Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

Waiting for the BarbariansSomething about this book was mesmerizing, yet I can’t declare it to be one of the best works I’ve encountered.  I just wanted to take my time with it and allow each word to be absorbed and it took time and concentration to get through.  In the end, I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t thrilled either.

A complacent magistrate living in a fictional South African colony has his world turned upside down when the Civil Guard pays a visit and are none too pleased with how he’s running things. Still not ready to open his eyes, a sadistic warrant officer finally gets his attention when he sets in motion a horrific campaign of terror.

The unnamed Magistrate is a middle-aged man whose nonchalance has allowed for a somewhat peaceful existence.  Blind to the suffering so near to him, he carries on with his comforts with little thought to those around him.  His sexual needs are met by a local prostitute and a recently kidnapped ‘barbarian’ that he truly believes he is helping.

The girl, again another unnamed character is a surviving ‘barbarian’ kidnapped and tortured in front of her father who is then killed.  She is taken in by the Magistrate and sleeps with him and then works in the kitchen by day.  She claims to be blind and says little more about her abuse, yet when the time comes to return to her roots, her decision is swift.

Warrant Officer Mandel is a stereotypical sadist who creates unthinkable tortures and seems to be completely unaffected by his acts.  He shows no emotion and seems to fit the mold for a man in such a position.

This would be a difficult meeting to arrange since rumors abound of Mr. Coetzee’s reclusiveness.  Since this portion of my review is always presented as an assumed meeting with each author, living or not, I’ll once again feign agreement by the author.  Perhaps I’d discover if there is truth to his methods or rigor and strict discipline with regards to his writing.  What I’d love to hear about would be his experience in Austin and the factors leading to his emigration to Australia.

My rating for Waiting for the Barbarians is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers

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The Reivers by William Faulkner

The ReiversSo sad that this last work of Faulkner’s was not the gem I longed for.  I even had doubts about the authenticity of The Reivers during my read.   Perhaps I was distracted while simultaneously perusing Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, a fabulous  gift from my sister.

A turn of the century road trip gone awry when an odd trio
‘reiv’ a car and head to Memphis, each with their own agenda.  What should have been comical was not and the characters were either dull or stereotyped.

Perhaps it would be best to discuss Mr. Faulkner’s earlier works while we enjoyed a chat.  Perhaps he’d share what inspired him since he didn’t seem to prescribe to any tried and true writer’s techniques.

My rating for The Reivers is a 6 out of 10.

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Next up, J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the BarbariansWaiting for the Barbarians

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The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

The TwinA review of The Twin I stumbled upon was intriguing enough that I jotted down the title and eventually added it to my 2nd list of 100 Books to read.

It was refreshing to find a contemporary writer who doesn’t pale among the revered early 20th century writers.  The next time I hear someone claim there are no good writers anymore, I’ll throw Bakker’s name their way.

A Dutch farmer living with his elderly father reflects on the life he was dealt after his twin brother dies unexpectedly at age 20.  Gruff and insensitive, the surviving brother has not grown at all in the 35 years since the family tragedy.

Helmer van Wonderen is the antithesis of an evolved man.  Extremely bitter about stepping into his brother’s farm boots and giving up university studies, he has trudged along and accepted his role, yet seems to have died along with his sibling.  His treatment of his ailing father was disturbing and meant to make the reader shift uncomfortably whilst perusing.  I hoped for Helmer’s salvation, however, it arrived a little bit too saccharine coated.

Neighbor to Helmer, Ada is well-intentioned, but primarily a lonely woman, mother to two young boys with a seemingly disinterested husband.  She attempts to draw Helmer out of his self-isolation and may be harboring an attraction to the man nearly two decades her senior.  When Ada and Helmer catch one another by surprise using binoculars to see into their respective homes, neither can later look one another in the eye.

The 18-year-old angst ridden son of Riet, former girlfriend to Helmer’s deceased brother, Henk is also his namesake.  His apathetic behavior troubles his mother who sends him to stay with Helmer as a farm hand.  Henk seems to be the only one honest about his feelings, quite typical for a young man of his age.  This surly, somewhat sombre teen is more grounded than the adults around him.

I’ve no doubt that any meeting with Mr. Bakker would be held in the out-of-doors.  His intensity might prove intimidating so perhaps we could weed or rake to quell the awkward silence that would hover over us.  His raw and honest prose is something perhaps he’d share the skill of with me.

My rating for The Twin is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, William Faulkner’s The ReiversThe Reivers

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Poor White by Sherwood Anderson

Poor WhiteIt saddens me to say that I was, once again, disappointed with an admired author’s work.  Poor White felt like it was trying much too hard to be a work of historical fiction, and in doing so, had this reader losing interest.  I have read many great books within this category, however, this was not one of them.

Anderson’s commentary on the burgeoning Industrial Revolution during the early 20th century reads at times like a scholarly work, rather than a piece of fiction, and has an academically dry tone.

Born in 1866, Hugh McVey lives with his widowed drunkard of a father who leaves his young son without food or shelter while he disappears on drinking sprees.  Hugh longs for human connection, but seems destined to live without it.  He is taken in by a family for a few years who provide some education and stability, but they relocate and inexplicably, do not ask him to join them.  With no expectation of success, the 6′ 4″ loner ventures forth and somehow manages to become a successful inventor of agricultural machines.  This was a character I wanted to cheer for, but just didn’t care about in the end.

The woman who takes Hugh into her home, Sara Shepard, is taciturn and shows little affection towards Hugh although she cares for him deeply.  She puts all her efforts into educating him and plans daily lessons for him that prove successful.  When she and her husband decide to move, they leave abruptly and for some obscure reason, no invitations is extended to Hugh.

Clara Butterworth, another unsympathetic character, was the suffragette figure.  Oppressed and reviled by her widowed father, she is sent off to college, not for an education, but for a prospective spouse and to take her away from her father’s home.  Sure wish I could have something positive to say with regards to this character, but words fail me.

Quotes:

All men lead their lives behind a wall of misunderstanding they themselves have built, and most men die in silence and unnoticed behind the walls.

No discussion around Poor White would enter my conversation with Mr.  Anderson and I would intentionally focus on Winesburg, Ohio.  We could sip Martinis sans the speared olive and perhaps he’d share his methodology or some other significant writing tips.

My rating for Poor White is a 6 out of 10.

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Next up, Gerbrand Bakker’s The TwinThe Twin

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The Return by Joseph Conrad

The ReturnHaving come to respect this famed author, I was insistent on reading more of his work and without any specific recommendation, discovered this early piece.

Purportedly hated by Conrad, I consider The Return to be a brave and honest account of a man’s well contained vulnerabilities.

Conrad captures the thoughts and actions of an isolated and somewhat oblivious man upon his return home and his actions upon reading a letter left behind for him.

The young married Alvan Hervey seems to have regard for no one but himself and is quite unaware of his lack of caring.  Like a spoiled child, he sees all things around him only through his own view and does not even think to try another perspective.

Alvan’s wife, unnamed in the story, is exasperated with her husbands’ lack of human connection and is saddened by his failure to comprehend how his behavior affects those around him.

Quotes:

They were afraid to hear again the sound of their voices; they did not know what they might say–perhaps something that could not be recalled; and words are more terrible than facts.  

This submissive assent given with such readiness did not soothe him did not elate him; it gave him, inexplicably, that sense of terror we experience when in the midst of conditions we had learned to think absolutely safe we discover all at once the presence of a near and unsuspected danger.  

Any time spent with Mr. Conrad would be enlightening.  Perhaps we’d sail, perhaps we’d stroll, perhaps we’d just simply sit in silence until the stillness drove us to conversation.  I’d love to share with him that his words had the profound effect he longed to convey.

My rating for The Return is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Sherwood Anderson’s Poor WhitePoor White

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The Happy Hypocrite by Sir Max Beerbohm

The Happy HypocriteAfter my introduction to Beerbohm via Zuleika Dobson, I promised to revisit this master storyteller and am pleased to say I have done so with my reading of The Happy Hypocrite.

While some second acts have been disappointing, this was certainly not one of them.  After this venture, I am ready for more and am saddened that Sir Max Beerbohm is not a more familiar name outside literati.

Also referred to as A Fairy Tale for Tired Men, this is a tale of Lord George Hell, a selfish man who deceives others shamelessly and while considered a man who has it all, realizes he has nothing.  Rather than a tale of redemption, however, Beerbohm uses his mastery to weave an ironic tale of raw humanity in all its ugly colors.

Lord George Hell, the book’s namesake, leads a privileged life and suffers no guilt as he cheats those around him.  His life, however, has become blasé and his search leads him to a very young actress who has her own naive expectations.

The object of Lord George’s desires, Jenny Mere, is looking for a man with the  face of a saint.  She believes she can only truly love such a man and no other.  Only 16, she is young, beautiful and naive.

Signora Gambogi is a fiery Italian mistress of Lord George and sees what lies ahead.  She is not at all please with George’s infatuation and attempts to reveal his true identity to the unsuspecting Jenny.

A meeting with Sir Beerbohm would be heavenly.  Perhaps he’d recite this tale as I’m sure his voice would add another level of perfection to this fairy tale.  If I had enough nerve, I’d ask him to put create some sketches for The Happy Hypocrite.

My rating for The Happy Hypocrite is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Joseph Conrad’s The ReturnThe Return

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The Iliad by Homer

The IliadAfter reading and thoroughly enjoying The Odyssey in college, I vowed to read its predecessor and finally came round to it.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy The Iliad with the same rapt delight as I did The Odyssey.  Perhaps Homer is best read, in parts, with a group who can then share their introspections.

Reportedly written in the 8th century BC, it is a Greek epic poem written about the battles of the Achaeans and the Trojans during the well-known Trojan War.  While the writing was surprisingly easy to digest, the multitude of characters was not and the battles, depicted with graphic gore seemed endless.

Achilles, a brutal and headstrong warrior is merciless and swift in his role in battle.  He abhors Agamemnon for taking one of the women he has kidnapped and claimed for his own which creates a festering rift between the two.

King Agamemnon is self-centered and quick to judgment, often to the detriment of his soldiers.  He seems unfazed by the carnage around him and seems only to have concern over his own needs.

Beloved friend to Achilles, Patroclus is extremely devoted to him, yet doesn’t share his zealousness for battle.  The ties that bind their relationship are known by all which leads to the demise of one.

Zeus, the king of the Gods seems disinterested in the war and only after his wife Hera’s urgings, takes action to intervene.  He tries to maintain neutrality and to set the stage for the other gods to do the same, but is convinced by Achilles’ mother to support the Trojans.

A meeting with Homer would surely be delightful.  A stroll through modern-day Greece would likely prove unnerving so we’d steer clear and focus on the mysteries of this famed poet’s life.  I’d love to ask him about his simple, yet lengthy poetic style.  Perhaps he could educate a new generation of up and coming bards.

My rating for The Iliad is a 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Sir Max Beerbohm’s The Happy HypocriteThe Happy Hypocrite

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