This weekend in The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown wrote, glowingly, “Why I read a six-volume diary by a Norwegian novelist,” on his experience of the first volumes (the article title is a bit of a misnomer, as not all six volumes are available in English yet) of Karl Ove Kanusgaard’s My Struggle. I recently finished the first volume of Knausgaard and have to agree, it’s mesmerizing, this attempt to speak of everything, to recall the mundane, the truth of himself and others, memoir-like, but without the narrative arc of fiction or memoir. I’m glad I read the first 441 pages of the project, to see what the fuss was about, but presently am not inclined to continue. To me, it invites a kind of voyeurism I’m not willing to sustain.
Also glad I read The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (2012), which won the RBC Taylor Prize for Canadian Nonfiction. The jurors called it “subversive, entertaining, well-researched, hilarious, [and] engraging.” That about sums it up. He calls his walk through native history on the continent a conversation he’s been having with himself most of his adult life. At times King is rather caustic, and ultimately I found it somewhat depressing, but that’s a reaction to complications I need to grapple with and understand better. The cover is wonderful, I think; it’s from an actual Italian poster advertising the Cosulich line.
An interview with Kent Haruf in Christian Century, alerted me to Haruf’s writing and sent me to the library for his latest, Benediction. There’s Dad Lewis who is dying, his wife and daughter trying to say goodbye, an estranged son, a minister who manages to alienate most of his congregation as well as his wife and son John Wesley with a take-it-seriously approach to the Sermon on the Mount, this in the context of 9/11, and more. No one’s life here is without failure and complication, but—beautifully—community is enacted. The long slow death at the end reminded me powerfully of sitting hours at my father’s bed as he slowly died four years ago. Definitely recommended.
Jonathan Lethem has said,
“The idea that you should somehow be able to sustain yourself on the rolling crest of the wave of what’s new seems disastrous to me. Old books. You’ve got to be into old, weird books. Things that are not being talked about that you make your own.”
A good reminder, I think, that the old nourishes as well as the new. So, though none of the following are really old, here’s three somewhat older books I got around to and would like to mark as well.
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, the novel that launched Brian Moore’s literary career, was published in 1955. (It was also made into a movie, which I haven’t seen.) We meet Miss Hearne first as she sets up her aunt’s photo and the Sacred Heart in her new boarding digs. A prim and proper spinster? Not quite. This is a searing portrait of a very troubled but also courageous woman.
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively was the surprise winner of the Booker prize in 1987. I enjoyed this book! The intelligent, beautiful writing. The egocentric protagonist you don’t much like but commit to anyway. The themes of memory and loss. Claudia Hampton is dying and decides to write a history of the world, is “once again subordinating history to her own puny existence. Well—don’t we all?”
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, 1970. I was finishing this up on a flight home from B.C. recently. The flight attendant spotted it and said, “Is that Fifth Business?” He sounded excited so I replied, with enthusiasm to match, “Yes it is!” (The book was a re-read, but I’d forgotten everything except the opening snowball scene, and was quite enjoying it.) “I took it in high school,” he said, “and hated it!” Oh. Well, it did occur to me that this book, full of religious and philosophical material, should probably be rated adult rather than teen.