I would love to write something longer, but I don’t have it in me these days. So here are brief thoughts on some of the books I’ve read lately.
- Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show. I wanted to love this one, but I didn’t. It started off strong with a main character who thought very unconventional thoughts, but as I read along, I felt more and more detached from the story. I wasn’t quite believing it and got bored. It deals with some very interesting subjects — revolution in 1848 Paris, artists and rebels, unconventional love and wild adventures — but the experience of reading it wasn’t fun. I like the idea of the book more than the book itself.
- David Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat. I loved these books, which I read for my mystery book group. Why aren’t these more widely known? They take place in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and tell the story of detective Harry Fannin, one of those detectives who keeps getting beaten up and who is amazingly able to keep going. The books are funny and very literary — Fannin is surely one of the best-read detectives out there. Some in my book group thought the plots were a bit weak, and this may well be true, but the writing made these books memorable for me.
- Muriel Spark’s The Public Image. Spark won’t be a favorite novelist of mine because I prefer an interior, psychological style, which hers really isn’t, but I did enjoy this novel, my third by Spark. The plot moves quickly and the characters are painted in broad strokes, but the style and wit with which Spark writes is immensely fun. This novel tells the story of a married couple, both of whom are actors and both of whom are worried about the relationship of their public image and the private reality. Their attempts to maintain their public image (or fail to maintain it) take them in some unexpected directions.
- L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. Another one I wanted to love, but I only liked it okay. I enjoyed the story, but ultimately I felt the narrator didn’t quite work for me. He was just a bit too self-important, too serious, too preoccupied with his own world, too … mildly irritating. It feels strange to call a first-person narrator too self-absorbed, because if he’s telling his own story, why shouldn’t he be? But I felt like he assumed his story was worth reading in detail rather than proving it for us. The first sentence is sort of famous, I guess: “The past is a different country; they do things differently there.” That’s true, I suppose, but to me it hints at the pretentiousness to come. On the other hand, the novel captures class uncertainty very well and also what it’s like to be a young person trying to figure out the adult world and generally failing. And I seem to be in the mood only for funny, witty things these days, so maybe I didn’t do it justice.