Friday, May 20, 2011

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilisation.

Oh to have a deck by the ocean sea river estuary! Little Howrah Beach, Howrah. April 2011.

A busy week, but a number of books churned through nonetheless.

First was I Am Legend, a scary tale from 1954 by Richard Matheson. You might know it better as a film (it was made as The Last Man on Earth in 1964; The Omega Man in 1971; and I Am Legend in 2007). As well as being a cracking read, it seems to be a key text in both the development of the zombie genre and in popularising the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease.

The novel is essentially the tale of the sole survivor of a pandemic – whose symptoms resemble vampirism – as he goes his daily life in Los Angeles. It’s strong on the science as Robert Neville attempts to comprehend, research, and possibly cure the disease that killed mankind, and to which he is immune. Neville's past is fleshed out through flashbacks, which explores his inner turmoil in coping with both the loss of everyone around him and his own loss of humanity. He deals with this through a combination of rigid daily routine interspersed with heavy bouts of drinking at night.

Rather than give the story away, I will stop now. It’s more an exploration of humanity and loneliness than it is a book about sci-fi, horror or vampires. Don’t let the genre snobs put you off! Get a copy of the book and read it for yourself, it is well worth the effort. Highly recommended.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton was first published in 1911 and set in the [then] remote hills of New England. Continuing on a theme, Ethan Frome explores ideas on loneliness, desire, love and duty within a stark winter’s setting.

The story is told primarily in flashbacks as we discover how the titular character got to where he is in life (i.e. broken physically and emotionally). Not lightly do I say that this is one of the more depressing novels I have ever read. A study of the consequences of the repression of desire and the quiet submission to life’s circumstances, the novel’s exploration of the rural working class at the time must have been shocking to readers.

There’s an awful lot of suffering in this book, but the central moral quandary of the book does offer insight on the moral, economic and social realities that generate such suffering. As a passionate fellow, I found the intense (crushing) suppression of Ethan’s desire particularly devastating. A lot of people don’t like this book, but I think it’s a ripper.

Highly recommended.

Just for a change, Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café explores themes of gender roles, isolation, loneliness, and love in small town Georgia through the lens of the unfortunate lives of the calculating and mannish Miss Amelia, the hunchbacked dwarf Cousin Lymon, and beautiful but sociopathic Marvin Macy.

It’s a fantastic little story crammed with colourful characters and lots to ponder. I zipped through it at a cracking pace, so if you’re after a quick but satisfying read, you could do far worse that this beauty. Double thumbs up.


Who Is Afraid Of Miss Lovett? No, Mrs.Lovett... said...

Hi! Kris...
Thanks, for the recommendations...It seems as if all three books have a common thread "running" through each book..."loneliness" and "isolation."

By the way, I just checked the last book out over there on and it appears to
be well-received by the readers, over there too!

Thanks, for sharing the quote too!
DeeDee ;-)

Kris said...

All coincidence! I usually have ten or twelve in the online queue at the library, and they don’t ever arrive in the order that I checked them. It actually turned out to be a great trio to read together, and all three are top notch.

They’re all incredibly evocative in their own different ways.