OK, I got the review in to those taskmasters at OLM and now I can risk doing a little fresh blogging–though at this point I’m just going to play catch-up. I feel as if I’m in another of those reading slumps, which inevitably lead to blogging slumps unless I’m very disciplined: it’s not much fun to write up books you don’t like, or think are OK, and it’s even harder to face giving the full treatment to a book that has been very widely acclaimed that you are luke-warm about. The latter, in this particular case, is Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, and though I concede that the prose is beautiful and the consciousness of the narrator beautifully rendered, there seemed to be a mushiness at its intellectual centre that I couldn’t blame on John Ames. I had a sneaking suspicion, as I read through its limpid sentences and its celebratory passages about life, interspersed with evasive passages about mysteries and the dissatisfactions of demands for proof, that it was highly acclaimed precisely because of those feel-good evasions so elegantly packaged. It’s all very affirmative and small-town nice. I know I’m not doing the novel justice: this isn’t all it has to offer. Also, I know I am influenced by interviews I’ve read and seen with Robinson, which make it impossible for me to hear any delicate irony separating her nice old man’s perspective from her own. Despite some of the blurbs insisting it is not just a book for believers, I think it is, though for the currently trendy New-Agey ones whose religion is not defined by doctrine or scripture but by personal experiences and vague spiritual ideas about God. I did relish many individual lines (for instance, “Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it”).
I finished Sue Grafton’s ‘U’ is for Undertow, which was OK except for the whole TMI thing I wrote about before. I’ve been trying to read The Girl who Played with Fire but I’m completely stalled in it. Do you think all the millions of people who are buying these are actually reading them all the way through? Maybe they skip along to find out what happened and don’t trouble themselves too much about how plodding the prose and plotting are. But I think my copy will go sit on the shelf now. I’d rather read the new Elizabeth George mystery, which I just got from the library–not because I really want to know about the case but because I want to catch up with Inspector Lynley and the gang. I did enjoy the first story in The Penguin Book of Crime Stories Volume II, ed. Peter Robinson, which is Reginald Hill’s “The Dog Game.”
As I only have This Body of Death from the library for another week, I’ll finish that up next. Then I think I’ll see how far I can get in Scott’s The Antiquary, which I’ve pledged to read as part of the Scottish Literature Challenge sponsored by Wuthering Expectations. And that reminds me: something else I’ve been reading recently, with pleasure and interest, are the posts at WE about my anthology The Victorian Art of Fiction. As I’d hoped and expected (unwutheringly), fresh eyes see things differently, and the posts and comments have been excellent so far.