M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Monday, January 26, 2015

King Lear of the Steppes by Ivan Turgenev (1870, translated by Constance Garnett, 1899)



King Lear of the Steppes  by Ivan Turgenev has been on my To Be Read list for a long time.  Last month I read King Lear so I decided no time better than now  for it to be at last read.  The novella way exceeded my expectations.  I have previously read and posted on his by far most famous work, Fathers and Sons as well as The Diary of a Superflous Man, and a few, too few, of his short stories.  He is considered the first writer to depict the lives of ordinary Russians, serfs and peasants in a realistic fashion as full human figures.

People say this is among the most personal of Turgenev's works.  It is narrated by a wealthy young country gentleman living on his mother's estate and under her control.  She is very much the queen of her estate, her serfs are her property.  One of the central figures in the story, he is the King Lear figure, is a well of peasant with an estate of his own.  The mother is his benefactor and he is totally subservient to her, seeking her advice on major decisions.  I am not quite clear what is legal bond to is but she is his master in fact.

He is getting old so he decides to deed all of his property over to his two daughters, under the assumption he will  live out his days on the estate and be given living money.  Everyone,including the mother, try to dissuade him from this, saying he will lose everything and be turned out.  

The conclusion is very powerful, almost overwhelming.  I knew something bad was going to happen but I was left deeply saddened by the despair and darkness of the close.

There is much wonderful material on daily life, we see a bit about how serfs feel about their masters and I guess one who read the work for clues concerning the psyche of Turgenev would find grist in relationship of the mother and the narrator.

This is a very deep beautiful work of art, worthy to carry the name "King Lear" in title.

I think my next Turgenev will be another novella, First Love.

Mel u










Sunday, January 25, 2015

Auto de Fé by Elias Canetti (1935, translated by C. V. Wedgwood)


Elias Canetti is in the tradition of deeply cultured  Pan-European writers.  He was born in Bulgaria in 1904, died in Zurich 1994, received the Nobel Prize in 1981, wrote in German, he moved to England when Austria joined Germany and became a British citizen.  I enjoy visualizing him in the lobby of The Grand President Hotel.  I wonder what he might have read while there.

The alleged theme of The Reading Life is the literary treatment of people whose lives center about their reading.  Set between the world wars in Germany, the lead character Peter Kein is an internationally recognized authority and translator of Chinese literature.  His life centers around his magnificent personal library.  One day he makes a bad mistake, he marries his housekeeper. A nasty shrewish woman non-reading woman who has no respect for his vast erudition and looks upon the books just as dusty commodities.  He knows almost from the start it was a mistake but loneliness drove him to it.  His life turns into a living hell as his wife tries to steal all his money, from an inheritance that long ago allowed him to follow his passion for books and reading.  (Loving books and reading are not the same thing but in the bests cases they are.)

He enters a bizzare world outside his library, a world he knows little about.  (Side note, why so many hunchbacks in European literature of the era?  Why are they always evil or feeble minded?)

The conclusion is shocking.  I am sure there are period cultural refrences and allusions that went over my head.  I greatly enjoyed this book and could see rereading it in 2016.

Mel ü

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"The Insufferable Gaucho" by Roberto Bolano (October 7, 2007, in The New Yorker)





So far I have read four novels by Roberto Bolano and several short stories.  2666 and Savage Poets I read before I began my blog.  I have posted on his marvelous Nazi Literature in the Americas and By Night in Chile.   

"The Insufferable Goucho" shows just how tremendously talented Bolano was.  In just a few pages he transorms a distinguished very refined judge living in an elegant house in Buenas Aires into an old goucho barely recognizable to his old associates.  It also chronicles terrible post Peron fall in the Argentine economy.  

Mel u

Friday, January 23, 2015

"To the Trade" by Aiden O'Reilly (2008)

The 2008 Michael McLaverty Prize Winning Story


March will once again be Irish Short Story Month on The Reading Life.

The Michael McLaverty Short Story Prize, named for one of Ulster's great writers and administrated by the Linen Hall Library, was won in 2008 by Aiden O'Reilly from Dublin, for his short story centering on a father and son doing construction work on the house of an upper class Dublin family.

As the story opens the father and his son are on a scaffold on the house.  The father is doing the skilled work, the son basically is his helper, handing him needed items.  "To the Trade" is a very subtle story.  One of the several evoked topics are Irish class markers.  We see that when the son peers into one of the rooms and is impacted by the obvious femininity of the contents, elements of softness and comfort not found in his life.  We learn, without being over instructed, that his mother is gone.  

One of the characteristics of the Irish short story is the portrayal of deep but unshown on the surface feelings.   You can feel both a love and a tension between father and son.  The work is very hard and the weather is brutal.  The lady of the house tells them to come down for lunch but the father does not want to rush down as if he is a starving tradesman being fed by the lady of the manor in the back kitchen.  I felt a lot of real emotion when the father told his son to go eat while the food is hot.

While they eat the father and the woman conversing about lamb.  The woman notices the roughness of the man's hands.  The lines below from the story shows to me how O'Reilly uses his hands for a. kind of near symphonic bringing to life of the struggles of the working class people of Ireland:

"The father reached out for another cut of bread. His thin hands were appallingly abused. The thread remains of a bandage clung to the middle finger. The skin on the sides of the knuckles was cracked in a radial pattern. Dark grey concrete stains lined the ancient cracks; one of them seeped blood, but as though welling up from a great depth. Veins and tendons interplayed on the back of his hand. The fingernails looked like worn saw teeth, or a cracked trowel. They were alive, but had the appearance of things, of abandoned tools. One nail was like a hoof — flesh and keratin intertwined to close over old wounds. Another was split in two from the quick to the fingertip, and a hard growth filled the space between. A bulbous texture like the organic growth of a tree bark over a rusty nail"

One can feel the depth of pain in these lines.  The woman offers to put a plaster on his hands but he says no need but we know it has been a very long time since anyone has shown him any tenderness.

We see in the boy a trapped young man, he hates school and his only way he sees out is to do work on the homes of the rich.  He and his father's relationship is both simple and complex.

I will leave the emotionally devasting close of this story untold.  "To the Trade", which I read three times is very much an award worthy story I commend to all lovers of the form.  I have read some of the novels and short stories of Michael McLaverty and I think he would be honored by the awarding of a prize in his name for this story about working class Irish.  It is a very Irish story but the truths it contains are universal and it counters the claims some, including me, have made about modern Irish literature centering on the weak or missing father.  There is much more that could be said about this story I just hope it gets a large readership.

You can read this story HERE


Be sure and visit Aiden's very interesting webpage


Bio From his publisher's webpage, honestpublishing.com



 Aiden O’Reilly was interested in puzzles from an early age and published papers on a QM dynamical system before abandoning a PhD in mathematics. He has worked variously as a translator, building-site worker, property magazine editor, and IT teacher. He lived in Eastern Europe for a time, but only met his wife after six years there. He is a 6-kyu go player, enjoys reading Karl Jaspers, and lives in Stoneybatter.




I will soon be posting on his highly received debut collection of short stories, Greetings, Hero.  Aiden has kindly agreed to do a question and answer session so look for that shortly.


Mel u









Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin (1813)




Around 1960 or so in The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman I first was made aware I needed to read Jane Austin's Pride and Predjudice.  I remembered trying it then but I was not ready for it yet.  The most recent time I read a glowing endorsement of the book was in Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, published in 2014.  Many book bloggers say it is their favorite novel of all time.  

I am so glad I have at long last read this wonderful book.

Which Austin novel should I Read next?

Who is your favorite sister?

Best match? 

Mel u

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"The Judge" by R. K. Narayan (reprinted in Grandmother's Tale and Other Stories)






R. K. Narayan is one of my very favorite writers.  I have read all of his novels and a number of his wonderful short stories, mostly set in the imaginary south India community of Malguidi. 

A recurring Malguidi character known as "the teller of tall tales" is talking about his time working as a judge.  One of his many family members had seen a notice advising experienced journalist, as he was, to apply for a job as a judge.  We are along for the very interesting successful  job interview.  

The heart of the story is multi suspect murder case.  The judge decides guilt and punishments, there is no jury.  A man was pulled of a full passenger bus and beaten to death.  Of course the driver and the passengers claim pepper was thrown in their eyes preventing them from seeing anything.  The judge knows they are just afraid to testify.  There are seven defendents and the case is being dragged on by the defense attorney.  The judge wants give some defendents the death penalty and msybe let the younger ones go but he cannot quite make up his mind.

The ending is hilarious and very easy to visualize.

The editor of The Grandmother's Tale and other Stories did not include the orginal date and place of publication.  They should have

Mel u



The Duchess of Langeais and The Girl with Golden Eyes by Honore de Balzac (two novellas-Components of The Human Comedy)


The Duchess of Langeais 1834, translated by Ellen Marriage
The Girl with the Golden Eyes 1835, translated by Ellen Marriage

Parts Two and Three of a trilogy, Histoire Destraeize



The Duchess of Langeais is really not that great a work.  I can see Balzac writing this as fast as humanly possible following a formula he knows will sell, romantic troubles of the one percent of France in the 1830s.  It centers on a general who falls in love with a duchess and his efforts to locate her. It also brings into play an occult order of the free masons.  



The Girl with the Golden Eyes is a very odd book.  It begins with a twenty page or so diatribe explaining why the citizens of Paris are overall so ugly.  It is an interesting account of the vices and foibles of Parisian society.  One wonders what might have motivated Balzac to include this.  The rest of the novella is pretty much a Balzacian omlet of weird colonial prejuduces, Orientalism  so silly as to be almost comic and a bizzare romance.  There are sexual obsessions,  murder plots and occult elements.   

36/91

The Human Comedy consists of 25 short stories, 25 novellas, and 41 novels.  

I have now begun Albert Savarus and it starts off very well. 

Mel u