Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Galsworthy, James Lever, and Colum McCann

I almost cried over the tragic ending of Galsworthy's The Man of Property, the first novel of The Forsyte Saga,. I feel I know these characters personally, and want to rush on to the next book, In Chancery, to see their conflicts resolved. But I can't indulge my Galsworthy habit all the time. I'm going to limit myself - 9 p.m. to midnight

These complex novels are more than just another plot-driven family saga. Galsworthy’s astute characterization of the new-monied Forsytes, the suspenseful plot focused on the clash between love and money, his beautiful, unwavering, evenly-paced style, and brilliant analysis of the fabric of Victorian (and then Edwardian, and post WWI) society are compelling. It's a quick read - like one long sumptuous novel that will make you miss your bus stop, forget to pick up your concert tickets, and crossly tell the family that it's sandwiches tonight.

But it is Galsworthy's characters, good and bad, who capture our affections, and live on 103 years after the first publication in 1906 of The Man of Property. In the preface to the 1934 edition of The Forsyte Saga, Ada Galsworthy quotes a letter from a fan to Galsworthy.

Dear Mr. Galsworthy,

Thinking you may be somewhat interested, I am writing about a happening in London, where I spent considerable time a few years ago. Late one bright afternoon I walked down the Haymarket. Just as I turned into Cockspur Street I came face to face with a man whom I instantly recognized as some one I knew, but whose name for the moment had escaped me. It was apparent he did not recall me, and passed on. Trying to recall where and when I had met this man, I suddenly realized that I did know him well. It was Soames Forsyte.

ON ANOTHER NOTE: My reading of the Booker long-listed Me Cheeta by James Lever is temporarily on hold because my husband wants to read it. He and I are both “judging” this for our - ha! - Midwest Booker Prize. I’ve read two, he has read one, and he says he has read so many bad books lately that he needs a laugh. I’ve read 100 pages and actually think it’s good - I should never trash a book until I read it.

AND: A friend gave me Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, so I am also reading this. It’s set during the ‘70s, when Philippe Petit the artist walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers. The novel focuses on several different characters who (I assume) witness the tightrope act in 1974. Very good writing. Why isn’t this in line for the Booker Prize?

By the way, there's a fabulous documentary about Philippe Petit's planning of his illicit tightrope walk between the Town Towers, A Man on Wire: lots of footage from '70s home movies made by friends, as well as interviews.

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