators made a few pounds sneaking secret commissions at their advertising agency, but they've just been caught by their supervisor. He hasn't told anyone yet, because he's waiting for the boss to get back from a trip. But if they murder him first, he won't tell anyone!

The POV is interesting here. There's a lot of fairly adept casual head-hopping. It moves in close to Morris at times to follow his though process, but the third-person narrator also takes time out to assure us that he doesn't approve of murder and frankly finds Morris a little pathetic despite his cunning. This approach works better than you might think! Now that Morris has killed a guy and made his accomplices afraid to say anything, they have only to stay cool through the investigation and they're in the clear! Or are they? I like that I have genuinely no idea what's going to happen next.

What I Plan to Read Next

Still working through my Friends of the Library Book Sale purchases from however many months ago: Mourned on Sunday by Helen Reilly or Return of the Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 20th, 2017 02:29 pm (UTC)
Yessss, I'm glad Vanity Dies Hard stays good all the way through. Someday I shall read it! Perhaps.

Also I remain fascinated by Giant's Bread, because it just sounds so weird. Random amnesia! A foray to Russia! Last minute shipwreck-ex-machina! (I wonder if Christie got bored of this whole literary novel thing and decided to spice it up with some good pulp material.) All this suffering to decide between two women, and then Vernon ends up sending Nell away in the end anyway? I hope Nell went back to her nice American husband and settled down far, far away from the Travails of Genius.
Mar. 21st, 2017 12:33 am (UTC)
I recommend it 100%, but be warned! You might hate the ending! I did not hate the ending, but. . . I can't say more. You'll know why when you read it.

I may be mischaracterizing Giant's Bread as weak litfic; maybe it would be more accurate to call it very low-key pulp? It's frothy in summary, but as a reading experience Vernon's agonies are so mild. He just gets batted politely back and forth like the little petticoat-ball in a game of badminton.

Jane and (I think) the novel judge Nell pretty harshly for lying to Vernon about her nonexistent baby, for not really wanting a baby in the first place, and for placing a high value on material comfort and emotional safety, but she's my favorite by far. For not being a real person, Nell is probably the best-drawn character in the book. Jane has snappier dialogue because she Tells it Like it Is, but Nell is the most complete character. As far as I'm concerned she forgets about Vernon entirely ten minutes after the last page and spends the next four decades enjoying her wealthy drama-free life.
Mar. 21st, 2017 12:38 am (UTC)
I like to think that the drama of her life with Vernon becomes Nell's amusing cocktail party story. Whenever she's at a party, people start clamoring for her to tell them about her life with the Tormented Genius, and Nell smiles and pretends to refuse until they clamor enough to deserve it.
Mar. 21st, 2017 12:47 am (UTC)
This is now the invisible frame story of Giant's Bread in my mind. It explains why Vernon is such a sad sack!
Mar. 21st, 2017 01:20 am (UTC)
Nell is amping it up for comic effect!

Although "and then Vernon let Jane sink in the ICY WATERS" seems kind of grim for a cocktail party story. Maybe in that version, Jane swims away and finds another genius to inspire.
Mar. 20th, 2017 04:25 pm (UTC)
Sounds like Christie got fed up and decided to go all pulpy at the end. Vernon sounds boring, genius or no, and the female characters more interesting. Are geniuses too dull for real people? I don't know, I'm not real;p

The wrestling sounds interesting purely because it's a different topic for a novel.

Sounds like I really like typing 'sounds'! Sorry!

Edited at 2017-03-20 04:26 pm (UTC)
Mar. 21st, 2017 12:43 am (UTC)
Hah! If I had to cut the words "sounds" "feels" and "seems" from my vocabulary I wouldn't be able to string a paragraph together.

Science teaches us that if genius isn't nurtured properly in childhood, it turns inward and devours the personality of its host. Poor Vernon is just a victim of neglect. The female characters are definitely more interesting, though I'm not completely sure that Vernon's dullness isn't intentional.

The wrestling is interesting! I'd like it to be a better book, but the topic is definitely a draw.

Mar. 21st, 2017 03:41 pm (UTC)
Coo, I'm not entirely sure that is true, science, but what do I know?;p
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

Latest Month

August 2017


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner