Jan. 24th, 2017

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
With all my idle time, I should be able to get much more reading done than I have. I know I was reading them concurrently, but somehow I feel it shouldn't have taken me five weeks to finish a brief Laxness novel and a month for Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union. Both were enjoyable enough, and I think some particularly fun bits might stick with me for a while, but neither bowled me over.

Last thing before I fell asleep last night, I tried reading Sontag's preface to Under the glacier (Kristnihald undir Jökli) to see if I'd missed something. She describes an unclassifiable radical work of fiction which doesn't bear much resemblance to the droll tale stuffed with comic semi-philosophical dialogue I just read, a solid entry in the genre of Naïve Youth Lost Among Crazy Yokels. She also goes too far in trying to normalise Laxness' sexism (three female characters, two in minor roles and one blatantly embodying das ewige Weibliche) with some claptrap about how all SF novels have male protagonists (written thirty years after Butler started publishing FFS). This is why I usual skip or skim forewords. (Also the fact that she spoilers the whole damn novel for good measure.)

The Chabon was a solid read, but I thought on balance it got too many kudos for "litfic writer does genre book!!!". I like his setting a lot and I was glad that it was intrinsic to the whodunnit and not just a colourful backdrop for an otherwise unremarkable noir pastiche. He did some clever things with language, too, using just enough Yinglish (including literal translations of Yiddish idiom) to give the feel that these conversations weren't originally in English without getting distracting. But his detective never overcomes his origins as a mildly Hebraified old school gumshoe (paging Rabbi Small!), and I don't have tonnes of patience for that stock character.

Oh, and the other reason I didn't read more in that time was that I started Anna Karenina on the second day of the new year. Diego had a chat with the Old Man on his last day of life, but I didn't learn the content until Hogmanay. They talked about favourite novels, and that one came as a surprise. I happened to have a copy of the new(ish) Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I'd picked up in the past year or two and shelved for winter reading, so I pulled it out the next day but didn't really make any progress until the following weekend.

My first discovery was that there was much more humour than I'd anticipated. I thought I was cracking a romance, but Tolstoy seems more interested in satirising the aimless elites of his age. I also got two excellent tips from my coworker the Russian lit PhD: one is that Anna is a Bovary. That is, the author intends for our sympathy for her plight to be mitigated by seeing how her own foolishness brought it about. The second is that her story is only about 40% of the novel with another 40% being devoted to Levin and Kitty and the remainder concerned with Dolly and others. Armed with that, I'm able to take the abrupt changes of storyline in stride, only occasionally paging ahead to defang a cliffhanger.


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