Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman (a.k.a. Stetson)
(Above title links to story)
This is not really more than a short story but it's place on the 1001 Books allows me to award myself another book read and move towards a less ignominious failure in my attempt to read 100 books this year.
Short though it is The Yellow Wallpaper is remarkably rich in symbolism and almost feels like the birth pangs of a consciousness. The conjugal bed and the nursery are combined into a mixture between a prison cell and a psychiatric ward.
"It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls."
The titular wallpaper has a pattern that the narrator cannot make out, and the story is driven by repeated phrases and images.
The narrator is staying in this quiet country house as a 'cure', her husband and brother united in the belief that she is suffering from a 'temporary nervous disposition' although she believes 'that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.'  But excitement is not to be hers because 'He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.' 'He' is her husband, and jailer.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

Recently I got into a discussion about which books I should have read and Madame Bovary featured high on the list (and it's a lot shorter than Remembrance of Things Past) so I bumped it to the top of my ever expanding pile of books.  Books that threaten to overwhelm me with their demands, their insidious paper fingers, their words like confetti silently falling around me as I fall too! The dangers of fiction. And then the dangers of having to write about it. What can be left to say about Madame Bovary that hasn't been said a thousand times before.
 Madame Bovary seems to me to be, like Don Quixote, a warning on the dangers of books. They only give birth to illusions, all of which, in the eye of Flaubert, shall be dulled by life. "Before the wedding, she had believed herself in love. But not having obtained the happiness that should have resulted from that love, she now fancied that she must have been mistaken. And Emma wondered exactly what was meant in life by the words 'bliss', 'passion', 'ecstasy', which had looked so beautiful in books."

Saturday 18 June 2011

Irish Blood, English Heart

Irish Blood, English Heart - Sean Campbell

This books tells a story that has long fascinated me, the story of how the children of Irish emigrants to England became some of the most important musicians in English rock music. It focuses on the eighties, interrogating the stories of Kevin Rowland (Dexy's Midnight Runners), Shane McGowan (The Pogues) and Morrissey and Marr (The Smiths).

Wednesday 15 June 2011

The Hours

The Hours - Michael Cunningham

The twenties were known as The Jazz Age and is is fitting that this book, based on one of the key books of the twenties, should use the methodology of jazz. The repetition of key phrases in different settings, with different emphasis means that we constantly reevaluate not just The Hours but also Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, from which it takes its inspiration.
Indeed, picking up this inspired me to pick up Woolf's book and read it first and I am glad that I did so. I feel that having it fresh in my mind allowed me to appreciate the way Cunningham picked up, twisted and gathered together many threads from Mrs Dalloway, at times almost quoting long passages, at others merely brushing against the form of the earlier book.

Friday 10 June 2011

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Reductio ad absurdum  is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence. 

Atwood's use of language in The Handmaid's Tale is almost mathematical. I felt that I could clearly see many of the locations and was often stopped in my tracks by the precision of her prose. She manages to make the confabulation of religious fundamentalism and extreme feminism convincing, and indeed there have been some regimes that sprung into existence since this book was written that might have used it as an inspiration rather than a warning.

Monday 6 June 2011

Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf

Quotes from Virginia Woolfs' diary in 1922 while she read Ulysses:
"I have read 200 pages so far," 
 "amused, stimulated, charmed, interested ... to the end of the Cemetery scene." 
 "puzzled, bored, irritated, & disillusioned" "by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples." 
 "illiterate, underbred book ... of a self taught working man
 "we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, & ultimately nauseating

These, and other quotes pepper the internet and because of them and the obvious similarities between Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses, it is hard to think of Mrs Dalloway completely separately from Joyces' magnum opus. Both are narrated through internal voices and both take place over the course of a single day. 
I couldn't help seeing the following quote as referring (less than) obliquely to Joyce. "Now for instance, there was a man writing quite openly in one of the respectable weeklies about water closets."