God on the Rocks – 3/5 Stars https://www.amazon.com/God-Rocks-Jane-Gardam/dp/1933372761/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512942968&sr=8-1&keywords=god+on+the+rocks
Jane Gardam is most well known in contemporary circles for her novel Old Filth, which is a kind of running joke on “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong” and so that novel has a final moments of the British Empire in closing feel to it.
This novel is an earlier one, from 1978, and takes places during the war. It has a 1970s politics feel to it alongside the feel of the time period in which it’s set. It’s a tale about faith, about a young girl who lives with her quite religious parents, who are not monsters, but neither are they particularly acutely loving. In their religiosity, the father being significantly more so than the mother, they are quite suppressive of the young Margaret’s growth, and so she takes to wandering. In her wandering she comes across an odd brother and sister who knew her mother when she was younger. The stories they share paint her mother in a new light. Her mother was rich, grew up rich, and remained rich until she married the father. That’s not to say the family is destitute, but now Margaret is able to imagine her mother in a more worldly light. This novel as I said feel 1970s. Because rather than a religious person straying from faith and discovering horror like a 19th century might have, or discovering a new livelihood, as a 1930s novel might have, this is like the next step, where the girl understands more about her own mother decades after the conversion and finds it lacking. And it also turns out that the consequences are significant, if not extreme. What this most felt like, minus the abject trauma, was that of Edward St Aubyn’s short novels especially the first. The casual conversations, the casual narrative presence.
Four Novels – 4/5 stars
I think I reviewed “The Lover” earlier this year, but if not, I did read it in the last two years. That novel was a short passionate love affair in the eclipsing moments of empire (French). This collection is smaller in scope and shape.
A young woman with a child who comes back during chapter breaks for warm milk, snacks, and eventually to get up and go, shares her views on life and love and the world to a complete stranger she meets in the park. Of the four, this feels so much so tied to the time and the place, so the setting, and cannot and does not want to expands beyond it. The conversations they have are also small, but the situation is one that is so recognizable, of a moment in which you share a connection with another person, but one that seems destined to fall apart as soon as either of you leaves, knowing that this will never be rekindled or redone.
This novella deals with a young child learning how to read music, being overly criticized by his music teacher, and then having his mother and her friend comment of how unfair the treatment is, but still important because of COURSE he has to learn music someday. This is a nice one because it felt very French and very literature-y and that was nice.
10:30 on a Summer Night – In this story, a murderer involved in several love triangles is hunted down by police and lovers alike.
The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas – This one starts off with some really funny perspective from a dog but then turns into a much more mundane discussion between a man and a woman.
Over all I did like these stories more than I generally liked The Lover.
Jackson’s Dillemma – 2/5
This one pains me to write for a few reasons. One, I really like Iris Murdoch in general, and while I have no particularly liked some of her writing or thought it wasn’t as good as some of her other books, this is the first time I really felt like a book of hers should not have been published. It’s not uncommon for older writers to lose their edge a little, and while that might have been true for Murdoch, she was not simply getting older but becoming more and more afflicted with Alzheimer’s, which would eventually kill her. So the resulting book here still has quite a bit of her sharp mind to it — especially in her discussions of philosophy (and she really true is one of the most intelligent writers — in pure brain power — in the 20th century) the novel itself barely holds together.
Years ago I listened to a RadioLab episode where an English professor did a statistical analysis of Agatha Christie novels looking at the range and diversity of her writing from the beginning toward the end of her career and also traced the themes in her writing and made a calculated theory that perhaps she was suffering with Alzheimer’s by the end. And perhaps the same could be done here but for whatever reason this novel was not enjoyable to read at all. It was not the loss of a smart mystery writer losing her touch but a brilliant novelist in shambles. It’s just completely embedded with sadness and ultimately not an enjoyable read.
The Cry of the Owl – 4/5
In this book, domestic terror is situated on a kind of stalker, but one who is misunderstood! He’s only stalking his next door neighbor, breaking up her relationship and eventually leading to several people’s deaths. It’s a weird book because it really really really upholds various aspects of “traditional” patriarchal marriage by showing the dangers of transgressing, but then like a lot of more subversive literature it undercuts the “danger” by showing what happens when society places so much value in these types of relationships and completely fail to seal up the cracks and gaps that result in the kinds of inequality this exploits and espouses. But what this book is really about is male violence. How men can watch and manipulate and “play” and in this particular book, one fuckboi’s playing with the emotions of a much younger woman leads to her death and causes her finance’s own fuckboi tendencies to flare up and become a violent wreck of his own. This reminds me a lot of the furor the other day about the “Cat Person” story in the New Yorker. The slowly seeping and frightening potential of male violence and even the violence that could occur permeates and punctuates so many interactions in the world. And while the person who starts it off is “innocent” of the crimes his behavior is so clearly the catalyst for what does happen. It reminds me of the kind of lawyerly morality that a lot of men engage in (including myself at times) that if you can argue your innocence or be technically in the right, that’s all that matters.