It is easier to conjure the intellectual-literary atmosphere of an era when it is 30 years’ past than when it is a mere decade ago. It is hard to see 2010 right now, as we wait for time and the canon to true the lens, but I have a very clear sense-memory of revelation and exhilaration as I sped through David Mitchell’s epic-historical ghost story, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, wondering if the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson had momentarily taken possession of Haruki Murakami. Here was a reminder that the world of a novel—in this case, a very detailed rendering of an 18th-century Dutch trading post in the port of Nagasaki—can be fuller, more vivid, than our own, that it can exist as a hothouse for the reader’s moral imagination.
There are some classics that we just don’t like. We try but we fail. And we don’t like to talk about it.
Give me the plongeurs of Down and Out in London and Paris any day. From the jump, I’ve always found Animal Farm to be heavy-handed and ham-fisted. (Can a hand do both simultaneously? Orwell’s sure could.) The symbolism and satire are laid on so thick there’s no room left for a beating heart, or entertainment of any kind, or drama, or subtlety. How this one still floats around as a perennial ‘statement’ book is beyond me. (Do I feel this strongly about Animal Farm? Truth be told, no. I haven’t thought about it in fifteen years, at least, maybe twenty. Come to think of it, I don’t much care for Charlotte’s Web, either. So it’s entirely possible this isn’t an Orwell or an E.B. White problem but a bigger grudge I hold against farm animals.)
I don’t like recommending lists on needull, but for books I will make an exception.
I had shamefully little knowledge of Lebanese culture and of military campaigns in North Africa, but that has been somewhat rectified by Moving the Palace. Majdalani writes beautifully of a young Lebanese man serving in the British military who finds himself on adventures in that service and with a quixotic quest to move a dissembled palace across the desert expanses of North Africa and the Middle East. The success of the novel lies not only in his accomplishments but in Majdalani’s telling of them.
–Katie Orphan, The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
This is one of the most interesting needulls that I have come across in a long time. I am truly fascinated by writers who manage to create an authentic persona just on the basis of secondary research.
I Spit On Your Graves marked the emergence of a beautifully corrosive African-American author, given full expression, as Chester Himes later would be, in France, except that, as it turned out, there was no Vernon Sullivan. He didn’t exist. For all its bitterness about race and racism, the novel was the work of a white man, its supposed translator, Boris Vian. And Vian had never even been to the United States. In contrast to his fictional creation, a black man who passes as white, Vian adopted a black persona, and his literary hoax, at least at first, succeeded. French readers thought Vernon Sullivan was real. They didn’t suspect Vian had done more than “translate” and supply the book’s informative preface. But who was Boris Vian exactly, and why had he perpetrated the hoax? What lay behind what now would be rightly called an egregious act of cultural appropriation?
Even though needull is into recommending articles worth reading, the charm of reading a novel is never gone. And also as the weekend begins, here is a list of 10 novels featuring bad women.
Susanna Moore, In the Cut
A literary thriller about Frannie, a 35-year-old English teacher living alone in New York, who incautiously enters into a liaison with a detective investigating a murder. Frannie’s voice is detached and ironic, a mask for her extreme vulnerability. Frannie eroticizes danger, testing limits, and the sex scenes here are gorgeous and explicit.