Friday, 18 May 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 2

Another summary of my attempts to read the books featured in the Lost Book Library.

Moral Tales by Giocamo Leopardi

Status: Completed

This is one I actually read before I started the library, and I have already sung the praises of it elsewhere.  Just to say it's a remarkably imaginative work, in which multiple ways are found to make possibly the most depressing philosophical point ever.

Hers by A. Alvarez

Status: Abandoned p. 142

Although a noted poet and critic, on the evidence of this book Alvarez is a truly dreadful author.  The main character, a German child of WWII transplanted to Cambridge as a grown woman, is as much a stranger to Alvarez as she is to the reader, and the psychology is basic, somewhere along the lines of 'I have unresolved issues from my past.  I'll have an affair!'  The sex, meanwhile, is of the troubling seventies variety where it all starts off quite rapey, but by the end of it everyone's having a whale of a time.  There is also possibly the most unconvincing reaction to tragic news in the whole history of literature.
  I did, however, make it nearly three-quarters of the way through because of a truly deranged subplot in which the protagonist's husband, a professor of literature, is menaced by a motorcycle gang straight out of British cult horror Psychomania, and declares war on the entire younger generation.  This bit works rather well, in a pulpy kind of way.  Alvarez, however, fails to realise his talents lie as a schlockmeister and continues trying to be a serious author, with woeful results. When it became obvious the motorbike gang weren't going to come back, I made my excuses and left.

Too Long a Sacrifice by Mildred Downey Broxon

Status: Completed

While Alvarez's work reeked of the will-this-do attitude an author can only achieve when they are so well connected they stand a good chance of knowing their reviewers on a personal level beforehand, it is obvious that Broxton put heart and soul into every word of her tale of a husband and wife from Ancient Ireland transported into the Twentieth Century.   Plonking them down in the middle of the Troubles and getting them mixed up in sectarian violence may not have been the most tasteful move, but it kind of works.  The story occasionally feels like it's being narrated by Yoda ('Comely they both were, and young'), and the lack of a solid villain except for something called the Hate Beast who turns up occasionally and 'gibbers' means that at times the narrative meanders when it needs to be tightening, but there's a startlingly imaginative idea every few pages and it's all quite breezy and fun.  My favourite moment is when the pagan healer from 1500 years ago has the NHS explained to her.

Return to Elysium by Joan Grant

Status: Abandoned, p. 26

This tale of a proto-feminist Ancient Greek cult leader seemed competently written, but I'm not that big on historical fiction at the best of times, and I still haven't even read I, Claudius.  It simply wasn't glaringly mad enough for a book allegedly inspired by the memory of a past life, and I just couldn't be bothered with it.

Far Memory by Joan Grant

Status: Completed

Grant's autobiography, on the other hand, is truly a wonder.  It begins with an anecdote of her mother throwing tissues to French peasant children from a motorcar in 1906, wrapped around stones so that they don't blow away, and pretty much stays at that level of craziness for the rest of the book.  Born to wealthy parents in the early years of the 20th Century, Grant's dubious paranormal abilities (which seem uncannily close to 'making stuff up') are actually one of the least interesting things about her life, taking in as it does meetings with HG Wells and Aleister Crowley, Brazilian sex/dinner parties, Egyptian dust storms and a deranged snake expert.  Sometimes a terrible snob, looking down on people who eat 'buns out of bags', Grant is also something of a character, repeatedly attempting to purchase a cheetah and parade around London with it in an open-topped car, and being discovered naked somewhere she shouldn't be with alarming regularity.  This is a masterpiece of improbable autobiography, right up there with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind by Chuck Barris.  Highly recommended.

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