Friday 24 August 2012

The Captive, Post Two. (a short one this time)

The Captive - Marcel Proust: Post Two

One of the most effective scenes in The Captive is one in which Marcel, who rarely leaves his room, imagines the sounds of the world outside waking up as a musical composition. This is an excerpt and the whole piece raised some nostalgia for city life. Over a number of pages Proust compares the calls of traders and the sounds on shops opening and carts passing to plainchant, song and symphony. It is a wonderful passage of description, of unseen streets.

Saturday 18 August 2012

The Captive / La Prisonnière

Love the way these copies straddle the decimal divide.
The Captive - Marcel Proust

The captive is Albertine, who Marcel* keeps in his apartment, unbeknownst to his friends. The captive is also Marcel, who is so jealous of Albertine that his movements are severely constrained by his need to watch her all the time. And as one expects by now (if you've got this far into Remembrance of Things Past) these positions are also reflected and refracted through other characters, particularly the relationship between scion of the Guermantes family Baron de Charlus and Morel, the socially ambitious violinist. However the focus of the book is very much on Marcel and Albertine.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair - W.M. Thackeray

Right from the beginning of this book, an 'introduction' by the 'Manager of the Performance' Thackeray involves us in a conspiracy of humour. I know a wink is as little use as a nod to a blind man but even the blind must feel the tremors from the furious nodding and winking which the author indulges in. On one level this is a realist novel with a huge cast of characters which spans a relatively long period of time. On another it archly acknowledges its fictionality as the author addresses us directly:  "He is proud to think that his Puppets have given satisfaction to the very best company in this empire. The famous little Becky Puppet has been pronounced to be uncommonly flexible in the joints and lively on the wire: the Amelia Doll though it has a smaller circle of admirers, has yet been carved and dressed with the greatest care by the artist: the Dobbin Figure, though apparently clumsy, yet dances in a very amusing and natural manner: the Little Boys' Dance has been liked by some; and please to remark the Wicked Nobleman, on whom no expense has been spared, and which Old Nick will fetch away at the end of this singular performance."

Thackeray is constantly pointing out the tension between reality and morality, and how the morality practiced by one kind of person may be very contingent upon their circumstances. The wealthy aristocracy may look down upon mere merchants, who are vulgar enough to have to make their money from trade : "'Hullo, Dobbin,' one wag would say, 'here's good news in the paper. Sugar is ris', my boy.' Another would set a sum: 'If a pound of mutton-candles cost sevenpence-halfpenny, how much must Dobbin cost?' and a roar would follow from all the circle of young knaves, usher and all, who rightly considered that the selling of goods by retail is a shameful and infamous practice, meriting the contempt and scorn of all real gentlemen." However, many impoverished members of the aristocracy will desperately seek out a woman who brings with her a dowry from her rich merchant father.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

In Search of Klingsor

In Search of Klingsor - Jorge Volpi

This is a (quite) big novel, a novel of ideas set in the aftermath of World War 2, in a desolate Germany, among scientists, spies and sexual intrigues. It uses old German myth and modern theories to give shape to its exploration of the undefinable. Clearly, the shadow of Gravity's Rainbow must hang over this. Indeed the crossed matrices of Mathematics and Morals could be considered essentially Pynchonian terrain, and he is unlikely to be ceding much ground to Volpi.

Volpi has gathered an arsenal of scientific and mathematical theories, conundrums and stories with which to bone out the flesh of his story. My problem is that he hasn't quite fleshed out these bones. At times I felt that I was reading information cribbed from Sunday magazine articles or textbooks. The questions of voice and tone were also, I felt, imperfectly answered. I felt slightly put off by the tone, which is sometimes stilted, but am unsure as to whether this was an issue in the original or the translated text. However, it was hard to imagine some of the metaphors being elegant in any language.