Vladimir, you’re needed!

July 2, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Vladimir Nabokov died 2 July 1977.  Forty years later, his crisp, lush, exquisite prose, his deep insight and weirdness, as well as his celebrated courage in tackling the extremely tacky in a highly sophisticated way, is needed more than ever, in the face of what some like to call ‘contemporary literature’.  There’s no need to buy brick walls of modern novels – go into a decent second hand store (if you can find one) or Kindle up a copy of, say, Despair, Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin, Transparent Things, etc., or his great memoir, Speak, Memory. Our appreciation of Nabokov was written…

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June 16, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, LIFE, WRITING & LITERATURE |

June 16 (1904) June 16 is the day we commemorate Ulysses, the massive (“unreadable modernist”)* novel by James Joyce (2/2/1882 to 13/1/1941) which turns on events on that day in Dublin. It is structurally based on The Odyssey, a work written a few thousand years ago (Leopold ‘Poldy’ Bloom is Odysseus, or Ulysses in Roman parlance; Marion Bloom is Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus), so that episodes, action (if you can call it action – not a whole lot happens) and characters follow, roughly, Homer’s book.  Psychologically, Joyce adds the modernising shade of Hamlet. For The Varnished Culture, the novel is too big…

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House of Names by Colm Toibin

"I don't know why everyone is SHOUTING..." (Orestes pursued by the Furies - William Adolphe Bouguereau,1862)

Irish novelist Colm Tóibín’s 2016 re-imagining of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father, Agamemnon,  his return from Troy and the bloody aftermath, starts well. The longest, first part is narrated by Agamemnon’s enraged wife, Clytemnestra, and her ghost narrates the shortest, part five. Clytemnestra’s voice is the best, capturing something of the remote, wild affect of the ancient Greek verse we know:- “We are all hungry now.  Food merely whets our appetite, it sharpens our teeth; meat makes us ravenous for more meat, as death is ravenous for more death. Murder makes us more ravenous, fills the soul with satisfaction that is fierce and then luscious enough to create a…

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Balzac & the Human Comedy

May 20, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Balzac by Rodin

Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 to 18 August 1850) Though he could at times play the gadabout, Balzac actually was akin to a Stakhanovite, regularly working all night and sometimes all day, fuelled by repeat pots of industrial-strength coffee. That led to work which could be rough and ready, and melodramatic in the extreme, but his colourful realism, vitality and fine feel for humanity informed that monumental, chaotic matrix of romantic novels and fragments (over 100) that make-up his collection, La Comédie Humaine. Lytton Strachey wrote: “Balzac’s style is bad; in spite of the electric vigour that runs through his writing, it is…

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The Brothers Karamazov

By Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1880) “We can safely say that Dostoevsky never got free from the feelings of guilt arising from his intention of murdering his father.”* In this sprawling Dickensian fable with a true Russian heart (Priestley called Dostoevsky “Dickens without comic genius but with the lid off“^) Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov poses something of a hurdle, a challenge, a provocation to his sons. There are moments in the life of old liars who have been play-acting all their lives when they are so carried away by the part they’re playing that they really do weep and tremble with excitement,…

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