Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

Obviously, this is not my picture. It comes via. but it’s kind of a much better picture than the one I took and can’t upload because none of the three PCs at the house I’m currently staying at have bluetooth capacity. WTF? So it’s probably here for good, you guys. Learn to love.
While reading The Mystery of the Blue Train, I realised why I liked reading Agatha Christie books so much when I was younger: this book is full of odd, decent young women eager to be told nice things about themselves (3000 BOOKS: now with psychoanalysis!). And Aggie writes them as deserving of attention; Katherine Grey (guess what colour her eyes are) is a lady’s maid from St. Mary’s Mead, a gentle and empathetic soul who comes into quite a bit of money. Lady Tamplin, her rather distant and conniving cousin, invites the newly moneyed Katherine to the Riviera. On the luxurious Blue Train, Katherine meets Ruth Kettering, a wealthy and self-absorbed woman who takes Katherine into her confidence about her man troubles: she is in love with a dashing Count, but is still married to her playboy husband. But alas — in the morning, Ruth has been murdered.
Agatha, she is a pinnacle of verbal efficiency. Not a word in The Mystery of the Blue Train is unnecessary. And it’s so goddamn British: I think of old white men sitting in stuffed armchairs, reading this book and chortling to themselves while raising a glass of port to their pouchy lips. The thing is so easy to read and such a breezy pleasure. Excellent hangover fare. Even when I realised I’d seen a television adaptation of this book some time ago (about halfway through — not so impressive, really, my powers of remembrance), I stuck with it. What else can you do, faced with dialogue like this:
‘I was wondering,’ said Lady Tamplin, again drawing her artistically pencilled brows together, ‘whether–oh, good morning, Chubby darling: are you going to play tennis? How nice!’
Chubby, thus addressed, smiled kindly at her, remarked perfunctorily, ‘How topping you look in that peach-coloured thing,’ and drifted past them and down the steps.
Have you never read any of Agatha’s books? You really should, and if you take my advice, heed also this advice sub-item: read one of her Hercule Poirot mysteries. It’s been a long time since I read any Miss Marple books — I think I went through a phase when I was in high school — but Poirot resembles nothing so much as a big, clever, self-satisfied frog. Which is quite fitting, considering how tastefully his Frenchness is portrayed:
‘I ask myself,’ said Poirot, ‘I, Hercule Poirot’–he thumped himself dramatically on the chest–’ask myself why is M. Papopolous suddenly come to Nice?’

Repetition, emphatic italics, bad grammar, weird self-referencing hand action, first and therefore redundant third-person establishment of identity: ol’ Aggie would have won herself a goodly number of those 25-words-or-less promotional competitions, had she chosen to enter them. Edit: Quel embarrassment! Our friend Poirot is Belgian, not French. There goes my crap metaphor. Thanks to OUP Development Editor, Michelle, whose fact-checking skills almost reach the heights of her fondness for bananas.
It’s sad to end the review like this, but I must sound the Bad Ending Alarm. The final chapter is brief and ties up a couple of loose ends, but it’s more syrupy and sickening than the middle of a peppermint cream. I guess you can’t have it all.
September 22, 2008


Hey, a picture from my phone this time. As I related earlier, the book club book for September was Kafka’s The Castle. It’s a novel that was never finished, and one of many works that Kafka asked his friend, and later, editor, Max Brod to destroy after his death. I thought it would be much harder to read, but as it turns out, its wickedly long sentences and three-page character monologues didn’t bother me at all. I could see how it would turn off a less intrepid or committed reader though. I mean, there’s no ending. But for all its unfinishedness, the book engages with significant philosophical dilemmas. Erich Heller portrayed Kafka as a writer interested in the tension between absolute freedom and the knowledge of terrible servitude, and The Castle shows an attempt to extract something, anything, from the space between those states.

K. arrives in the village at night, and is questioned about his presence. He claims to have been called to the village as a land surveyor, but the officious Schwarzer, son of a castle governor, doubts K.’s story. Schwarzer applies to the castle for guidance and receives conflicting advice. Thus begins an epic, triangulated back-and-forth between K., the inhabitants of the (unnamed) village and the castle itself. Nonsensical bureaucratic arrangements, such as a heavy reliance on paperwork and a random telephone answering system, and paranoiac behaviours are typical of the castle modus operandi.

Though the castle is physically salient, perched as it is on a hill (but made up of rambling buildings rather than stone ramparts), it is yet more significant in the mental geography of the villagers. When K. becomes engaged to Frieda, the bartender at an inn, it becomes imperative that he resolve the issue of his putative employment by the castle. When he inquires how to access the castle, though, he only receives horrified and debarring replies. Little is known about the castle, and what information K. coaxes from the villagers has the the ad hoc and ex post facto feel of early myth and religion, unveiling a frightened populace defining reality according to subjective experience and fear. We learn that though it is rare, the castle does intrude occasionally on the villagers’ lives, and the resonances last long in that insular community.

The City Library had the Underwood translation, which I counted as a blessing having read Coetzee’s article in the New York Review of Books about the earliest translation by the Muirs. The Muirs worked from the manuscript of Kafka’s friend Brod, who altered Kafka’s original significantly. Also, Brod apparently worshipped Kafka, and had a pretty religious coat on. A good example of the impact this type of editing had on the novel is the elimination, in the Muir translation, of K’s simple statement at the beginning of the book, that he left his wife and child behind to come to the village. The absence of that statement increases the availability of a psychoanalytic reading involving trauma (considering K.’s lack of previous memories and access to the hurts of others), it also disrupts the totally off-kilter perception of K.’s character–who would leave their wife and child for an illusory job, a wayward fiancee and complete limbo?

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yesterday i turned the great gatsby from a SHOULD into a HAVE DID. i did it quite quickly because, bloody, it is good. but i couldn’t stop from ‘recontextualising’ and superimposing ‘modern accents’ and thinking about marc jacobs eau de parfum. i can see don delillo writing a short novel about a hideous writer ‘bringing gatsby into our times’ and proposing to have planes explode instead of cars, and for the jazz to be atonal. i feared to google this title in case i found an answers.yahoo.com anti-boffin asking ‘so like what happens at the end of the great gatbsy i don’t get it???’ and some answer saying ‘daisy and tom buchanan r having affairs. and they both find out aobut it and get pretty mad lol. and gatsby buys a house and throws massive parties and then i think he kills soemone?’

it turns out i don’t really feel like saying much about the book, mostly because it seems everyone else read this book in year 11. (meanwhile, my main examinable text in english was the movie shine starring geoffrey rush.) it is pretty difficult to believe that gatsby came only three years after the beautiful and damned (my copy of which is likely to remain for some months with its bookmark at page 29, at least until i start hearing that the movie is coming out) with its almost insufferable lack of self-restraint. tony tanner’s amusingly rhetorical but nevertheless compelling introduction in the 1990 edition of the great gatsby states that it was by fitzgerald’s own hand that gatsby was edited and restructured from a messy, confessional thing into its final form. there is a somewhat magical perfection to this book and i think it likely that i will re-read it one day, on purpose.


colette’s the other one is not recommended by any means to those interested in polyamory, except as a cautionary tale. it is also a fine introduction to the quintessential jerk-off french male genius character. no sex in it though.

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