Monday, 29 August 2011

Art of the Novella Challenge: The DUELS - Chekhov vrs von Kleist

My next five novella reads will be the five "Duels" in which I'll pit one work against another and see which emerges victoriously as the last novella standing. 

First up is Anton Chekhov's Duel, translated by Margarita Shalina and first published in 1891. At one end of the field, we have Ivan Laevsky, a bored civil servant living in the Caucasus with Nadya, a married woman who has deserted her husband to run away with him. His days consist of gambling, borrowing money, and spending time moaning to his good friend Doctor Samoylenko about how he has fallen out of love and is desperate to leave the town and start over - alone. Nadya, also suffering from a restless malaise and romantic disappointment, begins flirting with the son of a shop owner she owes money to, and more dangerously, embarks on an unsatisfying affair with Kirlin, the town's chief of police. Other characters populating this drama are Von Koren, a zoologist and tenant of the doctor, who has read his Darwin a little too closely and thinks loafers such as Laevsky should be destroyed; Maria Kostantinova, a well-meaning hostess who nevertheless criticizes Nadya for her lifestyle in a tirade of entertaining and blunt language; and one of my favourite characters, the Deacon, a happy go-lucky religious man who wouldn't be caught publicly attending a duel, but thankfully, just can't stay away. There's despair and desperation, lies and lethargy and plenty of discussion about morality and mortality.
I'm hoping that one of the joys of reading these five duelling novellas will be in the suspense of either not knowing which characters will end up as opponents, how it will come about, or for those situations in which the participants are obvious, being surprised by the outcome.  Chekhov delivers deliciously on all counts, and I was very absorbed and engaged in this story.

Heinrich von Kleist's Duel, translated by Annie Janusch, was first published in 1810 but is set in the fourteenth century, and it took me back to undergrad days reading Chrétien de Troyes romances - at least in theme and plot if not in style. A Duke is murdered and suspicion falls on his half-brother, Count Jakob Rotbart. However he has a tight alibi; he spent the night with the beautiful and widowed Lady Littegarde who he had been courting unsuccessfully. He produces material proof and despite her protests of innocence, Littegarde's brothers denounce her and throw her out of their castle. She seeks the help of Sir Fredrich von Trota, one of her longest and ardent suitors, who promptly challenges Rotbart to a duel, or "trial by ordeal", wherein the outcome, decided by God, will be accepted as the indubitable truth. Only things don't go quite as planned.  This is a short novella so I won't reveal anymore, but it was a good fairytale adventure coupled with some ambiguous moral and religious questioning.  I enjoyed the fast paced plot and the melodrama of it all:

The battle now oscillated between the two fighters like two storm fronts swirling around each other - hurling and deflecting lightning bolts, towering above and rearing below the crack of heavy thunder.
So two very different types of duels, but for character development, atmosphere and the pure beauty of the prose, I have to go with the Chekhov.  Plus von Kleist loses points for always making sure Littegard had a "half-bared breast" at her moments of crisis and (while not the fault of von Kleist), there is a major mistake on the jacket flap copy (which is rare for Melville).

The victor for this joust is Chekhov!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Thanks Jack. . .

Here's the CN Tower all lit up in orange last night in tribute to Jack Layton.  I listened to his state funeral on the radio and was very moved.  From Stephen Lewis's powerful and touching eulogy calling Layton's letter to Canadians a "manifesto for social democracy" (which caused a huge round of extended applause and a standing ovation that even Stephen Harper had to participate in), to Steven Page singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", to Lorraine Segato's rousing "Rise Up", it was a very beautiful and fitting tribute. As were all the amazing messages chalked on the sidewalks, up the sides of the ramps and on all conceivable surfaces in front of City Hall.

I spent part of this weekend just walking around this great city feeling very grateful to live here.  Lots of people were wearing bits of orange in remembrance of Jack.  I don't actually have any orange clothing but I did have a ball of orange wool, so having already started the beekeeper's quilt, I decided to just knit orange hexagons while listening to the funeral.  It is a great, happy, hopeful and optimistic colour.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Knit One, Eye Another. . .

My knitted log cabin progresses. I've almost done six squares; a few more and it'll be a blanket for one. Then I'll decide if I want to make it a blanket for two or even turn it into a possible bedspread. It's a great project to bring on the bus and my boring home bound commute as gone much faster as a result.  And now I think I'm obsessed with knitted quilts because they don't require, well, any quilting.  Don't get me wrong - I love quilting and have a towering stash of fat quarters and half-finished projects to prove it, but my apartment is small, filled with far too many books and as a result, spare table space to block and sew is quite limited.  Knitting on the couch listening to music or the radio - no problems!

I've been completely inspired by some of the projects in Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's  Mason Dixon Knitting, in particular their mitred block quilt.  More info here.  Gorgeous, isn't it.

Or how about this tumbling blocks blanket designed by Kaffe Fassett (free pattern download at Rowan's website here.)

And here's the adorable quilt that everyone seems to be knitting over at Ravelry (over 900 knitters around the world are currently working on this project - count me among them.)  This puffy Beekeeper's Quilt designed by tiny owl knits is so great for using up spare yarn and there's no seaming.   I think it'll be ideal to work on these while commuting and travelling. I'm going to give it a year and see how many I can do.  Did my first "puff" last night and I was very happy with how it turned out.  Thanks to Toronto's Knit Cafe blog for drawing my attention to it.

It's In the Bag. . .

Moleskine now has bags???  Okay, I'm officially lusting after this one called "The Reporter". I love the elastic band that wraps around it, just like it does on their notebooks.  You can see the full line at their website here.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Art of the Novella #4: Proust Pastiche. . .

You don't have to be familiar with all the writers that Proust is imitating in this entertaining pastiche in order to enjoy reading this novella. Another way to view this story is as a exercise in the art of examining (or explicitly avoiding doing so) one basic story from many different, creative angles. The simple framework concerns a man named Lemoine who, claiming to be able to manufacture diamonds from coal, swindles a large amount of money, is caught and subsequently put on trial. Proust pays homage to (or skewers) writers including Balzac, Flaubert, Saint-Simon (who I now have no interest in reading) and the Goncourt brothers. My favourite chapter was the "critique" following Flaubert's account, in the voice of Sainte-Beuve. It was extremely funny. Many of Proust's own literary preoccupations are present, particularly the meticulous and exhausting detail paid to the endless rankings of aristocratic society and the artifice of that empty world. He also has a bit of gleeful, immature fun in his chapter devoted to Henri de Régnier, where, rather poetically, the discharge from a runny nose momentarily becomes an apt symbol of Lemoine's diamond scam.

So that makes four novellas read out of the nine I am aiming for this month. The final five will be the "Duel" books by Chekhov, Conrad, Casanova, von Kleist and Kuprin. We'll see which duellist is left standing.

The Postmodern Mystery. . .

Now here's a fantastic reading list to work your way through. Ted Gioia has written an essay entitled "The Eight Memes of the Postmodern Mystery", citing such characteristics as "The Author Appears As a Character . . . Or Even a Suspect", "An Obsession With Texts", and "The Wounded Investigator". He warns that, "fans of conventional whodunits may do well to steer clear of these books, which will thwart their expectations, mess with their minds, and possibly undermine their faith in the triumph of law and order. Put simply, these books are not for the faint of heart."

Absolutely my type of reading!

You can read his essay here. And he's also included a list of Fifty Essential Works here. I've read only seven of the titles but all were completely original and memorable. And now I've quite a few more to add to the reading pile. Thanks to Literary Saloon for the link.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Gets Updated. . .

The trailer for Michael Winterbottom's new movie Trishna has just been released. You can view it here. Starring Freida Pinto, it's an interesting project, transporting Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles to India. I like the cast, the director, the trailer and the music promises to be amazing as well, with the original score created by one of my favourite film composers, Shigeru Umebayashi. I'm not sure how much of the Toronto film festival I'm going to be able to take in this year, but I'm certainly earmarking films that I definitely want to see.

Jack Layton - You Will Be Missed!

I was so saddened to learn the news of Jack Layton's death this morning from cancer. I have been a huge fan of this politician from way back in my university days when he was a Toronto city councillor and I was a campus journalist. He always returned phone calls, gave great interviews, and was as passionate about making the city a better place as he was about improving the country in his later federal role. I was so thrilled when he became the official Leader of the Opposition earlier this year, and was looking forward to some intelligent and hard-hitting debate with Stephen Harper in Parliament this fall. He was a politician who put his money where his mouth was - a committed advocate for environmental issues, cycling, combatting poverty, improving social housing - Canada has truly lost a politician who could have made a real difference. Hopefully other MPs have been inspired by him and will continue his legacy. Layton seemed invincible and was such a fighter that I think everyone felt he'd beat the cancer hands down. My thoughts go out to his family and friends - such a sad day for the country.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Traipsing Around the U.K.: Hull

And then it was off to Hull. Now this city gets a bit of a raw deal. It's true that it's pretty much on the road to nowhere, and it was voted Britain's crappiest town to live in a few years ago. But it also happens to be my birthplace and since I left at nine months and haven't been back since, it seemed time to make a pilgrimage.

I don't know what I was expecting to feel; nothing jarred any memory whatsoever. So I did what I usually do when visiting a new city - walked the streets, looked at architecture, grabbed a latte, popped into the art galleries and museums and browsed through a bookstore. I was only there for a few hours but it was definitely worth the trip. So for all those naysayers, here are some nice things about Hull.

1. You are greeted at the train station by a statue of Hull's most famous poet and librarian - Philip Larkin.

2. It has a really beautiful church - Holy Trinity - which is 700 years old and the largest (in area) parish church in England.
3. You can get some pretty good fish and chips in the city and the waterfront is in the process of being revitalized.

4. The Ferens Art Gallery is lovely. One of their exhibits was of David Hockney's massive painting Bigger Trees Near Warther, made up of fifty separate canvases.

5. There's a tiny street called The Land of Green Ginger said to be the inspiration for Winifred Holtby's novel of the same name.

My tie-in book purchase was a play called Toast by Richard Bean, who grew up in Hull. It's an amusing and slightly surreal story set one night in the canteen of a Hull bread factory as its assortment of workers take various breaks during their night shift. They have an extra large order to fulfill, the ovens are overheated, and tempers are rising just as much as the troubling batch mixed with too much yeast. I very much enjoyed reading it, as much for the humour as the dialect; it would be lovely to see this staged or listen to a recording, if only to imagine what I might have sounded like if I'd stayed and grown up there.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Not the Booker Prize Shortlist. . .

So while we wait for the Man Booker shortlist to be announced (fingers crossed for Julian Barnes), the Guardian has released the shortlist of the Not The Booker Prize, voted on by readers. You can read about it here. It's all a bit tongue in cheek - one of the authors promised to post a picture of himself in the buff if he won - but I am pleased to see Lars Iyer's Spurious on the list (yes, my love for Melville House continues). But it really is a fun and quirky read. I started laughing from the moment I first saw the clever cover and continued to giggle throughout its chapters. It's about two friends (sort of), who are convinced they could have brilliant lives if they could only get off their butts and do something about it. Procrastinators rejoice. Along the way there are meditations on writing (or the lack of), philosophy, house mold, travel trials, and whether things would really be much better in Canada. In Dogma, the sequel coming out next spring, the two journey to the American South, in the company of Canadians no less, to start a new religion. Again, the cover is just terrific.

I was reminded of Spurious when I saw Michael Winterbottom's latest movie The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. They also play two friends driving around the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, ostensibly to review pretentious food for a newspaper. They instead spend most of their time affectionately bickering about their lifestyles, their careers, ABBA lyrics, and who has the better Michael Caine impersonation. And the scenery is just gorgeous! If you like the sarcastic, self-deprecating, taking-the-piss humour of the Brits (and who doesn't?) then I can highly recommend all of the above.

Traipsing Around the U.K.: Manchester

Manchester has a wonderful energy about it. The historical buildings are tall and red and majestic. Piccadilly Gardens, a public downtown square, is brimming with people enjoying the summer sunshine. There is a very good Waterstones (one of the ways I always judge a bookstore is by its staff picks) on Deansgate, and a beautiful university library - the John Rylands Library - which the public can pop into for a look. And in the Manchester Art Gallery, I was arrested by the painting pictured above - Umbrellas by Dorothy Brett, painted in 1917. There in the center is Ottoline Morrel with Lytton Strachey sitting on her left and Brett herself on Ottoline's right. And is that Carrington, bending her head on the left edge of the painting? I bought the postcard. It was quite a large work and very beautiful. The whole gallery is well worth a visit, particularly if you like decorative arts.

Then it was off on a short tram ride to Salford Quays and The Lowry, a complex that has a theatre and a gallery with a continuous exhibition of the paintings and drawings of L.S. Lowry, a painter I've encountered in books numerous times (my mum has a framed reproduction in her living room), but whose actual work I'd never seen before. It's a great collection and I particularly liked his simple but moving sea paintings, so different in style and subject from his better known depictions of urban and factory life in the English north.

Across from The Lowry is the Imperial War Museum North, a unique building designed by Daniel Libeskind to represent shards of the earth, shattered and then put back together. Inside, it's a very large, open space, with various side pods hosting themed exhibitions. I spent some time wandering through their War Correspondents display that featured among others, the work of Martha Gellhorn. I also went up the observation tower, and here's a warning to those who suffer from vertigo - the platform is made up of a steel walkway that is see-through. Even though the staff warned me not to look down, of course I did (it's actually hard not to) and got quite giddy. There's a good view of the city though.

Last stop was at the museum's gift shop where I bought Art From the First World War. It features many of the works and artists I was already familiar with - Paul Nash, William Orphen, Wyndham Lewis, CRW Nevinson - but introduced me to some paintings I had not seen before, such as Henry Lamb's "Irish Troops in the Judean Hills Surprised by a Turkish Bombardment, 1919", which is painted from the perspective of looking down at the ground from quite high up, and Walter Bayes' "The Underworld: Taking Cover in a Tube Station During a London Air Raid, 1918". There are also entries by women war artists Anna Airy and Flora Lion, who painted women doing war work in factories and canteens. A nice addition to my growing collection of books on the First World War.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Traipsing Around the U.K.: Liverpool

Like most people, I was saddened to hear about the recent riots in several British cities. I spent a couple of weeks this summer with a BritRail pass, making day trips to several of the cities involved and had a marvellous time strolling the streets and appreciating the architecture, reading in cafes, exploring the art galleries, and yes doing a bit of book shopping. So to combat a bit of the negative image that has pervaded the media, I want to celebrate the vibrancy and endless variety of everything England has to offer to tourists. Or alternatively, here's what I did on my summer vacation and these are the books that I bought.

First stop: Liverpool. I really like this city. This is a view from the top of the Anglican cathedral (well worth the climb).

The architecture is just fantastic and they've done some wonderful things with the downtown core making it very pedestrian friendly. They've also been revitalizing their waterfront (a new museum just opened while I was there), and as such, it's an extremely enjoyable city to walk. They also have some really lovely art galleries, which in the U.K. are mostly free. London gets all the attention and true, they do host some of the best galleries and museums in the world, but there are all sorts of delightful and fascinating collections scattered around the U.K. In many ways, I prefer visiting these smaller places with no particular expectations and then being knocked off my feet discovering a new, perhaps local artist, or encountering an interesting painting by someone famous that I'd never seen reproduced in a book, calendar or tea towel.

My first visit was to the Tate Liverpool, down on the Albert Docks (great views of the Mersey from its windows) where I was really pleased to see that they were hosting an Rene Magritte exhibit (you do have to pay for this, but trust me, it's well, well worth the money). I LOVED this exhibit - it's running until October 16th so if you are anywhere near the city, do check it out. Not only were many of his famous paintings on display, wonderfully curated by theme, but the rooms also showcased some of his photography, and of most interest to me, lots of his commercial design work - movie posters, advertising, fashion plates. Again, things I'd never seen before. Apparently he hated doing this to pay the bills, but it was amazing work. I don't normally buy exhibition catalogues, but had to make an exception with this one - Magritte A to Z by Christoph Grunenberg. The Tate store was also selling it at a discount - how could I resist? What I really wanted to buy though was a bowler hat.

Off next to the beautiful Walker Art Gallery where again, another interesting exhibit was on display. Art in Revolution: Liverpool in 1911, juxtaposed post-impressionist paintings that were originally shown in 1911 (following the famous 1910 exhibit curated by Roger Fry that caused so much controversy in London) with footage and commentary about the labour strikes and demonstrations that occurred in the city (just outside the gallery) leading to several deaths. A lovely blend of art and history, questioning the multiple meanings of "revolution".

Finally, I was in the city on the opening day of the new Liverpool Museum. It was packed and not all of the rooms were yet open but what I saw, I really liked. I mostly focused on the exhibits dealing with the city's artists - poets, playwrights, actors and yes, of course The Beatles. You also get some great views of the waterfront from its windows. And there's a Canadian connection. This photo was shot from the museum (sorry - not the greatest shot; it was raining) of Canada Boulevard. That line of maple trees represents every Canadian ship that was lost during the Second World War.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cabin Fever. . .

Whenever I start a new knitting project, I make a point of always attempting a new technique. Having some scrap yarn lying around from previous projects, I decided to try turning and picking up stitches, and so knitted this log cabin square. It was so much fun! I immediately envisioned snuggling under a huge wool blanket in front of a roaring fire (a completely crazy thought since it's the height of a hot and muggy summer and anyways, I don't have a fireplace). Nevertheless, impulse is my middle name, so it was off to the wool store with my credit card.

Now, I'm not a masocist. The square above was knitted with 4.5mm needles and measures about 9.5 inches square. It would take forever to knit a blanket. So I decided to double up the wool, which gives it the extra warmth I know I'll want in the dead of winter, and knitted a few swatches with different size needles, finally settling on using the 7.5mm. I stayed up far too late finishing my first square which measures about 15 inches square.

But I'm pretty pleased with the results. I decided to use seed stitch for the middle to make the red pop out and give it a bit of extra texture. If I complete a couple of squares a week, I might even be able to finish this before the first snowfall.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

On Track With Another Neversink. . .

I'm taking a wee break from the novellas to return to another of my Melville passions - their fantastic Neversink Library which aims to bring back lost classics, many of them in translation. I so completely trust their editorial acumen that I'm determined to read them all. The series kicked off earlier this year with Irmgard Keun's wonderful After Midnight, reviewed here, and now I've read Georges Simenon's equally atmospheric The Train, translated by Robert Baldick.

I could not put this little gem down; Simenon is just so good at narrative voice. The Germans have invaded Belgium and are advancing on Northern France. Marcel Feron, a married man with a small daughter and another child on the way, lives very simply with his wife in a small French town, fixing radios and raising chickens. He says he is perfectly happy. But as the Nazis advance, the people in the town start packing up to try and catch one of the last trains leaving the area. Marcel suddenly decides to join them, not so much out of concern for his family's safety, but through a nagging premonition that this is his opportunity to encounter Fate:

I wasn't responsible anymore. Perhaps that's the word, perhaps that's what I was trying to explain just now. Only the day before, it had been up to me to manage my life and that of my family, to earn a living, to arrange for things to happen in the way things have to happen.
But not now. I had lost my roots. I was no longer Marcel Feron, radio engineer in a newish district of Fumay, not far from the Meuse, but one man among millions whom superior forces were going to toss about at will. . . From now on, decisions were no longer any concern of mine. Instead of my own palpitations, I was beginning to feel a sort of general palpitation. I wasn't living at my tempo anymore, but at the tempo of the radio, of the street, of the town which was waking up much faster than usual.

At the station, the men are separated into different carriages from the women and children, and Marcel completely loses track of his family when his freight car is uncoupled during the night. Strangely calm and nonplussed, he continues his long rail journey, forming a relationship with Anna, a mysterious young woman, reticent about her past, who climbs into the train without any luggage. The story follows their affair as they travel towards a refugee camp in the south of France, and these portions reminded me very much of the similar chaos described in Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française. Marcel is narrating this episode from a period many years in the future. His voice has a calm wistfulness about it but his detachment is his undoing. This is very much a tale of lost opportunity, both for happiness and a self-redeeming and self-esteeming decency. Here, Fate is not going to trump personality and cowardice. The ending was just superb. I will be thinking about this book for quite a while.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Tanked!. . .

It's still one of my goals to improve my knitting skills this year and after my disasterous attempts at hats (I am still determined to knit one for this winter though!), I switched to something more summery. It's taken a few months of on-and-off but I finally finished this tank top over the weekend and it actually FITS! The wool is a really lovely colour - sort of peacocky blue. It's CascadeYarns 220 Superwash. The pattern is taken from The Yarn Girls' Guide to Beyond the Basics by Julie Carles and Jordanna Jacobs. This is the first bit of clothing I've ever knitted so I'm feeling quite chuffed and it gives me the confidence to perhaps move on to a sweater. Sleeves are scary though!

Celebrating Stella Gibbons. . .

There's a nice article here in the Guardian about the re-issues of Stella Gibbons' novels just out in the U.K. and available in Canada next month. These include two "sequels" to the delightful Cold Comfort Farm. Apparently, Virginia Woolf was enraged that the novel won the Prix Étranger when it was published in 1932. I'm particularly looking forward to reading Westwood, a novel set in London during the Second World War and featuring a bookish woman. The best news from this article is that there are 14 more re-issues to come over the next few seasons!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Art of the Novella Challenge #3: May Day

First published in 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella May Day has many of the characteristics of his novels: fancy parties, the disillusioned and delusional, and lots of wealthy people getting drunk, behaving badly while quite oblivious to the desperation of those less fortunate all around them. In this case the story is compressed into roughly 24 hours in New York City which is booming with economic prosperity, but also teeming with tired and damaged soldiers coming back from the First World War. One such veteran is Gordon Sterrett, a former Yale graduate, now nervous, unemployed and broke. He visits a former classmate to try and borrow $300 in order to extricate himself from a messy relationship and to get set up as a commercial artist. His friend is not sympathetic. That evening - and several drinks later - he shows up at an alumni dance where he re-encounters Edith, the woman he had fallen in love with at school, who has shown up with another - also unsatisfactory - date. Crashing the party are two working class soldiers looking for booze, while outside on the streets, mobs are beating up on socialists and heading towards the leftist newspaper that Edith's brother writes for. By the early hours of the morning, several tragedies will have taken place.
This was a wonderful story. I loved the pacing, the settings - from glitzy ballroom to an all-night diner - the dialogue and the segues back and forth between the different scenes. Most poignant was the weariness and wariness that Fitzgerald imbues to many of his characters and their sense of loss in this post-war society set against the abundance of luxury consumer goods that beckon from the shop windows of the city.

Friday, 5 August 2011

For the WWI Collection. . .

Dovegreyreader has a lovely post about the recent team read she did with Matthew Hollis' new book, Now All Roads Lead to France, about the last few years of the poet Edward Thomas, focusing on his friendship with Robert Frost. You can read her post here.

The book sounds wonderful and I'll definitely be buying a copy. Reading about it sent me scurrying to my shelves in search of Elected Friends: Robert Frost & Edward Thomas To One Another, edited by Matthew Spencer. It's a collection of their letters which should be the perfect companion read. I've just opened it up near the end to read Frost's letter to Helen Thomas after hearing about her husband's death. It includes this bit:

I knew from the moment when I first met him at his unhappiest that he would someday clear his mind and save his life. I have had four wonderful years with him. I know he has done this all for you: he's all yours. But you must let me cry my cry for him as if he were almost all mine too.

To follow up, it's also worth digging out a copy of the Fall 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review - it contains the lost war poem by Frost entitled "War Thoughts At Home" and some essays on how the war and his relationship with Thomas influenced his writing. I knew there was a reason I hoard my books. A time and place for every one.

Art of the Novella Challenge #2: A Read and A Forgetting. . .

William Dean Howells' A Sleep and A Forgetting, first published in 1907, was probably not the best choice for a commuter read. I'm often a bit sleepy on the bus to work and frequently tired and eye-strained on the way back; the constant references to naps taken by the heroine and the rather languid prose didn't help. This is the story of thirty-year old Dr. Lanfear, the nephew of a famous psychologist, who is also fascinated by the workings of the mind. He's on holiday in Italy and stopping in San Remo to do a favour for a friend, he encounters an elderly man whose beautiful daughter has been traumatized by witnessing her mother's death and subsequently has lost both her long and short term memory. She'll meet someone and completley forget the encounter the next day. Beguiled and intrigued by her beauty and personality, Lanfear agrees to help Nannie, and through a series of walks and conversations in the surrounding countryside, she slowly grasps fragments of her past - vague perceptions more than solid facts - until a trip to the ruins of a town devasted by an earthquake and a subsequent shock bring the story to its conclusion. There are some big ideas being explored here about time, memory and ontology, such as in this passage where Lanfear ponders on his patient's state of consciousness:

He had always said to himself that there could be no persistence of personality, of character, of identity, of consciousness, except through memory; yet here, to the last implication of temperment, they all persisted. The soul that was passing in its integrity through time without the helps, the crutches, of remembrance by which his own personality supported itself, why should not it pass so through eternity without that loss of identity which was equivalent to annihilation?

That passage also gives you a sense of the style which just wasn't suited to my reading mood on a crowded bus. I also found the ending rather weak and predictable. I think a second and closer reading would do this work more justice, but I think I'll keep moving on with the challenge.

Monday, 1 August 2011

One Novella Down. . .

Well, that was a lovely way to start the day. Cup of tea (actually several) and a sweeping story about a beautiful, headstrong woman named Freya, "a ship-child, a sea-girl", the two sailing captains who lust after her - one man's love is requited, but he's equally in love with his boat, the other is quite simply a delusional villain - and Freya's father who is completely oblivious to all the drama going on around him. Of course it was never going to end well, but Conrad rather deliciously and sympathetically, plays with the shifting level of each character's complicity in this tragic, tropical triangle. Not forgetting our curiously nosy and astute narrator who understands what is happening (is probably just a bit in love with Freya too), and who has a hand in the secrets but doesn't say anything until it's too late. It's an old-fashioned yarn of envy, pride, anger, and the melodramatic revenge plot that only can comes from being scorned and humilated over love. It was too early in the morning, but I really should have read this in a pub with a half-pint of shandy.

The Art of the Novella Reading Challenge. . .

Just back from a few weeks travelling and hiking around the U.K., visiting lots of art museums, treading literary paths, and of course buying books (more on that to come!). I'm so glad that today is a civic holiday, allowing me to unpack, unwind, and have a relaxing day at home. Not yet adjusted to the time difference, I've been up bright and early and catching up on some favourite blogs. I was reminded that today begins the Art of Novella Reading Challenge, started by Frances at Nonsuch Books - she's going to try and read all 42 in Melville House's colourful series in the month of August AND blog about each one. Melville has joined in the spirit and created these various different levels of participation:

– Read 1 novella

Fascinated — Read 3 novellas
Captivated – Read 6 novellas
Passionate — Read 9 novellas
Mesmerized – Read 15 novellas
Obsessed – Read 21 novellas
Fanatical – Read 27 novellas
Unstoppable — Read 33 novellas
Bibliomaniac — Read all 42 novellas

I'm rooting for her! And a novella is perhaps just the perfect thing to tackle on this holiday Monday. I'd love to try and attempt the Bibliomaniac level myself, but I know there's a ton of work waiting on my desk tomorrow. Still, they are the perfect commuting reads so I'm also going to see how many I can read this month. Having just spent the last week in Cornwall, I'm up for a sea adventure, so I'm starting with Joseph Conrad's Freya of the Seven Isles, first published in 1912.