Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nothing Much

I did nothing much in the reading arena today. I tried two contemporary novels:

1. HIS ILLEGAL SELF by Peter Carey

2. THE PESTHOUSE by Jim Crace

Peter Carey is a great writer (and in fact I voted for him at the Best of the Bookers), a two-time Booker winner, whose prose is good-humored, laid-back, not showy, with an invisible structure that holds up the whole book. Jim Crace is also a graceful writer, wilder, but with rather bizarre, dismal ideas, which simply fascinate or depress, according to one's mood. But neither of these novels impressed me, and indeed I became so listless that I felt like a prisoner of the Sabbath: "Every day is like Sunday/every day is quiet and gray," as a song I heard on the indie station says.

Carey's book is smoothly written and goes at a fast effortless pace. It is partly told from the point of view of Che (called Jay), a seven-year-old. He has learned from a teenage babysitter that his mother is an SDS militant who disappeared (Che's grandmother doesn't have a TV, so he doesn't see the news). Then there is Dial, a young woman who has just landed a job at Vassar, where oddly she is given the phone number of Susan, her girlhood friend-turned-terrorist, Che's mother. Not quite sure what to do with this number, feeling invincible, Dial calls. Susan is not there; some other SDS members give her specific directions about meeting Che at his grandmother's and taking the child to see his mother. But the mother doesn't show up, the directions get odder and odder, the confusion and fear grow, and suddenly Dial is on the lam with a seven-year-old. The novel is elegant, but the problem is I like one of his other on-the-lam novels more. And his last novel, THEFT, about an art theft, full of allusions to THE HORSE'S MOUTH, is completely elegant, a masterpiece.

THE PESTHOUSE: not for me. Crace writes about a post-apocalypse America with grace and occasionally humor, but I simply wasn't in the mood to read about toxins, plague, floods, avalanches, and the end of the machine age. THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and I AM LEGEND were enough for me. This one is, I think, probably a classic of its kind, though.

So two good, well-written contemporary novels that simply aren't right for me. They'll be right for somebody.

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