It’s been ages, dear friends and readers, since I wrote a blog-post. I played with the idea of shutting down the blog entirely. Life has been dealing lemons and I had a hard time making lemonade: nothing utterly shattering, just the slow erosion of my house and caring for an aging parent. Add a full-time demanding job and the spinster’s lot to carry it all and the result is not much reading and certainly no blog-posting. None of that is going to change any time in the near-future, so I thought a tiny post with a paltry number of books and even fewer thoughts about them was better than continued silence. So, here it goes. I read two whole books since April: Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast and a more disparate reaction to two books I haven’t had in ages.
I had the same reaction to Perry’s late-Victorian-set novel, The Essex Serpent, as I did to Mandel’s Station Eleven, though I enjoyed reading it a lot more than I did Eleven. Perry, I thought, possessed the stronger narrative structure, more cohesive and echoing the Victorian novels I love. As for characterization and theme, I didn’t really see Perry come out and say anything. There’s the suggestion, in her two main characters, one an amateur-proto-feminist paleontologist and the other, a vicar, to give a contrasting view of reason and faith. Not sure how the Essex Serpent (a creature more Nelly-like than Moby Dick) figures in it, with Cora arguing for its scientific existence and the vicar fighting against the villagers’ superstitious beliefs about it. Maybe they’re more alike than at first appears? Frankly, I didn’t care: Cora abandons her search to pine after the vicar (I’ve read romance novels, I knew where this was going) and the vicar falls in love with Cora (sorry, spoiler ahead) only to stay faithful to his wife. Who suffers from consumption and obsesses over all things blue. Perry went for the ambivalent over the thematically explicit and I hated it. Ho hum.
Unlike Perry’s novel, my response to Margaret Kennedy’s 1950 The Feast was to be as enthralled with the discovery of a new author as I’ve ever been. What a terrific, terrific novel: the writing is sharp and superb; the characterization, sly and sharper; the theme, based on ideas rather than the fear of writing a thematically explicit novel. Oh, not for Margaret: there are good people and there are bad (but nothing of moralizing pathos) and the good are saved (if not rewarded) and the bad are punished. Hurrah. We need more of that in the world. And we need to be as engaged and entertained and forced to think about things as Kennedy demands of us. I wrote my first gushing thoughts on GR and am reproducing them here because I like them: “…a true morality tale, on the scale of medieval morality plays; the good are rewarded; evil; punished. Yet the characters are not flat and allegorical A=Pride. They’re fully-fleshed and you care about them. There is, I believe, a fascinating Christian-message undercurrent, a metaphor of the wedding guest answering the Master’s call to come to the wedding feast. But Kennedy is too good a writer to write in a master: there’s a call, there’s innocence, purity, and love and, for some, there isn’t. There are goats and there are sheep and the meek really do inherit the earth; there is even a redemption arc.”
In other reading news, I used to, back in grad school, read in French as much as I did English. I’ve wanted to revive that habit and set myself the task of reading Laurent Binet’s WWII-set novel about Reinhard Heydrich’s assassination by a Czech and Slovak, HHhH. It’s incredibly slow-going, but I’m persisting and about 2/3 of the way through. It’s superb, intelligent, moving, and engaging. I love it so far and set myself the goal of finishing it before next weekend.