Monday, 30 July 2018
Summer Reading 2018
A friend in academia recommended this to me, as it documents the travails of a visiting lecturer as he navigates the perils of university life. Now back in print, having been first published in 2006, it's an amusing and punchy comedy, in which every character is nastier than the last, and with some well-aimed swipes at obscurity and pretension.
A long, careful re-read of this magnificent poem, savouring every line and allowing myself to become lost in the grandeur and beauty of the language, without critical thinking. The scale of the poem is awe-inspiring: from the depths of Chaos through Hell, across space itself, where many planets hang, ready to bring forth life; the sun itself, and the whole world, hanging on its golden chain; the crystalline walls of Heaven. I will be happily making my way through this once more over the next month or so, with a more analytical viewpoint, but for the moment, I was content simply to stand in amazement.
I am relatively new to Sebald, and I can't understand how I could have lived without him. The craft of his sentences is simply extraordinary: so effortless and seemingly insouciant, but so carefully and deeply considered. Here he looks at several lives of Jewish people displaced by war. Some, such as Cosmo Solomon, the gambler with the lucky streak and devoted manservant, are astonishing; yet even the more "ordinary" ones have a lambency to them that burns far long after the book has been finished. Images recur, deftly, such as butterfly hunters and French horns, perhaps suggesting patterns in chaos, or perhaps suggesting that whilst we look for patterns in chaos, the reality is that there are none.
Having very much enjoyed the first volume of the Alms to Oblivion Sequence, I was warned off the second; but I persevered. The Judas Boy continues the saga of Fielding Gray, Raven's deformed anti-hero, who is sent to Greece on a mysterious mission, but is deflected by a beautiful boy who resembles the one he betrayed at school. The plot is thin, and the whole has a feel of having been dashed off in between lunch and supper; but it was still an enjoyable-ish way to spend an afternoon, partly because of Raven's gift for skewing personalities with a line or two, and partly because one can recognise the types he was writing about as being true to life. Raven is like Anthony Powell's slightly seedy, alcoholic younger brother.
5. Vacant Possession by Hilary Mantel
Continuing my long-standing delve into Mantel's backlist, this is her second novel, a sequel of sorts to Every Day is Mother's Day, in which the demented Muriel Axon and her seance-giving mother cause trouble in the suburbs. This is an extraordinary novel, completely uninterested in pandering to the tastes of a reader, with Mantel's sentences stretching out like the tendrils of the ghosts she writes about, ready to snatch and tear. Muriel returns to wreak what she considers revenge on the people who have wronged her. It's gruesome and wicked, full of darkness and terror. The title, coincidentally, is found in Paradise Lost, where Michael is being told to go to Eden to bear his message of exile to Adam and Eve:
MICHAEL, this my behest have thou in charge,
Take to thee from among the Cherubim
Thy choice of flaming Warriours, least the Fiend
Or in behalf of Man, or to invade
Vacant possession som new trouble raise:
Hast thee, and from the Paradise of God
Without remorse drive out the sinful Pair,
From hallowd ground th' unholie, and denounce
To them and to thir Progenie from thence