In my continuing effort to record impressions of what I have been reading without writing a full-fledged review…
Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
Simon recently wrote a hilariously scathing review of the first 1.5 pages of this novel. I read his review with equal parts merriment and worry — Gone to Earth has been on my Century of Books list for some time and on my TBR shelf even longer. Not to mention the fact that I had just purchased a second copy of the book because the cover was so comically bad and so unlike the rather pretty Virago cover. How could I get through it now? I could always swap it out and find something else from 1917. But then I picked it up just to see if it got any better after 1.5 pages. What I found is that the prose gets much better — or at least a lot less laughable — almost immediately after the point Simon decided to stop reading.
Now, I don’t blame him for stopping. The opening really is bad. I know that if I hadn’t read his review I might have given up as well rather than push on a little further just to see there was anything redeeming about it. And even though I ended up kind of enjoying the story, the dialect dialogue never gets better. I am really not a fan of trying to read through dialect. Usually when I force myself to, I can get into the rhythm of it and it becomes less troublesome. But I must admit that in the case of Gone to Earth, I had a hard time all the way through to the end. (I still don’t know what the word “leifer” was supposed to be. Context wasn’t particularly helpful in figuring that one out.) And although the majority of the writing isn’t too terrible, the bloated prose of the first pages reappears from time to time. I suppose if I am honest I could also find some serious problems with the plot itself. (Naive country girl with pet fox can’t decide between love and lust and [spoiler alert] ends up being killed by a pack of fox hounds…) But for some reason I still enjoyed reading it. Would I seek out another Mary Webb? Probably not.
My Friend Says It’s Bullet-Proof by Penelope Mortimer
I really didn’t know anything about Penelope Mortimer, but since I have had such good success with the Penelopes Fitzgerald and Lively (not to mention actress Keith), I thought I would give it a go. Plus I needed something for the year 1967. And for 1967, I found this novel quite contemporary in its prose and plot. It could indeed have been written by Penelope Lively or Marge Piercy or Julia Glass or someone else more recently. (Although it is probably darker than the latter two.) It is the story of Muriel, an English journalist who visits what sounds like Boston on a PR junket with a group of male journalists. Having recently gone through breast cancer and a mastectomy Muriel is a little emotionally unsure as she gets to know three different men on the trip. I definitely enjoyed and will add Mortimer to the list of Penelopes I read.
Some Do Not by Ford Madox Ford
This is the first novel in Ford’s four part series known collectively as Parade’s End. All four of them are are on the Modern Library Top 100 list as one title and I am always looking to knock out a few on that list whenever I get the chance, but it was also an opportunity to knock off four spots in the 1920s on my Century of Books list. Everything started off great — World War I era England — but then Ford gets into the whole temporal shift thingy that left me confused more than a few times. Why are so many of the books on the ML100 so hell bent on make the reader struggle to understand? I am all for being challenged to think about things differently, but when the narrative structure is so confusing that I don’t even understand what is going on? Eh. Still, I am determined to read the other three. Maybe it will get better for me as I go along.
Now you've made me rethink Mary Webb! Or at least think about rethinking. The book is still in my room… dare I backtrack on the most scathing post I have ever put on my blog??
You have made me feel so much better about bailing on Some Do Not a few weeks ago. I couldn't agree with your points more! Having said that, the book did come home with me from the library yet again. I plan on cheating a bit and reading along while watching the dramatization.
I think “liefer” means something like “rather” or “prefer”, a comparative form of “to like”. I think the word is related to the German “lieben”, which means “to love”. What do you lief, an apple or an orange? I’d liefer an apple.
In my quest to read all the ML 100 books (59 and counting), I am very miffed that some of the “books” are actually series. This makes the list not 100 books but really 123 books: (A Dance to the Music of Time = 12 books; U.S.A. = 3 books, The Alexandria Quartet = 4 books, Parade’s End=4books.
Simon: Life is too short. You can keep it off your list.
Darlene: I just saw someone comment on Desparate Reader's blog that she got bogged down in book 2. I was hoping they would get easier as they went along.
Ruthiella: You are so right about the ML list. I quite enjoyed the Alexandria Quartet. The Dos Passos I found painful. Parade's End is easier than that I think. I worry about A Dance to Music of Time, I own a beautiful set but haven't read any of them yet. Wouldn't it be great if they were a straight forward narrative? I have high hopes that the Studs Lonigan trilogy will be easy to read. I don't know why I think that.
Actually, I quite like Mary Webb. But this one was just 'meh' for me. I much preferred The House in Dormer Forest.
And as for the Penelopes, I completely agree. Though Lively is still my favourite of the three…