Monday, January 11, 2010

On the road

I've been traveling a bit - Florida is freezingly cold, but I was Keeper for a Day at Busch Gardens, threw fish into a pelican's beak, tipped 'chunk meat' into troughs for various birds to feed on, laid out 'flakes' of hay for giraffes and various other exotic hoofstock, saw baby kangaroos and wallabies bottle-fed and held a two-toed sloth in my arms - it was amazing feeling it sort of hook itself onto me and suspend itself in a supremely lazy and incredibly efficient fashion! (Here is a picture, not mine, of the sloth in question.)

Light reading catch-up:

The four novels by Octavia Butler collected in Seed to Harvest are really extraordinary - very unusual, very good, very much what I really enjoy reading. There is something about her writing that reminds me, though on the face of it they are entirely different, of the stories of Edward P. Jones - both have developed quite unusual techniques in order to capture something of the sheer duration of slavery and the way it has affected human lives. I've read three or four of Butler's other books, but it seems to me it would be worth really going back to everything and reading through in order - I wouldn't mind writing a short thing about her one of these days.

Hit the Waldenbooks in the Tampa shopping mall yesterday for some emergency light reading, I had brought a novel by Stendhal with me but found I was not in the mood! Plucked a few crime novels from the bargain shelves - Robert Crais's The Two-Minute Rule (very good, because everything he writes is very good, but perhaps not my absolute favorite of his) and P. D. James's The Lighthouse. There is one scene late in the book (it involves rock-climbing) that I thought was electrifyingly well-written; the rest of the book was a bit blah. I read her more recent one a few weeks ago, too, that is to say The Private Patient: for the first four or five chapters, I was thinking to myself something like "Why am I always speaking so disparagingly of P.D. James and how much I hate her recent novels? This isn't half bad!" But I grew increasingly weary of the way she 'follows' different characters - they all seem to have exactly the same texture of thought, and it is an essentially falsifying way of representing human subjectivity and human life, it irks me! Also, of course, my main source of irk (other than the slight pretentiousness and dominant upper-middle-class certainty of the writing - I can't read Ian McEwan these days either...) is the tiresome Adam Dalgliesh - faced with the conundrum of whether to age him into retirement or arrest his development even as time moved forward, James chose the latter option, but it has left her with a completely implausible creation, a time-traveler from another generation who simply could not exist in the present day in his present incarnation without seeming a much more peculiar and anomalous figure than he was initially meant to be.

(And I saw the Sherlock Holmes movie yesterday - very enjoyable - and Avatar last week - first hour and a half much more transporting than the absurd political developments of the last forty-five minutes, and certainly the texture of the film is much superior to the storytelling itself - but it is good to unwind a bit from the stresses of last semester, though I guess I still have a ways further to go!)


  1. I had a similar response to The Private Patient: the first couple of chapters are really good! But in addition to the problem you cite, I was also frustrated by the way the mystery unfolded, its denouement making use of almost none of the backstory or hidden relationships between the characters.

  2. "Keeper for a Day" What fun! We first went to Busch Gardens about 30 years ago (eep - how did I get this old???) and loved it. My father's fav part was the beer tent, which is gone now. (Bummer!) But the coolest for my brother and I was all the animals - we got to hold pythons, parrots, etc. We always had a wonderful time. (And loved the roller coasters as well.)

  3. I felt the same way about McEwan until I read the excerpt from "Solar" in The New Yorker recently, and I really enjoyed it - much less rarefied than Chesil & Saturday. I think it might be more of the energy that I really liked in "Enduring Love".

  4. I'm in the middle of The Private Patient so we'll see how I like it as it goes on but it sounds as though Ian Rankin's more for you. Rebus has aged and is currently retired, even though Rankin has devised a credible way to write further novels about Rebus if he chooses. I either read something or saw an interview with P.D. James where she said she envied Rankin for aging Rebus, something she felt she couldn't do with Dagliesh.