Friday, December 02, 2011
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
Mindless violence. King Street, Sandy Bay. November 2011.
Just the two books this week, but what books they were!
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark ventures into a genre that I am more familiar with in film than print: the Western. A brief plot synopsis might lead you to think that this novel is little more than a cliché: two drifters are drawn into a lynch mob to find and the rustlers presumed to be the killers of a local man.
It is in fact much more than that. Written in 1940, the novel is a somber, unsympathetic examination of the ease with which men slip into violence and resist the urge to ‘justice’. It explores starkly ‘masculinity’ and the tendency of the fear of exposure in terms of physical cowardice to trump moral courage when it comes to groups of men.
It is a fantastic collection of set pieces that affords Van Tilburg Clark the opportunity to explore these themes and remain able to keep the pace cracking along and tense narrative to the (inevitable) ugly conclusion. What really works well is the dénouement. In a naturalistic way, the author enables the characters to attempt to reconcile the events and further demonstrate the central points of the tale.
Very highly recommended.
Shifting from the American frontier in the late-1870s, the great Vladimir Nabokov’s debut novel Mary is set in 1920s Berlin, amongst the exiled Russian community in the immediate wake of the Russian Revolution.
Yet this is no political novel, rather a very personal account of one’s first love. A brilliant series of portraits of drifters thrown into circumstances beyond any of their control allows Nabokov the scope to explore some big themes of love, desire, memory, happiness, nostalgia, freedom and belonging in interesting and innovative ways.
Again, I very much liked the ending, which I really won’t talk about because I’d rather you read the book yourself. Very highly recommended.