The purpose of my reading has been to taste and digest the greatest novels, hoping that their calories will build my writing muscles, and that I’ll better know how to taste my own work, what spices to add as I’m cooking up my own stories. Some things, though, I just can’t develop a taste for. Here’s a few samples of what’s molding on my shelves, only half eaten.
The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch: 142 of 495 pages
I enjoyed The Bell, by the same author. The characters in that book are concerned with religious faith, marriage, and sexuality– pretty explicitly and openly, for 1958. So, of course, I would like that one. The Sea, the Sea has an isolated narrator, a little touch of religious curiosity, and although he has love relationships which haunt him,they weren’t compelling enough to engage me. I will always wonder about the sea serpent thing! Murdoch has a bit of the British taste for mystery. Maybe you should read it, and tell me where the hell she was going with that.
Snow by Orhan Pamuk: 196 of 426 pages
Both The Sea, The Sea and Snow have love affairs that I found unconvincing. Big problem. One of Pamuk’s characters says: “‘There are two kinds of men…. The first kind does not fall in love until he’s seen how a girl eats a sandwich, how she combs her hair, what sort of nonsense she cares about, why she’s angry at her father, and what sorts of stories people tell about her. The second type of man… can fall in love with a woman only if he knows next to nothing about her.'” Well, I found that second kind silly. I’m sure part of the reason people fawned over this book is that it deals with Turkey, a real crossroads of cultures, and the sort of place that most Americans don’t know shit about. There is a lot of intrigue in this book (who’s a Muslim radical? who’s a secularist? who’s after whom?), and there are a lot of false climaxes. I have trouble keeping up with all that intrigue. I often have to watch a spy movie with a companion so that very obvious connections can be explained to me. I’m really a dummy that way.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: 385 of 533 pages
The load of processing all the foreign politics and names and circumstances got to me eventually. I was okay with Rushdie’s magical realism, although generally I find the stuff intolerable. Isn’t real life magical enough? And if you want to get uber-magical, write a children’s book, or a fantasy novel. Although I gave up on it, first I underlined a great deal: “Chutney and oratory, theology and curiosity: these are the things that saved me.” “It has been observed that all Americans need a frontier: pain was hers….” “To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world.” “How many things people notions we bring with us into the world, how many possibilities and also restrictions of possibility!” Especially there, Rushdie reminds me of Tolstoy. Without the trimming and hemming, the orthodoxy.