Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: It is a story of homosexual love, but more than that, is a truly artful narration of guilt, selfishness and the absolute freedom of being in a foreign land. I loved the language and the frankness of the writer, his ability to draw the perceptive feel of Paris which is both dear and alien to the narrator. Even in the few pages of it, you feel the darkness and sourness of Giovanni’s room – which lives with you for sometime.
Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan: Both Giovanni’s room and Bonjour Tristesse are part of the Great Love series by Penguin, which seems like a very promising series – though equally elusive, since I have been unable to find the remaining books, except Seducer’s diary which for some vague reason I have not been inclined to pick up. Anyways, I quite liked this slim novel, again for its clarity, frankness and captivating depiction of the life of hedonistic boredom. I was unable to quite see the parts in it that shocked France. Most likely it was the youth of the writer, combined with the surprising clarity with which she deals with the vanity of her age. But still shock is too strong an emotion for a country that I associated with hedonism.
Dead Souls by Gogol: This is part of my Russian Literature education series 🙂 I don’t think Russian literature can even begin to emerge without the reading of this book, which was just brilliant. I haven’t read Pushkin, and this is the oldest I have ventured in the genre, but I can already see in this book the formation of the unique narrative style of Russian masters, which is not found in any other literature. They talk you through the characters and the story, never themselves vanishing from the work or working behind the curtains. Dead souls is very critical of the Russian and Russia, and is also replete with a characteristic humor. I totally loved it, especially the first part. In the second part, the script gaps were a little disconcerting, but it was easy to see where the story was going. I think I should regress to Pushkin now – specially since Gogol was so enamored with him.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: This is another great classic. I had started it two years ago and left it mid-way, and now on reading it again, am quite unsure as to why I did that. It is certainly engrossing. Even though it is a tale of misery, and reminded me terribly of ‘How green was my valley’ (Incidentally Ford has made very good adaptations of both works), I liked it for its transient nature and mobility. In every moment of reading it I felt the sense of impending doom, so much so that when the doom did come, I was left a bit unsatisfied with its stature. Despite all the despair in the story and the lives of the Joad family, there is a ring of resilience and stubborn hope which keeps the work alive.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth: I think I am quite sick of the American song and its much emphasized much hyphenated dream. As if Hollywood has not given this abhorrent self-love and self-glory enough stage, there are writers like Mr. Roth who want to underline it again. I hated the drama and the filmy story. The characters were inconsistent, and Roth did not quite know if he wanted to make this into a tear-jerking soap or a serious novel. Anyways he hung in between and managed to annoy me quite substantially. I was disappointed because this book was in the Critics list of Modern library, and I had not had yet come across complete disasters from that list. There is always a first time.
The Gathering by Anne Enright: I think the Booker has gone overboard in rewarding the absurd this year. I simply hated it – so much self-love and drama that is fit only for the room of a therapist. It is from works like these that you can learn how to make the most ordinary childhoods abused and the most normal families dysfunctional. Going by this yardstick, every person I know is likely to end down a river. The language was good – but what are good words placed in a poor context?
I am also reading Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain off an on. It is slightly of the style of Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and Chatwin’s In Patagonia. I am taking it very slow, because it is quiet and lazy, and relates Xingjian’s travels through the mountains and villages in search of the mountain of soul.Unlike the other two who travel alone and meet ghosts and people, Xingjian has created his own companions – a ‘you’ and a ‘she’, sometimes a ‘he’ joins them too on their long journey, and the effect is interesting. A lone traveler can only have thoughts, but a traveler with companions can tell stories, pose questions, delve into memories, relate to the places, tease, dramatize and make the place come alive.