My Year in Books: 36-40

I’m eleven books behind. ELEVEN. I swear I’m going to have a TBR related aneurysm one of these days. From this Thursday at six pm I will be finished all of my exams and my holidays will finally begin! Four months of reading time. Goodness knows I need it. If my next post is written from an asylum then you’ll know why.

The Shakespeare plays are reviewed here.

I picked up three books by André Gide once without even knowing who he was. I just saw the little paperbacks sitting on the bookshop shelf and I immediately assured them that they were getting a new home. Jump to a year later and I’ve finally decided to read them. Gide is a name that has become slightly lost in the 21st century. He has been overtaken by his contemporaries; Apollinaire, Cocteau, Celine, and of course Proust. Gide however trumped all of these names by being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947, an award seen by many as the ultimate achievement for any writer. His most popular novel is The Immoralist (1902, trans. 1930) which tells the story of Michel, one of the most insufferable protagonists you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading.

In his preface to The Immoralist, Gide calls his novel ‘a fruit filled with bitter ashes’. The bitter ashes are the actions of our dear protagonist Michel. You see, Michel is self-centred, arrogant, nonchalant, and annoyingly approachable. This isn’t a personal criticism, he’s meant to be that way. Gide takes a very brave step by writing a purposefully loathsome protagonist, think of him as a grandfather to Salinger’s Holden or Bellow’s Henderson. On a trip around the Maghreb, Michel is diagnosed with tuberculosis and it is frankly the greatest thing that has ever happened to him. His illness triggers an epiphany which sees his reject conformity. In short, he becomes an awful person. His poor wife, Marceline, nurses him back to good health yet she is always a peripheral character in his life. Michel is far more interested in the young Arab boys he sees on his travels. The entire narrative is presented as a sort of written confession by Michel. The novel is sandwiched by letters written by Michel’s friends. ‘In what way can Michel serve society?’, one letter states, ‘I admit I cannot guess’.

What I really enjoy about this novel is its unabashed iconoclasm. One must remember that this was published in 1902. Modern-day literature is saturated with unlikable protagonists who are just vessels for authors to write autobiographically but without the consequences. Characters like Michel were usually expected to meet their comeuppance but Michel refuses to fit that trope. However, this novel isn’t a celebration of Michel either. Gide’s opinion of Michel is quite scattered. He calls the novel The Immoralist but yet in his preface he states that the novel is not an indictment of Michel’s actions. I like Michel. I think Gide wanted us to like Michel. No matter how ‘immoral ‘ he is. Ugh I guess I’m just going to have to mull this one over until I accept my Nobel Prize.

And now for something completely different. P.G. Wodehouse was one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century. The jacket of my copy of Joy in the Morning (1946) states that he wrote ‘more than ninety novels and some three hundred short stories’. Joy in the Morning features Wodehouse’s most popular creations, Jeeves and Wooster. I’m always apprehensive about comic novels. Many of them have dated horribly and some lampoon tropes that haven’t existed for decades. Jeeves and Wooster seems to have a timeless quality to them however. This is one of the reasons why Wodehouse is as popular today as he was during his heyday. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the word-play, the farce, and the utter ridiculousness of it all, I did have some reservations about Joy in the Morning.

Here I present my opinion on Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is an intense character to read. I can only stay with him for a couple pages at a time before I wander off. For me, the Holmes novels don’t work. There’s too many pages and not enough content to keep me entertained. This is why I think the Holmes short stories are far superior, there’s no room for unnecessities or exposition. Jeeves and Wooster fell into this as well. Whilst the novel is a comic romp, it also hits the three-hundred page mark. Some people may never want Wodehouse novels to end but for me it ran out of stream in the middle. I felt that things were happening purely to aid a joke and not the plot. This may have only been a problem with Joy in the Morning however. All the other Wodehouses (Wodehomes?) may be perfectly balanced comic masterpieces. I don’t know. But I will try more because I’ve got a veritable lake of novels to choose from. And of course there isn’t just Jeeves and Wooster. There’s Psmith, there’s the Blandings novels, there’s Ukridge and so, so many more.

I only happened upon The Collector by John Fowles when I browsing my library’s ebook collection out of utter boredom. I recognised the title and knew of the author so I thought why not!? Yeah I’ve really got to stop doing that because, oh boy, this novel is more tedious than David Foster Wallace’s entire bibliography. The Collector follows the narrative of a man, Frederick, who decided to kidnap (or collect) a young woman, Miranda. The novel is Frederick’s first-person perspective of the planning, the event, and the aftermath. Fowles creates a really grotesque character in Frederick and the novel seems totally neutral to his exploits. That is until Fowles decides to be the postmodernist slut that he was. Half-way through The Collector, everything stops and starts again but from Miranda’s point-of-view.

I know that sounds really innovative and in any other novel I would be just dying over this cunning technique but nothing happens in this book. In fact, to echo a famed review of Waiting for Godot, nothing happens twice. The realisation that I now had to go back to the beginning of the kidnapping and hear everything all over again was just too much. I just did not care. I usually love novels that mess with conventions but The Collector came across as trite and, ultimately, boring. Such a pity.



  1. Really detailed and interesting reviews. So glad that you have a blog now and hope that you will continue to contribute to it regularly!


  2. I echo the sentiment that your reviews are astute and interesting. While I am not sure if you’ve read any other Wodehouse books since writing your review of JOY IN THE MORNING, I would stress that the books written between 1930 and 1939 are much more sustained than those which came after. Far and away, the best Jeeves novel, in my opinion of course, is THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS. Its predecessor, RIGHT-HO, JEEVES (sometimes called here BRINKLEY MANOR) is hilarious and has the great bit of dialogue wherein Madeleine Basset, a simp, tells Bertie “the stars are God’s daisy-chain.” Bertie says, “Nonsense. They’re nothing of the kind.”
    Also in the thirties was UNCLE FRED IN THE SPRINGTIME, which is almost as good as CODE OF THE WOOSTERS. I’ve forgotten if it is a Blandings novel. I am not as well-versed in Wodehouse as I might be, but I have a trump card:
    From Long Island, New York, as I am, I lived about thirty miles from Wodehouse. When he was made a knight at the age of 93, I wrote him a fan letter, explaining to him that I’d found his address when casually looking up my own last name (Wemyss) in the phone book. While in the W’s, I thought I’d look up my favorite writer. (I was fourteen.) I found a listing for Wodehouse, P.G. About two weeks later, I got a letter without a return address. I opened it and found a hand-typed message: “Dear Fred: Much appreciated, as Jeeves would say. Enclosed, find autographed picture of self.” Indeed, a photo was enclosed, of the master humorist enjoying a pipe, and the picture was signed. About a week after THAT, the radio announced that Sir P.G. Wodehouse had died of a heart attack. I have the letter and the picture still, and the envelope.
    In any case, he’s at his height during the Great Depression. After the war, with the troubles he encountered as a prisoner of the Germans and the ensuing perception that he had betrayed the Allies by making radio broadcasts during his captivity saying he was all right, an uncertain tone seeps into his work. Orwell’s essay, “In Defense Of P.G. Wodehouse” is essential to an understanding of Wodehouse’s wartime experience. Wodehouse satirizes Oswald Mosley in THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS. Anyway, to make a long comment short, your reviews are invariably thoughtful and I look forward to reading more of them.
    Fred Wemyss,
    Huntington, New York


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