Monday, September 28, 2015

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermione Lee

Hefty biography of the beloved Penelope Fitzgerald, whose eight compact novels she served up late in her life stand as the epitome of a certain preferred (by me) brand of 20th century British fiction.  The novels are pungent, concise, brilliant narratives that illustrate by ommission, irony and silence.

I'm thankful Lee spends so much time on each novel, sending me back to re-read each one with her inflated examination of the plots and characters, settings and sources.

If anything, Lee might inflate them too much-- she might take something away from the strength of the novels of themselves by explaining their silences.  But Lee is at least aware of this double-edged sword.

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

 Even better to re-read, after reading the chapters in A LIFE explaining how Penelope Fitzgerald indeed DID LIVE ON A BOAT on the Thames for two years in the early 1960s.

Her omissions -- her silences -- her concern for the failed lives of individuals -- the irony and comedy of her persistent narrative voice -- thrilling.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald

Second one I've read.  Pure addictive pleasure.  Guys writes a mean sentence.  Throwback sexuality to the bad old days.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon

Starts out promisingly but loses steam.  Still entertaining.  Sort of Gary Shteyngard for the middle school folks.  Oo, burn.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

I couldn't put this book down for five days and tore through it avidly.  Franzen writes so fluidly and with such intelligence that 550 pages went by like 50.  No kidding.  And that is rare indeed.  But is it in the end enough of an accomplishment?  To be five pounds of pure high-brow entertainment?

For the characters in Purity are monotonically neurotic and unloveable.

a la Dickens, the opening, central character, Pip (short somehow for "Purity") is an orphan without knowledge of her fortune.

Franzen searches for the zeitgeist of our times, and comes up with the Internet. The moral seems to be that in a world where all information is global and transparent and available to all, we know less about ourselves.

He can write with great emotion but has chosen a somewhat rarefied (and loathesome) group of characters to bring to life -- the mothers and fathers pictured, almost without fail, are satanically bad parents.

natural description extraordinary

for a novel that centers on "high tech," and Wiki-Leaks-like network infiltration and security hijacking, the novel is remarkably un-savvy about tech, relying on "googling" and "databases" and "face-recognition software" in the most general usage for most of its sleuthing.

relationship between Pip and her mother (Annabel), her eventual father (Tom), and the leader of the SunShine Project (Andreas Wolf)

Andreas Wolf's childhood in East Germany and his relationship with Annagret

themes:  power, feminism, secrecy vs. openness

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Tan and Sandy Silence by John D. MacDonald

What a terrific story.  My first JDM, after a lifetime spent mentally scoffing my father's adoration of Travis McGree.  Beautiful prose, no non-memorable scenes, real voices.  Capsule histories of Florida real estate in the 60s and 70s, the island of Grenada, construction minutiate -- and a great whodunit with marvelous torture, seduction and redemption episodes.  Highly recommended.