Thursday, June 19, 2014

a collection of troubled romance

Yesterday during my lunch break I picked up a copy of Jose Saramago's novel The History of the Siege of Lisbon, which looks quite wacky and fun (a proofreader at a distinguished publishing house alters a key word in a history text, and thereby actually changes history, a dream-within-a-dream of the Oceania government, nicht wahr?). I also picked up a very too lovely edition of Chekhov's only novel The Shooting Party, the whodunit he wrote early on in his career. I found a gorgeous cloth-bound edition in a slipcase. I'm quite excited, not just because it's a beautiful object, but also because somehow I've managed to never have read The Shooting Party, which is said to be slight but entertaining. And besides, it's Chekhov. I am reading all the Chekhov. I am also reading Weymouth Sands and have gotten about 62% of the way through the book. It amuses me to discover that at the heart of it, plotwise anyway, is a collection of troubled romance stories. Certainly there's a huge amount of activity tied to those "man+woman+unhappiness" tales, but the bones of the book are rather down-to-earth stories of couples in various types of distress.

Though perhaps that's too much of an over-simplification. I think that what Powys is doing is using these relationships under stress to talk about personality, about how we see ourselves versus how other see us versus how we really are (which is fluid and influenced constantly by our surroundings--including an unseen world of emotion and interconnectedness with the physical world beyond our own body). So the marriage plots (and adultery plots and seduction plots etc) are all just frames into which Powys pours the ideas he's really experimenting with. Which doesn't change the mechanics of the story on the plot level; it does however mean that Weymouth Sands is not, for example, Framley Parsonage. Which is not a dig at Trollope.

In other even less interesting news, am revising one book of my own, drafting another, submitting two others to publishers, and meanwhile asking myself for whom am I writing all of this? I have no idea. No idea at all. Last night I read Browning's goofy little poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," which was a bit rough as far as poetry goes, but it was fun and nasty and had a kind of purity of storytelling that I admire. The bits about the rats are the best (especially Rat-land). It is, therefore, impossible to create a single work of narrative fiction that emphasizes all of the elements I want to emphasize, because some of them cancel others out, and each novel I write will be, unless my aims are quite simple, a compromise and a lesser version of my idealized novel. So there's that. I suppose that's how real life is, yes? Perfect forms are merely ideas, abstractions we can't even fully imagine.

11 comments:

  1. Color me envious on several levels . . . you are able to browse bookstore during lunch-break . . . I wish there were such bookstores nearby, and I wish I were still working so that I could be taking lunch-breaks . . . and I wish I had as much energy for such eclectic reading. Yeah, envy is a deadly sin . . . so color me sinful.

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    1. A lot of indie bookstores closed down in Seattle in the last decade, but there are still some good ones open for business. I'm fortunate to work within walking distance of a couple of good shops. I don't know how much energy I have, but it's nice that books keep leading me on to the next book.

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  2. I am certain you mentioned Seattle previously, but you have reminded me of the paradox that in the late 70s I spent some wonderful and not so wonderful times in nearby Bremerton (assigned to an aircraft carrier in the shipyard -- not pleasant, and I lived ashore in Port Orchard (most pleasant little town). My best memories include nights at the theater and opera in Seattle, and some lovely days on the ferry-boats (especially to Victoria for a weekend, and my daily foot-ferry travels from Port Orchard to Bremerton). If my wife could tolerate the climate, and if we could afford the cost of living, I would in a heartbeat relocate to at or near Silverdale, and then we could also enjoy geoduck dinners.

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  3. Well, I am now caught up on your entertaining life with moles and Chekhov and so on. Just keep writing--I suspect you know who it is for and why you do it, so just write. With joy and a bit of frolic. Cheers!

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    1. I am having fun with this project, that's true! The joy of making something by hand, as it were, is its own reward. Why wouldn't I do it, right? All of the poetic imagery of God as craftsman come to mind. Why wouldn't He create the universe? How it must have felt.

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  4. I will be very interested in how you like The History of the Siege of Lisbon. The last time I was in a used/independent bookstore was in Boston (I was there for a conference) and I was very intrigued by The History of the Siege of Lisbon too..Almost bought it for my husband but ended up buying All the names instead..Once I got home I realized that my husband had bought the exact same title for me..so now we have two copies..lol. And neither of us has actually gotten down to reading it. Must remedy that.

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    1. The only Saramago I've read is Death With Interruptions and I liked it a lot. My current plan is to finish the Kawabata I'm reading, then see about Dostoyevsky's Devils and then, at long last, I'm going to read The History of the Siege of Lisbon.

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    2. ooh- what a coincidence- which one are you reading? I am in the middle of 'Thousand Cranes'. Daniel Deronda might be my next (or To the Light House both of which I started before Thousand Cranes)

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    3. I'm reading The Sound of the Mountain. This is only my second Kawabata, my first was Snow Country which was strange but I really enjoyed it.

      To The Lighthouse is a masterpiece! The middle section, "Time Passes," is one of the most magical and amazing things ever written.

      I've never read any George Eliot (aside from some essays). I have promised myself that I'll read Middlemarch or Silas Marner this year.

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    4. Middlemarch is one of my favorite novels ever!!
      Ok- now I really must get the middle section of To the Lighthouse- the beginning was very interesting- it's almost like watching a painting being painted- first the overall picture and then the details get finer and finer..I don't know if I am actually conveying what I mean..:)

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    5. Lavanya and Scott, you remind me that I have a huge hole in my reading experience -- I never got around to Middlemarch during college and grad school, and I even gave serious thought to including it on a syllabus for a lit class that I was teaching years ago (i.e., I figured if I assigned it, then I and the students could read it and learn at the same time), but the department chair talked me out of dragging reluctant freshmen through the massive novel. Now, with time on my hands, I have no more excuses. So, Middlemarch is coming up next. (I read V. Woolf years ago, and I should return to the lighthouse again, especially since the painting-in-progress reminds me of so much that I probably have forgotten. This all reminds me of one of the wonders of blogging: I get to hear others' fascinating points of views about great books.)

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