Posted May 1, 2007on:
April was the best reading month for me since January. Besides re-reading Jane Eyre (the best book in the universe) I read Adichie’s latest, Cendrars’ Moravagine, Hollinghurst’s shocking first novel and Stern’s irreverent short stories collection.
I can’t pick a fav–oh all right that would probably be Stern’s Wedding Jester. He’s the only author who ever wrote (a version of) himself into a story and my initial response isn’t annoyance. It’s a puzzle to me that all but one of the selections in this edition were only printed in Jewish literary publications. This seems to be the fate of foreign and too “ethnic” fiction — if the elements of the novel aren’t obviously “universal” enough it can’t be marketed to the mainstream; and by “universal” I mean Western, preferably from the more Anglo countries because their culture has been widely exported. Well, I’m a girl from Jamaica who didn’t even know that the Jewish people had their own mix of mythology and folklore, and reading stories that incorporated those elements was a refreshing change from the usual stuff. I’ll be posting more excerpts and doing a review because the masses need to know that Steve Stern is one of the most intriguing and talented living American writers, and you don’t want to wait for his NYT obituary to hop on the bandwagon. The LBC and Guggenheim agree!
Now the Hollinghurst…wowza, wowza, wowza. I’ll get this out of the way so that my future review will deal with the more “literary” aspects: there’s a lot of sex in this novel. A lot of explicit, erotic sex scenes. The sex permeates the novel that’s written in a very scintillating, vivacious manner. I mean wow. I don’t have any other literary author to compare this to except Murakami Haruki who is on the complete opposite side of the writing scale, with his very unassuming, tell-it-like it is writing style; his sex scenes are written with a pragmatism that shows a comfort very few, if any, authors that I’ve read share. And I know cause I read a lot of romance by authors who are comfortable to the point of gung-ho — I can tell when you squirmy mainstream authors do the literary equivalent of a fade-out, or you write so purple my eyes bulge painfully (from laughter). Anyway yes, lots of manly gay sex and it was actually a relief and so much fun to read a book with characters so comfortable and easy with their sexuality. (To a point, there is some conflict but it’s nothing like the neurotic heteros one usually reads about.) I was curious though about how it was received when it was first published. I could only find minor references to it in The Guardian, and the *NYTBR review properly focuses on the novel’s merits and not any of the fuss that surrounded it.
I’m not ashamed to say that after I finished it I wanted to be a hot, young, rich, fabulous British gay aristocrat who everyone either wanted to be or sleep with. And I don’t have to work if I don’t want to? And call everyone darling? (I’m going to ignore the implications surrounding how the main character’s family managed to get the title in the first place. Clearly it would be different for me.)
Of course I’m dead set on reading all of Hollinghurst’s novels. He also managed to re-ignite my interest in Firbank. I did like The Flower Beneath the Foot but it was like a thin silk ribbon: a bit slippery and there didn’t appear to be much to it. I do still think about it from time to time, so that says something maybe.
May is the month of Don Quixote and The Good Soldier. I thought it would also be the month of Diplomatic Baggage but, as it turns out, I may have to keep my lifetime consumption of memoirs to a total of two, for now. Keenan’s introduction showed promise, but the quality of the actual narrative has shown a steady decline. The memoir is written like a diary in a very chatty, informal tone. That’s all right if she were primarily writing about something captivating but the ratio of funny, smart observations to tales of yet another moment when she cried by herself/to her husband/to her children and did a lot of shopping for food/tv tables/carpets is not in her favour. Why is she even bother to include a daily record of her doings? That’s fine for her personal use but for publication I think I could handle missing a day or two of boring chores. (Honestly.) Ptooey. This is one book I’d happily return to the book store whether or not I could get a refund. (Which I can’t at this point.)
So that empty slot for a book a) written by a woman and b) lighter than my other current selections is still open. I’ve been oscillating between Patricia A McKillip’s Old Magic and Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring. I’m not eager to start in on another McKillip right now from fear of burn-out, so it looks like it will be the Hopkinson.
*This link will expire after a few days because the NYT doesn’t want to give me a permanent link for it. Screw ’em.