Politics and Society

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Port Mungo, by Patrick McGrath: An Essay on Morality in Fiction, in Two Parts


      Wow! Patrick McGrath’s Port Mungo (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004) is a deeply disturbing contemporary portrait of narcissism and moral dissolution in the figures of Jack Rathbone, a young, ambitious English painter and Vera Savage, his free-spirited (and older) lover and fellow artist, who flee the dull restrictions of London society for New York, then Havana, and, eventually, Port Mungo, Honduras; presumably, to ‘make art’, to master their craft and to conquer the art world (ala Paul Gauguin) in the generation after world war II. It is an exciting – even riveting – account of the artists’ exotic life and Jack’s development as a man and a father, as told by Jack’s very eccentric and adoring sister, Gin.
   Just as the Honduran setting is exotic and alluring, so also is the narration. The account of Jack Rathbone’s dedicated quest for artistic maturity is charmingly and deceptively naïve. Full of the kinds of lush and tumultuous detail that we expect from the lives and struggles of young artists and lovers, the tale lulls one into a languid acquiescence as to the possibility of romantic adventure as naturally and seductively as a tropical lagoon. But it is also deceptive. It lulls us; it lures us. Why? Is it because the author is also enchanted?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Embers, by Sandor Marai: A Review

    Sandor Marai’s novel, Embers, written and published in Hungary in 1942 (as A gyertyek csonkig egnek: literally, “The Candles Burn Down to the Stump”), and translated from its German edition (Die Glut) by Carol Brown Janeway in 2001, is a recent re-discovery of an Hungarian masterpiece which languished in obscurity during the Soviet era. Its resurrection is due largely to efforts by Roberto Callasso, an Italian writer and publisher whose dedication to Europe’s cultural legacy is now even more than admirable. (Alfred A Knopf, Publishers, of New York, is working hard to have all 46 novels by Sandor published in English—such is the output of this Hungarian master!)
    This novel of friendship, betrayal and revenge,

Death in Summer, by William Trevor: A Review

    William Trevor is a man after my own heart. He seems to proceed on the uncommon assumption that there really is a middle path; that the whole story is never only ‘so much of one and none of the other,’ but must at least acknowledge some balance. This quality marks him as a writer of a certain type: I would call him mature. Beyond all consideration of talent, technique or style, of which much that is good can be said, he is a writer with something important to say. And he says it with such directness and authority, as is both reassuring and heart breaking. One cannot read William Trevor without thinking: poise. Thus, we have his novel, Death in Summer (1998), which is tragic, indeed, but not wholly so; which is brilliantly executed, in the most mundane way; and which actually traffics in stereotypes-- to a certain degree.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ishiguro's Nocturnes: Redux

     A recent on-line discussion of Ishiguro’s Nocturnes caused me to revisit this topic and to develop, from a slightly different angle I think, a fresh approach to presenting my critique. It is different and detailed enough to provide perhaps a clearer statement of my position.
    Oddly, though the work is entirely mine, I almost feel guilty for moving it here from its origin. This is especially odd since this is exactly what I did in a number of early reviews-before I committed to the blog. I think it has to do with the fact that the ideas were worked out in response to two or three particular interlocutors. It presents to me the strange feeling of publishing my own mail. Anyway, I feel more sincere in including the first paragraph here as well. All other comments and opinions being, obviously, for general consumption.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

“‘Music and Moonlight’, Blah, Blah, Blah!”

   Recently, I vowed to look into the legacy of William Trevor to find for myself the reason behind his quasi-invisibility in modern anthologies. At the time, I intended to compare him and his work to others, including Kazuo Ishiguro (a winner of the Booker Prize, in 1989, for The Remains of the Day, and various other awards and accolades), with a focus on their short stories—since that is what Trevor is best known for. Well, as promised, I have read Trevor’s stories  (in After Rain) and I have read Ishiguro’s stories (in Nocturnes) and I have this to report: the comparison isn’t even close; indeed, it is not even fair! Ishiguro’s Nocturnes makes such a poor showing as an entry in the Art-of-storytelling category that it can’t be compared, any more than high school football can be compared to an NFL play-offs game. It was an unfortunate choice on my part! For they are playing different games altogether, dictated entirely by their strengths and relative maturity (This is Ishiguro's first volume of short stories!)—to say nothing of the invidious influence of money.