4.09.2007

What I'm reading

As I am in the midst of reading several interesting books (and far away from finishing them), thought I'd share what is in the NBR (now-being-read) pile.

Portrait of a Lady. I'm about a third of the way through. The story and characterizations are fully engrossing. Based on this and Turn of the Screw, I note that one device James employs is the repetition of words or phrases. I don't know if that is conscious or not, but I suspect on some level it is. For example, in this book, I am underlining the words "lady" or "young lady," and they appear every other chapter at least. In Turn of the Screw, the catch-phrase was "innocent." I believe James is examining (or, at least, presenting) the various meanings such words or phrases can hold, and then letting the layers build. Another observation: James is not the most mellifluous of prose writers, is he? His sentences often are murky, convoluted and awkward. Despite this, his characters deepen and his plots thicken.

Ghost Hunters. Oh, yes, something light! And still in the Victorian age -- and related to the James family! This is about the movement, led by Henry James's brother William, to study psychic phenomena at a time when religion and science were polarized into two camps. These folk were trying to bridge the gap and at least open the dialogue between what is known and what is taken on faith.

Making of Victorian Values. Not too deep yet into this book, but it all relates quite nicely with Portrait and Ghost Hunters. Something happened during the Victorian Age that I believe is parallel to a sea-change that is happening now: A questioning in how we look at morality and ethics, and how religion and science fit into that.

Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant. A slim book, and a bit difficult to find. I'm about two-thirds of the way through. It is an odd little book, because Oliphant took her whole life to write it. She wrote a bit, then put the book away for many years, then picked it up again, put it away for years, etc. But it's very touching. In the first part of the book, she deals with absolutely devastating personal events (namely, the death of her only daughter and namesake and of her son. All except one of her six children, I believe, predeceased her.) honestly and nakedly; reading the account is as painful as looking at a raw wound. In the last third of the book, she writes in an objectified, distant way -- "then this happened," "then that happened." Both styles are legitimate and effective; it's just sort of unusual to have them jammed together in the same book. (The explanation is that the book was published posthumously; the author obviously didn't shape the narrative.)

I did manage to finish one novel: And Then We Came to an End. This is a smart and funny examination of the corporate culture in America. I really enjoyed how the author used the corporate "we" as a narrator for most of the book. Highly recommended!

5 comments:

Yogamum said...

I'm listening to "The Master" by Colm Toibin on audiobook -- fictionalized biography or biographized fiction (?) about the life of Henry James. It makes me want to go back and read "Portrait of a Lady" and all of his other novels. You might check it out if you're not too bored with James & the Victorian era.

I'll have to put "Ghost Hunters" on my TBR list. It sounds fascinating.

bhadd said...

I remember a sort of invalid man who struck me as critical to that part of Portrait of a Lady. That is a sad book mostly I believe.

The Hood Company

Tai said...

James' later novels are even more convoluted. As I read his books a curious thing happened to me -- maybe you will also experience this. My ear became attuned to that dense, circuitous prose and I grew to love it. Later, when I tried to read a contemporary novel it sounded completely flat. I had to put it down, and it took a while before I could return to the more straightforward, less hypnotic rhythms of our own time. Anyway, Wings of the Dove remains one of my favorites. Enjoy!

LK said...

Yogamum, The Master sounds very interesting. Will check it out.

Bhadd, I can see already how Isabel is being set up for a fall...

Tai, ooh, that will keep me moving. I can already feel his hooks sinking in. There is something really captivating albeit maddening about James's prose. Definitely want to check out Wings, and then Washington Square and then MAYBE I can return to Golden Bowl, which I gave up on.

Nonanon said...

I love, love, love reading more than one book at once. And your list is particularly interesting. Thanks for all the great suggestions!