Saturday, March 19, 2005

So instead of reading Voltaire and Diderot

I finished Barbara Trapido's Frankie & Stankie, which I found immensely appealing and interesting. Her most autobiographical novel--crazy Durban 1950s milieu, political and historical stuff all mixed in with these incredible details about things long since vanished. Trapido's great topic, though, is the double pleasure of giddy teenage female friendship and girly light reading. My favorite chapter was chapter eight, which treats the main character's high school years, particularly what she read. After several rather deadpan and enchanting pages about Dinah's early reading habits ("For Dinah--her dad's read-aloud Boys' Book sessions excepted--fiction has always been a matter of foinding one's own easy-option page-turners unaided in the city library, wich has meant a steady diet of Enid Blyton school stories and the Bobbsey Twins followed by Sue Barton Staff Nurse, and the mysteries of Nancy Drew"), Dinah discovers Pride and Prejudice, which "throws at" her "how dialogue can lift and dance on points, how sentences can shine and crackle with a concentrated energy and a sharp crystal intelligence. So listening to Miss Barnes read it is like falling in love. It's like walking on air. It fills Dinah's mind with a new kind of music. Language is all the music she's never learned to play. Language is all the ballet steps she's never learned to dance. And maybe what she loves best of all is the book's disregard for any 'description'. 'Description' isn't there. It's expendable. It's burned away. All that's left is dexterity and concentration. Pride and Prejudice is real life, but all transfigured, and dancing in a box."

It's not so much in evidence in this novel as her others, but Trapido's presiding angels are the Shakespeare comedies, Mozart's operas, Austen--comedy in that slightly older sense. Very much to my taste.


  1. That's the way I feel about Austen too, which has inspired me to seek out Brother of the More Famous Jack at Amazon. It will be my first Barbara Trapido. Thanks for pointing me to an author new to me!


  2. I do hope you like it! I am teaching an Austen undergraduate seminar this semester, just did Pride and Prejudice this evening--I seriously must have read that book 30 times before, and it always looks strange and new and quite delightful when I come to it again. Strange, isn't it?

  3. I'll be teaching Pride and Prejudice to my undergraduates in April. It's a British lit class where we're looking at different kinds of heroes and heroines. I am curious to see what my students will have to say about Austen!