A clear idea of right and wrong

I’ve been listening to Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy, my first Tolstoy, and am enjoying the lack of moral relativism. It’s somehow refreshing to have a narrator with a clear opinion of what is evil and what is good, and a character who also knows this and is trying to be good. All the shades of grey in current fiction, though realistic, leave a bit to be desired as far as inspiration goes.

The story is about a nobleman in 188x, Nekhlyudov, who is on a jury, and sees that one of the accused is a woman he was in love with, and wronged, in his youth. She has since become a prostitute, and he blames himself and the way he treated her for her decline over the years. After at first wanting to ignore the situation, he decides he wants to ask her forgiveness, and help her, and do anything he can to make it right, he will even, he thinks, go so far as to marry her.

The drive to do good, and make things right, and make up for a past error are appealing in a character. And its sort of a spark of light among all the antiheros of the day.

We’ll see where it goes, though, I’m only at the start…

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What I want to read…

I’ve been reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent with a book club I just started with some friends. It’s much more enjoyable to read a book when you have people to discuss it with, but how can anyone ever get their friends to read the same books… if you’re even fortunate enough to have friends who read at all!

So we each submitted some choices, and voted on those choices (can’t vote for your own submissions!) and ended up with a book that everyone at least kind of wanted to read. Success! It wasn’t my top choice, but I was interested!

The novel is based on the true story of an Icelandic woman sentenced to death for murder in 1829, and her last days living on a farm with a family, who are tasked with watching over her while she waits her execution.

This sounded appealing to me, because I always am curious about the mind states of people in extreme situations. What would it be like, knowing you are doomed to die, awaiting the inevitable end day by day… Because it is like a magnified version of all our lives, all will end, all will end definitely, but we pretend they won’t. I find myself curious of what it would be like when you can’t pretend anymore.

I’m about 40% done with it now, and while it is an intriguing read, it’s not what I’d hoped it would be. The story seems to focus more on the family’s perception of her, and her interactions with a priest, and doesn’t delve much into her internal feelings on death. Not so far anyway. It seems to be more about perceptions, and how we decide a person is one way, just because of what others say of them, or judge their entire life and being all based on a single action, a single mistake.

An interesting read so far!

 

I don’t like ‘lol random’

I’ve been reading The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, and am finding myself generally annoyed with it, and had some curiosity why, since it seems like the kind of humor I used to really enjoy, in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ for example.

I think the difference is that in Hitchhiker, things that appear random at first are explained later as part of the plot, in a sensible way that makes the seemingly random first encounter even more funny. Whereas in the Third Policeman, nothing ever seems related to anything else. I feel that I could open the book at any point and start reading, and have basically the same experience of confusion and general unease.

The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things don’t always have to be answered for me. I have a pretty low threshold for sense, I think, compared to most people. But what I want is for what’s happening to at least have some effect on the character, or on me the reader.

The character in Third Policeman seems affected by nothing, even when told he’s going to be executed the next morning, he only has a sort of  halfhearted protest to it, and general idea that he might try to escape.

There were several times that things have been interesting to me, the reader, but had no bearing on the story and no seeming overall affect on the character. Those were fine I guess, but it’s like reading a disconnected series of essays on weird thoughts, more than reading a novel. Which would be fine, if it didn’t present itself as a novel right off the bat by giving the character a clear goal and a clear obstacle to overcome… then just completely disregarding them and jumping headlong into random nonsense for the rest of the book…

I have one chapter left, maybe it will all tie together in the end but I somehow doubt it.

dying, now or later…

The Plague has been getting more interesting. One part I enjoyed was, as the characters are now all quarantined inside the town, and death is all around, one character is sitting in his house trying to write a book, and rewriting the same sentence for days and weeks, trying to find just the right words. He’s asking his friends for advice, agonizing over it, switching out words for similar ones, and then putting them back, and so on. All while hundreds of people are dying all around him every day.

But we’re all dying, right? Even if these characters survive the plague, they’ll just die five or ten or twenty years later. So why not spend your time fussing over the first sentence of a book you’ll never write?

Life is strange…

A cool glass of sweet water

Every time I finish a particularly difficult book, be it bad, or odd, or just confusing, I take a break with a Nabokov novel. They are always so clear and crisp and enjoyable, it’s like drinking a nice glass of cool water after a tiring time in the sun.

This time I’m reading the Luzhin Defense, the story of an anti-social, obsessive chess player who goes mad. As all Nabokov novels I’ve so far read, it is just a joy, and the prose is so delicious, my brain thanks me in much the way in thanks me for a good meal. And it always makes me smile, with little bits like this for example:

Little Luzhin would go away, trailing his satchel over the carpet; Luzhin senior would lean his elbow on the desk, where he was writing one of his usual stories in blue exercise books (a whim which, perhaps, some future biographer would appreciate), and listen to the monologue in the neighboring dining room, to his wife’s voice persuading the silence to drink a cup of cocoa.

Can you not just see that so clearly… the over optimistic father, the pouty child and coddling mother… all in just a few sentences.

Something about the way he writes is just very enjoyable and smilingly good for me…

 

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

I’ve broken my streak of giving up on French classics!

This was a short, and somewhat disturbing read. The story opens with the character, Meursault, stating that his mother has died, though he’s not exactly sure when, and then describes her funeral.

We soon find that the Meursault does not seem to have any emotional connection to anything that is happening around him. He does not cry at his mother’s funeral, or seem to feel much at all about it.

The only thing that seems to get much of a reaction out of Meursault at all is the heat. He feels more about the heat while walking during the funeral procession, than he does his mother’s death.

As the story progresses, Meursault ends up helping a friend, Raymond, exact a pretty gross revenge on his lover. He does this without really thinking about it, and only on his second time meeting Raymond.

This cruel revenge leads the lovers brother to attack Raymond at the beach where they are vacationing. Meursault is present for the altercation, but doesn’t seem to feel or care much about it, except that he doesn’t want to be around the women (Meursault’s girlfriend and another guest) who are very upset by the incident. Here too, the heat is the only thing that phases him. The hot sun reflecting off the water and burning and oppressing him makes it hard for him to think. But he’d rather be outside in the sun, than inside with the upset women, so he goes for a walk out in the sun, which leads eventually to his predicament.

He finds, that in blind delirium brought on by the sun, he’s shot the man Raymond was feuding with.

The novel then continues with his arrest and sentencing, and time in prison. During all of it, the only thing that that seems to illicit any kind of reaction from him, is when the courtroom is over hot.

The end of this book, and Meursault’s thoughts on the inevitability of death had a anxious, upsetting affect on me, and I found myself connecting with this empty character in several ways. Mainly, his fear not of death itself, but his frustration with the inevitability of it, the lack of hope or means of escape.

There were many parallels to Crime and Punishment in this story, but unlike Roskolnikov, whose paranoia and guilt and nervousness lead to his capture, it is exactly the opposite for Meursault–his coolness and emotionless reaction to everything and everyone around him are his demise.

Very interesting, and somewhat upsetting read.

can’t write? edit!

I’ve been having some trouble creating lately… so I’ll delete instead! It’s been nearly a year since I reached the end of my novel, so it’s about time I started editing it.

So, I started… and I’m wondering if I’ve really improved that much in the past year, or if I was just blinded by creative juices while writing… because, there’s… so much to fix…

This will be a fun few months rewriting every other paragraph and deleting the endless procession of gerunds.

Wish me luck..