With this list of my August reading this almost completes the review catch up for the things read in the long ago days of the last few months. Just September to go.
1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, who really needed a stricter editor.
I suspect this book would be unmanageably tedious to read in one sitting. Long – so very long – and in places repetitive the story follows a sixteenth century landowner who sets out to live for realsies the fantasies of medieval chivalric literature. Along the way, everyone he meets has a story to tell turning the novel, already split into two parts, into a sort of anthology within an episodic novel within a duology.
The mad Quixote gets brutally beaten for the first half of the first book. Then – as people work out he’s mad – is ruthlessly exploited for the second half. He does terrible things to innocent people and animals while believing them to be villains; and in his turn has terrible things done to him.
In the second book, published ten years later, all of the characters have read the first book, so when Don Quixote heads out again he finds he really has found the celebrity he believed he had in the first book. This is a far more interesting and elegant book than the first although lacking the iconic imagery of the first (the windmills, the herds of sheep, the colander for a helmet) and not necessarily more fun for its greater unification, polish and ideas.
I listened to it as an audiobook in short stints while on various walks and as a result enjoyed most of it. In that way, I can probably recommend it. As a straightforward read it would get old pretty fast I suspect.
2. Colonel Sun by Robert Markham, who is really Kingsley Amis
Surprisingly, one of the best of the Bond novels. Amis was brought in after Fleming’s death and apart from more literary references (nothing too high brow, some greek myths, a little architectural appreciation, some John Buchan) and a shift in Bond’s taste in booze, Amis does an excellent job of extending the series. Unlike most of the novels which follow, this is sufficiently cannon that a very loose adaptation of this makes up half of the Spectre movie.
It suffers from the same period sexism and racism as the Fleming works, but also keeps what is best about the Bond novels, while minimising their other weaknesses. Would highly recommend.
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, who is big on mental illness shaming
I enjoyed the school-days opening, the injustice of childhood always makes for compelling reading. But the minute we met Mr. Rochester, with his weak-sauce banter with Jane I found myself tuning out. They eventually won me over as a couple only to have them both turn rather petty and cruel after the big reveal.
While I don’t buy that disliking a character on a personal level is a reason to dismiss a book, this book did seem to assume I would take sides with the hero and her man. A man who married a woman who was in love with him for her money, was disgusted when she showed signs of mental distress, locked her up in a small room for years, and then acted like he was her victim when it all came out. There are flawed heroes and then there are self-pitying, abusive psychopaths.
In the end I mildly enjoyed it as a Gothic oddity. So it can have a soft recommend.
4. Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, who has been creating weird boners since 1897.
This short novella, pornographic and surreal tells a story escalating wierd sexual encounters involving eyes, urine, and eggs. The plot such as it is gallops through incest, rape, necrophilia, water-sports, food-play, suicide, abuse, underage sex, and murder all in the space of about 90 pages, with time to also give a profoundly grisly account of several bullfights (not a euphemism actual bullfighting).
The image of the eye is warped throughout, placed in various metaphorical and literal juxtapositions ending in one extraordinarily strange and striking climactic (pun intended) image. The effect is to make the development of image the main momentum of the story, which was interesting. A biographical end note then further extends the strange metaphor of the eye into the real world of Bataille’s own life and should be read as part of the piece overall.
I would recommend it, but probably not to my grandmother.