Archive for February, 2012

Ali Smith, There But For The (2011)

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Just finished reading Ali Smith’s 2011 novel, There But For The.  I enjoyed it.  By the time I got to the last fifteen pages, I found it hard to put down.

This is truly a non-conventional narrative.   It is organized into a prefatory vignette and four major sections named There, But, For, and The.   There is a cast of characters, all guests at a dinner party.  The central character of each section is one of those guests, but the reader doesn’t know how the pieces are going to fit together.

Each section illuminates a particular character and all of them illuminate the “fifth business” character–the catalyst and anchor point of the story–a man who, midway through the party excuses himself (presumably to answer the call of nature), goes upstairs, and locks himself into the spare bedroom.

I was going to say that the book is satirical, but really it is more a comedy of manners–at least to the extent that the characters are treated kindly and their foibles presented with a smile rather than a frown or a smirk.  But the explorations of characters and relationships are serious, thoughtful, and insightful.

At the end of the book, as I was mentally fitting all the pieces into place, I looked back and felt satisfied.  My wife, on the other hand, found the structure annoying and didn’t finish the book.  Worth a look, anyway.

Oh, dear: P. D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Jane Austen has nothing to worry about from P. D. James.  I just finished Death Comes to Pemberley.  Ho-hum.

There’s such a buzz surrounding the book that I was afraid I had not only missed the boat, but missed the bus to the train to the boat along the way. Except there doesn’t seem to have been much of a boat to begin with.

Too much distilled summary of background from Pride and Prejudice.   I grant that I had forgotten a lot of P&P, so I needed the background to understand what was going on, but my eyes started crossing over in my head when I tried to work my way through such a concentrated torrent of background information.

Not really much of a plot.  When the killer was revealed at first I didn’t believe it.  I’m still not convinced it was possible.  Then there was a great deal of recapitulation and explication of things that I’m sure were perfectly clear from P&P and didn’t need to be subjected to microscopic and uninteresting further examination.

I had hoped to find some of Austen’s pointed humor and pithy character observation, but alas the borrowing from P&P stopped with the appropriation of the characters and setting, rather as if a doll house, its contents, and its inhabitants had been borrowed for an afternoon of lackluster play by a determined, but plodding child.

I’m sorry to say: don’t bother.