I’ve been reading into the early morning recently, because I have all these books around me which are so gripping and beautiful. I’ve finished about three over the past week, and I guess these constitute my “winter reads” this year. A quick little note here about all three – none of these authors, nor at least two of these books, need any introduction. They are classics: most beloved bookshelves will have carried them for many years, and loving fingers would have thumbed them many times. It would thus be presumptuous of me to ‘review’ them, and I couldn’t do them justice – this post rather serves as a reminder, mostly to myself, of things that were especially exciting about them. So here goes!
Gabriel Marquez Garcia, Love in the Time of Cholera.
I’d heard so much about this book and Garcia that I’d been desperate to read him for a long time: the two books which kept thrusting themselves into my attention were this, and A Hundred Years of Solitude (I still haven’t read that). It is a beautiful book; it is engaging, interesting, and made me smile many, many times – he writes with a successful and wry sort of humour, which not many people do well. It is one of those finely crafted works, certain parts of which will stick in the brain and the soul and haunt one forever – certain turns of phrase, certain aphorisms (and Garcia does like these). A previous post of mine contains one of these beautiful moments.
This is more a story of characters than a story of ‘plot’, I guess – Garcia hollows out vast glittering caves behind his figures, exploring the recesses of their pasts, memories, thoughts & actions with great dexterity. I guess this isn’t a book for those who’re looking for action/adventure, but it is a sweet & sad love story which manages to dispense entirely with clichés (as indeed, finally, does Florentino Ariza).
That’s probably all the ‘review’ I can give of its worth – for the rest of it, Garcia’s Nobel Prize in literature, his and specifically this novel’s place in the pantheon of classics, and the way a seemingly large portion of the English-reading world rave about his writing, must do.
It should be read.
Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie.
This is probably the least well-known book out of all the three in my list, because Rhys is seemingly inseparable from her status as the Godmother of Postcolonial Lit., author of Wide Sargasso Sea. Her early novels are astonishingly and tragically ignored by the majority.
This is a great shame, because they present quite different issues to the ones people have gotten used to reading into her ‘work’ (and by ‘work’ they mean Wide Sargasso Sea…) – and I think it’s also important not to pigeonhole (anybody, and here specifically) Rhys as a ‘postcolonial author’ or any work as stringently ‘postcolonial’. I find this sort of stringent reading/labelling and application of a critical paradigm disturbing for a number of reasons, the main one being that (I feel) it’s very reductive of the work/author. But stick to these paradigms people do, and so it’s worth casting up Rhys’s early novels as works that don’t necessarily or specifically deal with everybody’s poco favourite, Otherness, and also as works that present a pretty and tragic snapshot of places (specifically Paris) and people (specifically women).
Anybody dreaming, like Woody Allen’s Gil Pender, of Paris in its bohemian heyday will love Rhys’s work: Paris is an ethereal universe of cafés and fines, lonely whiskies consumed throughout the day and dream-like streets seen through bar windows at night. It is also a cruel Paris; one which watches its desperate women ceaselessly, as they go around from man to man in order to earn the financial pittance they need.
It’s not the nicest of her early novels – it isn’t half as shocking as Quartet in its cruelty, or half as subtle as Good Morning, Midnight – but it is nonetheless in the same vein as the others. It is certainly (I think?) as pessimistic. It’s well worth a read, and does immense amounts in opening up other, overshadowed aspects of Rhys’s writings to the postcolonially-fatigued reader.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
I have NOTHING to say about this that ain’t done gone been said already, BUT, I can and will say this. I am having a Sherlock Holmes reading frenzy at the moment. It is taking me away from the work I should be doing and the life I should be living. But it’s damned good, so I can’t complain. This one especially – quel twists and turns!
When I was very young and maybe about 7 or 8 years old, I was given a little book of Sherlock Holmes stories, abridged. I read one called ‘The Speckled Band’ or something, and couldn’t sleep for a week. I was terrified. I have never read Sherlock Holmes since, so this is actually a big moment for me! And I’m sorry to have missed out on it all these years (though I kept myself well-occupied with Poirot and all).
This Sherlock Holmes reading frenzy has been inspired by the real point of this really needless review – the TV series Sherlock is back on! I wasn’t half as sold on it as Miles & co. when it first came out, but having seen last Sunday’s episode (‘A Scandal in Belgravia’), and reading the actual novels now, I realise how amazingly clever the modernizing of the stories has been, and actually how damned intriguing and fun it all is too. This Sunday’s episode will be an adaptation of…*drumroll*…The Hound of the Baskervilles! And I am now well-prepared. I was also pretty taken with the recent Guy Ritchie movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – it was a really fun movie, just the sort one wants to see with a MASSIVE pile of popcorn, a Diet Coke and a friend, late at night.
And Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch are both ridiculously attractive, so if there’s a time to (re?)read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NOW IS IT: one’s visualisations are really much improved by the prevalence of celebrity-eye-candy-pretending-to-be-Holmes around. I dream happy, these days. No woman or man should be deprived of these dreams.