ghost of miles

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I'm surprised by all the brickbats thrown in the direction of George Eliot. One of the great authors and minds of the Victoria era. The only real clinker is, I think, Felix Holt. Her greatest book? At one time I would unhesitatingly say Middlemarch, and I would still recommend that to the general reader, but I now think her greatest work is Daniel Deronda. What an incredible book! The novel forms one of the greatest spiritual quest books in English literature.

I feel I approached her with an open mind and seriously disliked the two books I read. I'll probably still give Middlemarch a shot.

Middlemarch" is superb, and I expect that "Daniel Deronda" is in the same class. Other George Eliot novels I've tried (e.g. "Romola") were absorbing up to a point but eventually off-putting in their stern and IMO somewhat external, finger-wagging moralism. My favorite 19th Century English novelist is Trollope, though I came to him fairly late in life and almost certainly would have had no taste for him before that.

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I'm surprised by all the brickbats thrown in the direction of George Eliot. One of the great authors and minds of the Victoria era. The only real clinker is, I think, Felix Holt. Her greatest book? At one time I would unhesitatingly say Middlemarch, and I would still recommend that to the general reader, but I now think her greatest work is Daniel Deronda. What an incredible book! The novel forms one of the greatest spiritual quest books in English literature.

I feel I approached her with an open mind and seriously disliked the two books I read. I'll probably still give Middlemarch a shot.

Middlemarch" is superb, and I expect that "Daniel Deronda" is in the same class. Other George Eliot novels I've tried (e.g. "Romola") were absorbing up to a point but eventually off-putting in their stern and IMO somewhat external, finger-wagging moralism. My favorite 19th Century English novelist is Trollope, though I came to him fairly late in life and almost certainly would have had no taste for him before that.

Well, she was a Victorian, for better and worse, and "high seriousness" was part of her cultural milieu, but I love the scope of her intellect and her generosity of spirit. I had my Trollope period and still enjoy dipping into his work occasionally, but mostly the Palliser novels. A lot of the rest of it was the product of a pen that wrote too much too fast, and who seemed to want to bank his intellect and his sympathy against the peril of going too deep. He's never really bad, but he's never really great. But I do enjoy him nervertheless.

Just finished:

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THE UNICORN - Iris Murdoch -1963

One of Iris' stranger novels, although it has many of the usual Murdochian elements. Marion (Maid Marion as one character calls her significantly ) responds to an advertisement to serve as a tutor or lady's companion to Hannah (a Murdoch grace name, same forwards or backwards). Hannah is either a prisoner in remote Gaze Castle, held there against her will by her absent husband's unscrupulous retainers, or La Belle Dame Sans Merci, a potent force who keeps the other occupants of Gaze in her thrall. The novel shifts between these two perspectives until the final drastic resolution.

I think this is less a novel than an intricate, often murky, but nevertheless deep allegory of the spiritual life, where the forces of Good and Evil struggle in the depths of the spiritual life. The occupants of Gaze Castle are caught outside the everyday life, in some mad or magnificent effort to come to terms with the Good or Sublime, or the Bad and Profane. Or something like that....

The novel is also highly sexualized (has there been a more sexual writer than Murdoch since D.H. Lawrence?) and at times I felt it was Murdoch's attempt to create a framework for her own sexual proclivities and perspectives. To put it another way, Hannah and Marian struggle to find a way to explore their sexual desires in a world that wants to keep them contained (look, or Gaze, but don't touch).

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I came across a copy of Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.

It's a little hard to review. Not all that much happens in the book other than Smart recounting the ups and downs (mostly downs) of her having an affair with the English poet George Barker, ultimately leaving her abandoned with a "bun in the oven." But the language is so over the top with lots of references to Old Testament imagery (particularly Song of Solomon) and other ecstatic poets like Blake (and more than a little John Donne and George Herbert?). It's quite unusual in that Smart is operating on two levels at once -- the ecstatic and the real (though mostly in the ecstatic world). I have no idea if she was this way in real life (though some comments in the book suggest she did with people calling her a religious loony), but she certainly retrospectively portrayed these events in that light. (It may not be a good metaphor at all, but I sort of see her doing what Stanley Spencer was doing in the visual arts.

It's a very short book, and it is hard to tell how well this style would hold up in a longer narrative. I may find out, as there is sort of a follow-up (much less famous though) called The Assumption of the Rogues & Rascals that was bundled in the copy I borrowed from the library.

Anyway, I should be wrapping up Silas Marner and Martin Amis' Other People in a day or two, then maybe I will start in on MacLennan's Two Solitudes. It's been on my to-read list for months, while I got diverted in all other directions due to the Proustian logjam.

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I'm surprised by all the brickbats thrown in the direction of George Eliot. One of the great authors and minds of the Victoria era. The only real clinker is, I think, Felix Holt. Her greatest book? At one time I would unhesitatingly say Middlemarch, and I would still recommend that to the general reader, but I now think her greatest work is Daniel Deronda. What an incredible book! The novel forms one of the greatest spiritual quest books in English literature.

I feel I approached her with an open mind and seriously disliked the two books I read. I'll probably still give Middlemarch a shot.

Middlemarch" is superb, and I expect that "Daniel Deronda" is in the same class. Other George Eliot novels I've tried (e.g. "Romola") were absorbing up to a point but eventually off-putting in their stern and IMO somewhat external, finger-wagging moralism. My favorite 19th Century English novelist is Trollope, though I came to him fairly late in life and almost certainly would have had no taste for him before that.

Well, she was a Victorian, for better and worse, and "high seriousness" was part of her cultural milieu, but I love the scope of her intellect and her generosity of spirit. I had my Trollope period and still enjoy dipping into his work occasionally, but mostly the Palliser novels. A lot of the rest of it was the product of a pen that wrote too much too fast, and who seemed to want to bank his intellect and his sympathy against the peril of going too deep. He's never really bad, but he's never really great. But I do enjoy him nervertheless.

Just finished:

11235.jpg

THE UNICORN - Iris Murdoch -1963

One of Iris' stranger novels, although it has many of the usual Murdochian elements. Marion (Maid Marion as one character calls her significantly ) responds to an advertisement to serve as a tutor or lady's companion to Hannah (a Murdoch grace name, same forwards or backwards). Hannah is either a prisoner in remote Gaze Castle, held there against her will by her absent husband's unscrupulous retainers, or La Belle Dame Sans Merci, a potent force who keeps the other occupants of Gaze in her thrall. The novel shifts between these two perspectives until the final drastic resolution.

I think this is less a novel than an intricate, often murky, but nevertheless deep allegory of the spiritual life, where the forces of Good and Evil struggle in the depths of the spiritual life. The occupants of Gaze Castle are caught outside the everyday life, in some mad or magnificent effort to come to terms with the Good or Sublime, or the Bad and Profane. Or something like that....

The novel is also highly sexualized (has there been a more sexual writer than Murdoch since D.H. Lawrence?) and at times I felt it was Murdoch's attempt to create a framework for her own sexual proclivities and perspectives. To put it another way, Hannah and Marian struggle to find a way to explore their sexual desires in a world that wants to keep them contained (look, or Gaze, but don't touch).

Read this last year. What has stuck in my mind is the western Irish landscape of cliffs and bog. After reading your comment, I don't think I'm on Murdoch's wavelength where character and plot are concerned.

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I'm surprised by all the brickbats thrown in the direction of George Eliot. One of the great authors and minds of the Victoria era. The only real clinker is, I think, Felix Holt. Her greatest book? At one time I would unhesitatingly say Middlemarch, and I would still recommend that to the general reader, but I now think her greatest work is Daniel Deronda. What an incredible book! The novel forms one of the greatest spiritual quest books in English literature.

I feel I approached her with an open mind and seriously disliked the two books I read. I'll probably still give Middlemarch a shot.

Middlemarch" is superb, and I expect that "Daniel Deronda" is in the same class. Other George Eliot novels I've tried (e.g. "Romola") were absorbing up to a point but eventually off-putting in their stern and IMO somewhat external, finger-wagging moralism. My favorite 19th Century English novelist is Trollope, though I came to him fairly late in life and almost certainly would have had no taste for him before that.

Well, she was a Victorian, for better and worse, and "high seriousness" was part of her cultural milieu, but I love the scope of her intellect and her generosity of spirit. I had my Trollope period and still enjoy dipping into his work occasionally, but mostly the Palliser novels. A lot of the rest of it was the product of a pen that wrote too much too fast, and who seemed to want to bank his intellect and his sympathy against the peril of going too deep. He's never really bad, but he's never really great. But I do enjoy him nervertheless.

Just finished:

11235.jpg

THE UNICORN - Iris Murdoch -1963

One of Iris' stranger novels, although it has many of the usual Murdochian elements. Marion (Maid Marion as one character calls her significantly ) responds to an advertisement to serve as a tutor or lady's companion to Hannah (a Murdoch grace name, same forwards or backwards). Hannah is either a prisoner in remote Gaze Castle, held there against her will by her absent husband's unscrupulous retainers, or La Belle Dame Sans Merci, a potent force who keeps the other occupants of Gaze in her thrall. The novel shifts between these two perspectives until the final drastic resolution.

I think this is less a novel than an intricate, often murky, but nevertheless deep allegory of the spiritual life, where the forces of Good and Evil struggle in the depths of the spiritual life. The occupants of Gaze Castle are caught outside the everyday life, in some mad or magnificent effort to come to terms with the Good or Sublime, or the Bad and Profane. Or something like that....

The novel is also highly sexualized (has there been a more sexual writer than Murdoch since D.H. Lawrence?) and at times I felt it was Murdoch's attempt to create a framework for her own sexual proclivities and perspectives. To put it another way, Hannah and Marian struggle to find a way to explore their sexual desires in a world that wants to keep them contained (look, or Gaze, but don't touch).

Read this last year. What has stuck in my mind is the western Irish landscape of cliffs and bog. After reading your comment, I don't think I'm on Murdoch's wavelength where character and plot are concerned.

Yes, a fantastic landscape, and Iris takes a lot of care in describing it. This is one of only two novels Iris set in Ireland. She was always ambivalent, or even in denial, about her Irish background. I think most, if not all, of her novels have a philosophical dimension, but usually these do not take over the story the way they do in The Unicorn.

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Craig Johnson: Spirit Of Steamboat

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Saw a TV programme based on this about ten years back - remember it had me punching the air going 'yes' again and again.

Been meaning to read it since then and finally got round to it - utterly compelling. Polished off the first half yesterday and will finish today.

A delicious skewering of the self-anointed British (and a bit beyond) intellectual elite of the early 20thC. Their silly vanities and their darker fantasies.

Leonard Bast's revenge.

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THE COMFORTERS - Muriel Spark - 1957.

Picked up an inexpensive copy of Spark's first novel while up in NYC for Vision Festival. A fairly long novel, tries to do a lot, including some meta-fictional novel-within-a-novel type stuff, doesn't quite all hang together, but is still amusing to read. It does contain the essentials of Spark's fiction: Catholicism, mental breakdown/instability, criminality, and the supernatural/supernormal.

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THE COMFORTERS - Muriel Spark - 1957.

Picked up an inexpensive copy of Spark's first novel while up in NYC for Vision Festival. A fairly long novel, tries to do a lot, including some meta-fictional novel-within-a-novel type stuff, doesn't quite all hang together, but is still amusing to read. It does contain the essentials of Spark's fiction: Catholicism, mental breakdown/instability, criminality, and the supernatural/supernormal.

I'll probably skip her first novel. Doing very well at the moment with Memento Mori.

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Cleared out a lot of shorter books. Am just going over some odds and ends before packing the last of the books up. Skimming through Auden's Selected Poems and Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems.

The next novel is MacLennan's Two Solitudes. Apparently, I read this 15+ years ago, but don't remember it. Maybe when the plot kicks into high gear, more will come back to me. After that is Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute, which I am pretty sure I have never read.

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Just started this yesterday. Gripping opening chapter - I had no idea about the murderous power struggles in Serbia from the early 19thC onwards.

Also like the way he differentiates between 'why?' and 'how?' As he says, historians tend to give the former greater attention yet this can often lead to a series of generalised 'factors'. Looking forward to seeing him demonstrate the 'how?' and what it reveals about the 'why?'

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Just finished this.

Three short stories including a very touching one about how it feels to lose someone you love. In his case, it was his wife of thirty years, who died in 2008.

It resonated with me because, I too, lost my wife in 2008, after forty years of marriage.

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Alaistar Reynolds - Blue Remembered Earth (2012, Gollancz)

Reading part two of the trilogy now:

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Finished about half of Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep and gave up. I just can't enjoy a plot that hinges entirely on some of the main characters being gullible idiots. I'd forgotten that Hugo and/or Nebula awards are not a guarantee...

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The first book I've ever read by Ms Rowling....I enjoyed it.

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... I'd forgotten that Hugo and/or Nebula awards are not a guarantee...

You can say that again. I think quite a few of the late 60s to mid 70s winners have that "you had to have been there" quality. I decided to take a look at Delany's The Einstein Intersection (1967 Nebula award winner) and I just can't get past the starting premise. The whole thing reads like an acid trip, and I am pretty sure it settles down a bit later, but still the novel is intentionally written like Jean Cocteau's Orpheus. I think the awards committee basically said Look, we can honor offbeat, semi-pretentious surrealistic writing like the rest of the literary world. But in my opinion The Einstein Intersection fails at being compelling mainstream science fiction, which is what I think should generally be given the awards.

Actually, I am glad that the field has space for PKD and Farmer and Delany and Harlan Ellison (who almost never writes "hard" SF) and certainly Zelazny, but I still wouldn't give the awards out to the trippiest stories and novels.

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Actually, I am glad that the field has space for PKD and Farmer and Delany and Harlan Ellison (who almost never writes "hard" SF) and certainly Zelazny, but I still wouldn't give the awards out to the trippiest stories and novels.

Agreed. Well, except for Ellison; I think he's pretty much a waste of space, a man who's schtick became tiresome long ago. There was a lot of silliness involved in the "new wave". I'd compare it to the Sex Pistols in rock, as an interesting, if embarrassing, necessary step to get to what was next, but overrated on it's own. (Except for Effinger's What Entropy Means to Me; for some reason I love that book!)

I remember a story by someone (I think it was Spinrad, another author I like) riffing on John Dos Passos (forgive if I'm spelling wrong) being praised as something amazing, and I just didn't get it. I might have been more impressed if Heinlein hadn't already done the same thing in Stranger in a Strange Land, but I guess he was too old guard to count. Silly, silly, silly...

Edited by Jazzmoose

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Actually, I am glad that the field has space for PKD and Farmer and Delany and Harlan Ellison (who almost never writes "hard" SF) and certainly Zelazny, but I still wouldn't give the awards out to the trippiest stories and novels.

Agreed. Well, except for Ellison; I think he's pretty much a waste of space, a man who's schtick became tiresome long ago. There was a lot of silliness involved in the "new wave". I'd compare it to the Sex Pistols in rock, as an interesting, if embarrassing, necessary step to get to what was next, but overrated on it's own. (Except for Effinger's What Entropy Means to Me; for some reason I love that book!)

I remember a story by someone (I think it was Spinrad, another author I like) riffing on John Dos Passos (forgive if I'm spelling wrong) being praised as something amazing, and I just didn't get it. I might have been more impressed if Heinlein hadn't already done the same thing in Stranger in a Strange Land, but I guess he was too old guard to count. Silly, silly, silly...

Based on your comments, I have picked up that Effinger and I'll probably read it on an upcoming plane ride.

Interestingly, I came to Effinger through his late 80s/early 90s interest in cyberpunk (Gibson, Sterling, Shiner, etc.). He wrote a really successful (IMO) version of this called When Gravity Fails, and then followed up with 3 sequels.

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Finished about half of Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep and gave up. I just can't enjoy a plot that hinges entirely on some of the main characters being gullible idiots. I'd forgotten that Hugo and/or Nebula awards are not a guarantee...

I've been having a lot of problems like this with sf in recent years. 100 or 150 pp. into the book, the writer's imagination is dazzling but somehow it all runs together, whatever is or was at stake got lost in the phantasmagoria. It seemed like the only reason for the story's momentum was that the author had a contract to write a 600-page book. This has happened to me with China Mieville, CJ Cherryh, Neil Gaimon, Connie Willis, a.o. writers, plus I preferred a William Gibson short stories book to the novel I read. Although Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is now a favorite.

For a few years late in the sf Golden Era I loved to read Astounding every month, until a barrage of Robert Silverberg cured me. Nearly all of my favorites date from the 1940s and '50s. Delaney, Zelazny, and the other stuff that true sf fans considered high literature bored me. Interestingly, in the late 1960s when I tried to order a book by my hero JG Ballard from an sf specialist store, the owner, a big SF FAN, angrily refused to sell such stuff.

Since the 2 novels I wrote are at heart science fiction, please don't tell my opinions to any of today's true sf fans.

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Part two of Javier Marias - Your Face Tomorrow / Dance and Dream

jm-your-face-tomorrow-2.jpg

It's been some time since I enjoyed a contemporary writer as much as I do with Javier Marias' trilogy. Very beautiful and intelligently written novel.

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Finished about half of Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep and gave up. I just can't enjoy a plot that hinges entirely on some of the main characters being gullible idiots. I'd forgotten that Hugo and/or Nebula awards are not a guarantee...

I've been having a lot of problems like this with sf in recent years. 100 or 150 pp. into the book, the writer's imagination is dazzling but somehow it all runs together, whatever is or was at stake got lost in the phantasmagoria. It seemed like the only reason for the story's momentum was that the author had a contract to write a 600-page book. This has happened to me with China Mieville, CJ Cherryh, Neil Gaimon, Connie Willis, a.o. writers, plus I preferred a William Gibson short stories book to the novel I read. Although Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is now a favorite.

For a few years late in the sf Golden Era I loved to read Astounding every month, until a barrage of Robert Silverberg cured me. Nearly all of my favorites date from the 1940s and '50s. Delaney, Zelazny, and the other stuff that true sf fans considered high literature bored me. Interestingly, in the late 1960s when I tried to order a book by my hero JG Ballard from an sf specialist store, the owner, a big SF FAN, angrily refused to sell such stuff.

Since the 2 novels I wrote are at heart science fiction, please don't tell my opinions to any of today's true sf fans.

That brings back memories of searching for The Atrocity Exhibition and getting a puzzled "why?" in return. Some of the authors you mention (Gaiman and Cherryh) I enjoy. Connie Willis I can't handle, due to my inability to suspend disbelief for time travel stories, but I can relate to your complaint. The only thing worse is trilogies. I try not to blame Tolkien, but it's difficult...

I can relate to the Silverberg comments as well. Great editor, but as a writer, I'll pass. I think the stuff I enjoy the most is from the fifties. William Tenn and Robert Sheckley, the Kornbluth/Pohl pair ups, stuff like that.

And I promise I'll pull Sundidos off the shelf soon! :g

Edited by Jazzmoose

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Any opinions on Iain M. Banks' Culture novels?

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I haven't tried Banks yet, so no.

Today I've been reading Dick's Time Out of Joint. Pretty good stuff; it's one I missed in my PKD obsession phase. I've been slowly rebuilding my collection of his books, which is a heck of a lot easier today than it ever was in the past. Don't know how far I'll go with it, though; do I really need to read The Man Who Japed again? It's funny how Dick has gone from being tragically underrated to overrated in the last decade or so. I mean, surely even the most ardent Dick fan can admit that some of his work is just not that good.

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Spark01+Comforters.jpg

THE COMFORTERS - Muriel Spark - 1957.

Picked up an inexpensive copy of Spark's first novel while up in NYC for Vision Festival. A fairly long novel, tries to do a lot, including some meta-fictional novel-within-a-novel type stuff, doesn't quite all hang together, but is still amusing to read. It does contain the essentials of Spark's fiction: Catholicism, mental breakdown/instability, criminality, and the supernatural/supernormal.

I'll probably skip her first novel. Doing very well at the moment with Memento Mori.

bookbox-memnto.jpg

Just finished this. Have to recognize it as a little masterpiece, though its density of plot and character were sometimes difficult to cope with. Here's a review with a lot of sense:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jun/05/memento-mori-muriel-spark-novel

Edited by BillF

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