With age, it becomes harder and harder to encounter books that end up being life experiences. My reading predilections pretty much solidified themselves between the ages of seventeen and twenty, when the access to an extensive university library–and amazing used bookstores–exploded my literary horizons. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is one of the recent exceptions, a book that I will forever remember in a haze of sun-kissed melancholy.
The novel begins in the middle of World War II with Charles Ryder, a military officer who has been ordered to commandeer a rundown English estate and turn it into a logistics headquarters. Brideshead Castle carries a more profound meaning for Charles, however, because it was the site of his youthful bliss and heartbreak. The narrative then looks back to his early days as a student in Oxford in the 1920s, where he meets a luminous young man named Sebastian Flyte, whose family owns Brideshead. Continue reading
A novel filled with parodic exuberance and tongue-in-cheek humor often runs the risk of archness to the point coldness, becoming too intent at skewering the ridiculous to actually carry a human center. R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche sidesteps this trap by grounding the chaos of his setting with a fallible and searching viewpoint character, a balikbayan named Vince who wins a trip through a Mr. Pogi beauty contest. Through his incredulous but largely game eyes, the readers navigate the crooked sidestreets and gridlocked roads that make up life in 1990s Philippines.
Vince descends into an Aligherian hell from the first scene as he takes in the cacophony of voices, smells, and personalities in a Manila airport. He then interacts with a gaggle of personalities not unlike the Italian nobility that populate Inferno and Purgatorio–from the iconoclastic director Bino Boca to the distressingly effervescent fictional(?!) Kris Aquino. The rugged man who ferries him to the various sights of Manila is even named Dante. Linmark makes these parallelisms overt throughout the novel. But Leche also has much in common with another work of literature to use an epigraph from The Divine Comedy–the eponymous J. Alfred Prufrock from T.S. Eliot’s landmark modernist poem. Continue reading
I’ve always held this notion that there is such a thing as missed connections when it comes to novel-reading. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is one such book for me–it is a deeply moving story in many ways, but I think its effect would’ve been more profound on me if I had read it when I was younger. Which means that the fault is mine and not the novel’s, of course.
Giovanni’s Room is a novel of claustrophobia, of physical smallness and emotional suffocation. The title refers to the rented Parisian room that an American expatriate named David shares with a bartender he meets at a gay bar. He is a typical example of the young, disaffected Americans who traipse around Paris in the post-war period, but his life takes a turn the moment Giovanni strikes a conversation with him. Passion is ignited in an instant, but while their mutual attraction is acknowledged and consummated early on, their happiness is far from assured.
In the hands of a more skilled prose writer, VL McDermid’s Final Edition could have been a pleasure to read. The premise itself is compelling: investigative journalist Lindsay Gordon returns to Scotland after a brush with the Secret Service sent her to self-exile. She immediately finds out that she’s been replaced by her girlfriend. Meanwhile, a close colleague of hers named Jackie Mitchell is in jail for the murder of the notorious Alison Maxwell, Lindsay’s former lover. When Lindsay is asked to prove Jackie’s innocence, she becomes involved in a sordid tale of blackmail and scandalous relationships that ultimately affects the life she is trying to rebuild.
Like I said, the set pieces are interesting. I like that the novel is trying to explore what it’s like to be a journalist in Glasgow and I like that it prominently features several lesbian characters with varied personalities and motivations. However, the dialogue is constantly clunky and expository, and the way Lindsay reacts to some events in the story borders on the shrill and self-righteous. Her stunt in trying to unveil the true identity of Alison Maxwell’s killer, for example, is downright ridiculous.
Slight spoilers after the jump.