The Van – Roddy Doyle – 4/5 Stars
This is the third book of the Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle. The previous books are The Commitments and The Snapper. All three take place in a lower class neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland in the 1980s and spiral around various members of the Rabbitte family, a family who along with being desperately poor and loving, seem to have an endless number of kids coming and going. And like the difference between The Commitments and The Snapper, it’s hard to specifically place this story in time next to those. The Commitments is about Jimmy Rabbitte Jr. starting an R and B band and it falling apart spectacularly. The Snapper is about Jimmy’s sister getting pregnant and slowly trying to figure out what to do about it.
This story is Jimmy Sr’s story to tell. Jimmy Sr. has lost his job. And he feels like a real gobshite about it. He’s got a bunch of bills and a bunch of kids, and even though he stopped drinking heavily years ago, he still enjoys a a few pints a few times a week. This new hiccough isn’t about him losing out on his drinking but more so about his trying to work out what this means about his livelihood as a father, and his sense of being a man. Eventually, he and a friend decide to start a business selling food from a foodtruck. This leads to lots of complications because of the health inspector, and not to mention the threat of his losing his dole check every week.
I don’t have a criticism of this book at all. I think it’s pretty great. It’s hilarious and it’s sweet, and Roddy Doyle is a master of writing about male anxiety with it neither being caustic nor a pity party. He understands that those feelings are real and valid, and that so long as no one is getting slapped around or murdered because of them, they’re ridiculous too. The biggest difference is that this book is significantly longer than the other two, and this comes from a much more slow and deliberate start to everything. Literally the first two books start with a direct statement of the plot. This book eases its way into things. Also, this book has long passages of narration and the previous books are almost entirely dialog, so it’s a big shift.
Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki – 5/5 Stars
A) I have had never heard of this author until I started looking up some cross references from some other book I was reading. B) After buying one of his books, I found this one at a library sale for 50 cents. C) It’s oddly very similar to a lot of what I said about the Kawabata story collection yesterday. So bear with me. D) The title is great. E) The book is very good.
This novel was written in the 1920s and if you saw a movie version about it, you would likely think some of the same things I thought. It feels much more modern than it seems like it should, with not….progressive views on marriage and sexuality necessarily, but definitely unexpected ones given the time period. Tanizaki was clearly some kind of influence on Kawabata or both writers have tapped directly into the vein of the same concerns about modernity some thirty years apart. This novel deals with a sexless marriage and an arrangement the husband and wife make. Because this marriage is still legally sanctioned and because divorce has some real social consequences, and also they have a son together, the arrangement is that the wife will be able to openly, but discretely have a relationship with another man. A man who is also involved in the life of their son. Because of the rarity of divorce and because of the desire to not immediately dissolve a marriage, this takes on a kind of trial separation/trial second marriage type feel. To put it crassly, it’s almost as if instead of a divorce, it’s more of a signing over the marriage contract. It’s oddly progressive feeling, but entirely baked into a hearty patriarchy at its heart.
If I could confess anything about my recent and arbitrary foray into Japanese literature is that I don’t know how to feel about pre-war lit. Post-war is easy….that was all settled. But prewar is interesting but oddly tainted by the role Japan plays in my mind as an American thinking back on WWII. But then as a good liberal, my brain is like, ok, so they’re our enemies in the war but they’re humans with a rich and complex polity and culture. But then my liberal brain is all like, umm but what about wartime atrocities! And so yeah. I have mixed feelings about that stuff, but this is a very good novel. And maybe that matters a lot too.