Sunday, May 16, 2010

lampedusa and lucy maude

I have so much backlog I can totally NOT read anything new until I clear this up. * hides What Is The What under the table *

#44 The Leopard, Giovanni Tomasi di Lampedusa, trans Archibald Colquhoun

A small, spellbinding book that recreates the best things about the style of the pre-modernists, sweeping and subtly ravishing, but built on the painful ironies that distinguish the bent of mind of the great European modernists. Everything about it is exquisite: exquisitely drawn out of real history, exquisitely thought out, exquisitely written -- and of course exquisitely ironic. In a great piece of luck, this Vintage edition I read also reconstructs the story behind the writing of Il Gattopardo in some detail, through the notes and meta published by Lampedusa's nephew and literary executor, Gioiacchino Lanza. It is the story of Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, caught up in the tide of socio-political change after Garibaldi's landing in Sicily, which is also the story of Lampedusa's own great-grandfather, Giulio Fabrizio. But it does not operate solely within the parameters of the fictionalised memoir, which is a thoroughly postmodern categorisation at any rate. Nor is it a historical novel in the trade sense. In spite of an epic scope - and it is astonishing how Lampedusa can achieve the grand vista through a few careful strokes - it clearly meant to articulate the narrowing of a life in a world made new, larger and more aware.

It is a novel about constraints, and about the fetters of the mind that history imposes on its subjects. Even as the prince attempts to cling to a way of life that is swiftly coming to an end, he is keenly aware that he does so out of expediency, and perhaps out of regret for the opportunities of a new world in which he can only always be out of place. While the novel can build this awareness in sweeps of love - for Sicily, its land and even some of its people, its sentimentality surfaces more often in a melancholy bitterness - perhaps a basic ingredient of most ironic novels in some degree. "We were the Leopards, the Lions; those who'll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us Leopards, jackals, and sheep, we'll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth."

It may be too easy to dismiss this novel, for all its astonishing literary qualities, as just that - a sentimental, hidebound book that reaps all the benefits of having been written in the twentieth century, but relinquishes its attendant burdens. But I'm not so sure. I would reach back further, beyond the novel of Woolf and the novel of Eliot, to the novel of Austen, to explain its concerns and its effects. It is the work of someone deeply interested in in civilisation and deeply aware of its hypocrisies. If somewhat less determinedly sunny in its ending than an Austen novel, it answers to the same sense of righteousness; indeed, of an ironic righteousness. And then, there's the temptation of the studied detachment of its narrative voice, which makes one mark it out for a reflection on the life of Lampedusa himself -- a diminished nobleman, and a 'literary dilettante,' as the introduction calls him, who only ever completed one novel in his life and did not live to see it published. Perhaps a Visconti film in itself.

#45-52 The Anne books, LM Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Anne's House of Dreams
Rainbow Valley
Rilla of Ingleside
Anne of Windy Willows
Anne of Ingleside


I have loved these books with all the passion of my honest, simple, once-pious and possibly fey heart, but I really regret fishing them out of the boxes this time. Montgomery is a wonderful comic writer, and it's still great to open a book and find yourself able to laugh at the tribulations of someone falling through the roof of the duckhouse while they're trying to snoop around looking for a willow-ware platter. And Montgomery's eternal and constant love for Prince Edward Island in all its glories wears well. I'm sorry to say that Anne herself does not. Having re-read the Emily trilogy about a year ago I am able to report that those books escape that particular trap, although they may well fall into others. The worst thing about the Anne series is that it loses its integrity as it steams on, rolling on to predictable ends to little stories and then beyond. It flickers back into life in Rilla, briefly, but as a book about the Great War, this particular one becomes deeply saddening for other, unintended reasons.

Wearying. The jokes are what keep it going.

Coming soon on Book Munch:
Human Voices
Heir to the Glimmering World
Temples of Delight
Fire Sale
Inverting the Pyramid
A Very Stange Man

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