Friday, May 06, 2011
Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all.
Escaping convicts? Coming up to the dog line, Eaglehawk Neck, Tasman Peninsula, January 2011.
Just the two finished in what has been a hectic week for me, but what a two!
Seize the Day is the first Saul Bellow novel that I’d ever read. It will not be the last. An intense little book, it centres on a day in the life of Tommy Wilhelm, a frustrated fellow who is suffering from what we now might call a ‘mid-life crisis’. Written in 1957, it is a rather prescient observation of the emergent egocentric neurosis that seemed to overtake many in the industrialised world in the following decades.
It’s a great study of character and crisis, with one of the more beautifully-constructed endings that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. There’s no real sympathetic character in this book, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. We get our moment of catharsis.
Very highly recommended.
Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower has been called her masterpiece by some critics (others have been less kind), but was a book I’d only know by reputation before picking it up. Of course, if I had have known that it was set in and around Jena during the turbulent events at the end of the eighteenth century, and featured glimpses of Goethe, Fichte, Schiller et. al., I would have read it far earlier! As long term readers should know by now, if there are German idealist philosophers around, I’m always game…
Inspired by the life and love of poet and philosopher Novalis – a.k.a. Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr (‘Fitz’) von Hardenberg, Fitzgerald enters a world of great tumult, with France under a revolutionary dictatorship and the beginning of German philosophical deviations into Romanticism and the nature of being.
The book really is a wonderful evocation of period of great interest to me, with the kind of political turmoil, intellectual voracity, and moral ambiguity that should feed a great yarn. Ostensibly an exploration of genius, The Blue Flower really excels as a fascinating and wry look at domestic life. I’m not sure the extent that it was deliberate, but the author manages to weave a lovely – and utterly unforced – mediation on gender within the broader historical context.
I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but its structure of 55 brief vignettes keeps it lighter than you would imagine possible. Really worth the effort. Extremely highly recommended.