The Picture of Dorian Gray – 5/5 Stars
I wasn’t sure I was going to listen to this audiobook or not. I like the era (love Sherlock Holmes) and I’ve read a handful of Oscar Wilde plays, but never his fiction. Luckily, Simon Prebble is a great reader (he narrated The Moonstone earlier this year for me and I like that a lot), and it turns out this is a great novel.
It’s interesting because I have a huge schema for what I thought this novel was all about, but never really knew anything about it an as actual novel. Whether it’s the central conceit being such a public knowledge situation or it’s the character being in Penny Dreadful and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I felt like it’s was going to be a more gothic/Dr. Jeckyll type thing.
And it’s just not. For the most part it’s a treatise on art and morality, and whether or not art has a moral concern or purely an aesthetic concern. And the crime at the center of everything might be less about what’s right and wrong, and more about right versus wrong uses and understandings behind the purpose of art. This book is also responsible for a lot of discussion about the role of art, and I really really blame a lot of people who want to “quote” authors putting the words of a character into the mouth of the author as if those are the same thing.
I am less motivated to look into the aesthetic criticism at the heart of this novel right now because it would be a lot of work, but I was surprised by it in general.
I thought it was going to be a mystery, but mostly Dorian Gray is just a dick.
Masters of Atlantis – 5/5
This book is about perfect. It’s a lot like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (thought predating it by 30 years) but it’s so much more tempered. Or maybe it’s more like a retelling of L Ron Hubbard, but more grounded. Or maybe it’s a kind of Flannery O’Connor novel, without the play on religion. Well anyway. It’s a kind of thing where the philosophy sounds like complete nonsense, but not insane, but also he avoids ever really telling you almost anything about it. So you get shadows of glimpses, lest you ever try to convince yourself that any of it is real.
The novel starts in the wake of WWI when Mr. Jimmerson stumbles upon a nonsensical ancient philosophy called Gnomonism, founded on the teaching of Atlantis. He is sold a kind of bill of good about this philosophy by its most prominent British adherent, who dispatched Jimmerson to teach the philosophy in America. He meets with moderate success, but like in many budding movements….political, philosophical, ideological, religious,…..there are immediate fractures that lead to competing factions, the watering down of the teaching, and plenty of other setbacks.
If you can’t tell, this book is pretty hilarious. If you haven’t read any Charles Portis, you should go out tomorrow and at least get Norwood and True Grit from your library. I have almost never read one of his books without going straight through. His books are so incisive about American bullshit, but equally as pithy and laconic. He’s one of those writers (still alive) that I lament closing in on finishing his body of works because he just didn’t write enough books when it comes down to it.
First Snow on Fuji – 5/5
This collection of stories in from 1959 and a few years before Yasunari Kawabata would win the Nobel Prize. In addition, he was born in 1899, so forgive me if it feels like there’s a sense that his writing perfectly tracks the 20th century, as I understand it, in Japan, with a real tension about Japan’s role in the new American century post-war, along with Japan’s post-war sensibility and modernity, and then Kawabata’s win for the Nobel Prize representing a kind of acceptance in the West.
This collection is mostly made up of stories taking place in Kawabata’s contemporary Japan–modern society, modern values. And so a lot of the understood morality of divorce, infidelity, is tracked along the changing mores in these stories. Even the most “traditional” Japanese story, “The Boat Women” a story in the vane of Kabuki theater, is presented as a play in story form, so the effect is that even in discussing elements of the past and even trying to represent it, there has to be a disconnect in form to establish the sense of change in the subject matter.
Most of the stories deal with some consistent themes I have seen in a lot of Japanese art and film is how time, memory, and nature play off one another in various stories. So a man might be dealing with a new morality about love and sex, and this might be juxtaposed with the reliability of weather on a mountaintop to emphasize the timelessness of one set of ideas while contrasting the clear changes that are at least a result of the dramatic upheaval in the postwar.