Friday, July 15, 2011
The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.
No snow last Tuesday. Snow every day since... Mount Wellington as viewed from Ashfield Street, Sandy Bay. July 2011.
Two books this week, both excellent!
If Beale Street Could Talk is James Baldwin's fifth novel. I only know Baldwin through his reputation, and after finishing this one I am kicking myself that I’ve left it so long to read one of his books.
A love story set in Harlem in the early-1970s; the novel evocatively recreates a certain time, space and community. Exploring the complex interweaving of family, culture, race and justice, it strikes a lovely balance between sweet and sad; anger and forgiveness.
Despite the overwhelming injustice of the story, and the anger that this injustice generates, the novel is ultimately an optimistic one. It stresses the importance of the bond between those who suffer from oppression, especially between members of a family; a bond that otherwise would not be experienced if circumstances were brighter. As society disintegrates in a collective sense, smaller human unity will become more and more important.
I liked it an awful lot, so if it sounds like your bag, head down to the nearest library.
The second is Human Voices, by Penelope Fitzgerald. Drawn from her own work experience, the novel takes place in the halls of Broadcasting House (the BBC’s London headquarters) during the Second World War. This is a novel of details with the most scant arc of a plot. Stuff happens – sometimes quite dramatic things, sometimes quite ordinary things – but overall this is a narratives more about atmosphere and place, rather than any particular climax.
Like If Beale Street Could Talk, its strength is in creating an incredibly redolent portrait of a time and place that bears little resemblance to the here and now. Fitzgerald’s cast of characters is amazingly rich and diverse, give the length of the text.
This is a book well worth immersing yourself in for a few days.