31 October, 2013

A Brace of Robinsons

Marilynne Robinson

I read the first page or so of this, just for the flavour, several years ago, when Lynne gave it to me as a birthday gift; i wasn't impressed. Today i'm happy to report that i was incorrect in that very quick assessment, as i have greatly enjoyed reading this novel. It is very simple, in some ways, and yet lovely and complex in its entirety. The text is a letter written by the narrator, minister in a Congregational church in a small Iowa town, to his young son, explaining things he wants his son to know that he knows he will never have the chance to tell him, as he is a very old father, having been sixtyfive or so when his son was born. The letter is written in about 1957, and the story it tells ranges from roughly the American Civil War until its present; the key characters are the narrator, his father and grandfather, his lifelong friend, and that friend's son, named after the narrator himself. All woven together it is the story of families falling apart, struggling to survive the tensions within them, the sorrow that parents both give and are given, and, this being America, race relations.

Peter Robinson

The second Robinson i have read (and, funnily enough, the second finished in the same day by someone called Robinson; coincidence is bizarre stuff), and i enjoyed this one at least as much as the previous. Peter Robinson's books are very much a part of a series, and i was feeling, as i read, that i really needed to read others ~ perhaps all others ~ in the series to fully understand the characters, who is who, and the relationships between them. Of course, i do recognise that this is partially a function of or attributable to a certain amount of my necessity for order and understanding, and that in fact i am perfectly capable of enjoying any of the series (if they're well written) without having to relate them to any others ~ just as it is possible to read, say, Lieutenant Hornblower without having to follow all the rest of the novels. Because something is possible, though, does not necessarily make it desirable. So, all in all, despite this wandering review, i enjoyed this novel, which kept me reading later than intended, and hooked me into trying to solve and work it out.

24 October, 2013

Non-Holmes Doyle, hmmm

Arthur Conan Doyle

It is curious how completely Conan Doyle's reputation has been attached to his creation Sherlock Holmes; so strong is the tie between the two of them that one just about forgets that he did anything else, let alone wrote much else; often the only other thing he is remembered for is his interest in spiritualism and being taken in by photographs of fairies at the bottom of the garden. In fact, though, i know he wrote more; i read at least one of his Medieval adventures about ten or fifteen years ago, and i was aware, vaguely, of Professor Challenger through the influence on subsequent generations of science fiction authors. This was, though, the first of Doyle's SF that i have read.

Professor Challenger is almost a character out of a farce, he is so much the easily offended intellectual, sublimely confident in himself (with some justification, it must be said), always ready to resort to physical violence to back up his mental powers. Doyle has provided him with a challenge sufficient to his abilities in the lost world plateau in the middle of South America somewhere, where remnants from past aeons of Earth's history are living together in some imitation of harmony. This lost world is clearly the precursor to any number of other isolated environments where a series of characters can explore and interact with no reference to the outside world, from Burroughs' Barsoom (not to mention the jungles of his Tarzan) to Lewis's Malacandra and Niven's Ring.

I am glad that i bought this edition, which contains all three Professor Challenger novels, as well as the two short stories Conan Doyle wrote, as i shall return to it in the future and read the rest; The Lost World is obviously a success for me.

15 October, 2013

Another classic completed (again?)

It's a strange thing, but i have finished this without being reminded of the previous reading. I am certain i did read it, at Loretto, maybe for O Level, maybe not. But reading it i have not had the flash of recognition that i usually have at some point while rereading a book. Thus i have been forced to reconsider, have i read it? did i perhaps misremember, remember other pupils reading it? Who knows. Parts of it are familiar, but perhaps only in the sense that i am familiar with books which are a part of my cultural heritage, even if i haven't read them myself.

Without worrying further, i need to respond to the book itself, though, and decide how i felt about it and whether, which is more important that possible past events, i will read another Lawrence in the future. I have to own that, to my regret, i was not as impressed with the writing as i probably should have been. For one thing, Paul Morel, the Lawrence stand-in, is an unattractive character, tied to his mother’s apron-strings, either unable or not willing to make a decision for himself, and in the process he hurts at least two other people, the two women he is interested in but unwilling to make a commitment to.

Another point i found irritating (laughable, really, me, with no credit, being irritated by someone universally acknowledged to be one of the Giants of the Twentieth Century) is that for much of the plot, while not much is happening in the lives of the characters, Lawrence spends his time telling his readers what the interior life of the characters, Paul in particular, is; he does not show it, does not allow the readers to grow their own perceptions and understandings, but lays out in detail how Paul feels, why he reacts in a particular way. I cannot but help think that the better novel is one in which the character is revealed through action. I cannot say that i won't read Lawrence again; i have read some of his poetry before, and perhaps some of the travel writings also; but i can say that i am not inspired to rush out and find another to read immediately. Which reaction, given his stature, and the place of this novel in his canon, makes me question mine own critical ability.