Saturday, July 04, 2015

Some Brief Book Notes

I finished The Brothers Karamazov recently. It was very different from what I had always imagined it was. It is a fine book and all of that, especially in terms of characterization, but I was surprised by how little in the way of incident and episode the book consisted of. It did not exceed or really fulfill my expectations of it, which were extremely high, on a first full reading. Yet when I read the first 300 pages as a college student I remember feeling at every instant certain that it was the truly great book it is celebrated as being, and I did not really feel that going through this time--when I reached the 300 page mark, which is right around where the Grand Inquisitor episode starts, I noted that my sense of the book was completely different from the way I had remembered it and I wondered what had happened to me. Even the Grand Inquisitor section, so celebrated, did not resonate deeply with me. Maybe I am too cut off from the habits of life and thought needed to take in these books now, or I have grown to distrust them. I am going to be reading this again in a couple of years for my other list, and I plan on that occasion to immerse myself in it a little more deeply than I did this time, when I was more interested in seeing what effect it had on me and what I would get from it as myself, without making any special concessions or adaptations to understand it. But that proved to be not wholly satisfactory.

After finishing Karamazov I moved on to the lesser known Thomas Hardy novel A Laodicean (from 1881, almost exactly contemporary with Karamazov). I am something of a fan of Thomas Hardy at times. I like the atmosphere of the Thomas Hardy world, the slowness and almost eternal quality of it. A Laodicean is, ironically perhaps, in large part about the changes in the way life was lived during the 19th society, but the pace and scale of the change will strike the 21st century reader as modest, and, as recorded in the book, quaint and even kind of romantic. The story takes place in a castle that has been purchased from its owners since time immemorial by a railroad magnate, who has died, the possession passing to his intelligent and attractive twenty-something daughter. A telegraph line has been run into a cozy office set up in one of the castle's turrets, that comes crackling to life once or twice a day, and the young owner, since she has to live there at least part of the year, is contemplating a renovation of the decrepit castle to bring it up somewhat to a 19th century standard. The main occupants of this castle most days are the young owner, her friend and companion, who is a member of the dispossessed aristocratic family who formerly owned the castle, and the young (male) architect who has been employed to carry out the renovations, a process expected to take the better part of 2-3 years. All of these people are intelligent and attractive, and the minor characters--clergymen and other member of the local society--are reasonably bright and presentable as well. There are as yet none of the wretched, obviously doomed sort of person who occupies the more well-known Hardy books. I assume something excruciatingly awful is going to happen to someone eventually but it has not become apparent what this is going to be yet.   

I am tempted to try to wrestle more with the big contemporary political issues, especially all of those that in my heart of hearts and brain of brain I am on the wrong side of (which is most of them), but hopefully a time will come where I will hit on the right ideas to make my position intelligible to someone, for it must be that at some level. (See, I am falling asleep now, and I don't want to wait a month to post this while I sort through the origins and ongoing basis for my political beliefs and reactions...)    

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