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Author Topic: Great Reviews
Babbler # 478

posted 02 April 2005 08:53 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I just read this splendid review last night.

Atwood takes a fair amount of criticism and slighting comment hereabouts, so I thought it might be good to remind people of how superbly good she can be at her best, and maybe at what she does best.

She's writing here of a reissue of a novel first published in 1965 and almost forgotten since, by the English writer who called herself "Bryher" (Annie Ellerman). The life is fascinating; the novel as summarized by Atwood is fascinating; but Atwood's critical coup -- in recognizing a deeper source for the novel than did the new introducer -- becomes most fascinating of all. Part way through, this review begins to read almost like a detective story, a most satisfying one.

I really enjoyed reading this. At the end, I felt I should applaud.

[ 15 May 2005: Message edited by: skdadl ]

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 15 May 2005 10:10 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I started this thread a while ago as a discussion of Atwood and Bryher, but I've just changed its title so that we could turn it into something more useful.

Along the model of the (great!) Columnists thread that Tommy P used to bring us all those years ago (that was hard work, but it was a lot of fun), I figured some might want to tell others about critics or particular reviews that have caught their interest. I suspect that I am not the only book-lover who ends up reading as much or more about books as I do the books themselves -- sometimes a frustration, but who can keep up?

And sometimes, as with the Atwood review above, a fine critic may even give us greater satisfaction than, we suspect, the book under review would, or at least a quite separate and distinct kind of stimulation.

Anyway, I just had to tell people about an utterly brilliant, devastatingly witty review of Ian McEwan's new novel Saturday. Again, the review is in the current issue of the New York Review of Books (what else do I read? ), and it is by another distinguished British novelist, John Banville. (Unfortunately, again, the full review is not online.)

I laughed all the way through when I saw where Banville was heading, and yet I am an admirer of McEwan's, almost a worshipper. Banville himself admits that McEwan has long since earned a place in English letters, no question. Banville is just appalled at how soft and sentimental McEwan has gone on us, and his dissection of the bourgeois wish-fulfilment that seems to motivate and structure the novel is brilliant -- surgical, one might almost say, ironically apt for a novel whose main protagonist is a surgeon.

I'm sorry that people can't read this wonderful piece of writing without going out for a copy of the NYRB. All the other reviews I've read of
Saturday have been the kind of raves you would expect for the latest production of a writer generally acknowledged to be great, so in a way, this one was overdue, and tonic.

It is so beautifully structured -- the review, I mean. I still love McEwan (and I still haven't read Saturday and need to make up my own mind when I do), but Banville's essay is a model of how to take a troubling novel apart in the sharpest but most civilized possible way.

[ 15 May 2005: Message edited by: skdadl ]

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 2534

posted 15 May 2005 10:49 AM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Skdadl, you don't read the LRB? This is a bit off-topic, but I often LOVE their watercolour illustrations, and once again they have a nice one. I used to read La Quinzaine littéraire on-line too, of course, but now it is pretty much per pay only.

Important to point out to babblers of limited means that many university libraries and decent municipal libraries carry these review journals, and others, if buying them is out of reach.

From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 15 May 2005 10:55 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
lagatta, I love the LRB when I see it -- oh, aaaaarrrrgggghhh, you've shown it to me online! What'm I gonna do?!?

I am simply sinking under reviews. Glub glub. When'm I ever gonna read the books???

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 3808

posted 15 May 2005 06:45 PM      Profile for Geneva     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
speaking of the LRB, their piece about the real-life Sontag a month ago was hilarious ...

but then, as she said, judge them by their best work

From: um, well | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 13 August 2005 02:56 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I just found out an amazing thing that I should have known before but didn't: Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-86) was gay, and while his father was still alive, suffered horribly for having fallen in love with another young man.

Frederick truly was great in some ways -- to literary and musical people mainly as a patron of the much greater -- Voltaire (for a time, although Frederick eventually banished and chased him), eg, and Bach -- but also, it must be confessed, militarily as well.

Anyway, in my own odd life, I finally caught up with this fascinating review of what sounds a fascinating book about Frederick and J.S. Bach,
Evening in the Palace of Reason, by James R. Gaines.

(This review appeared in an April issue of the NY Times Book Review ... Well, I fell behind in March and April, and I'm just catching up.)

Anyway, terrific review by Edmund Morris, especially on Frederick's bio, thinner on Bach, but then Bach's life was ... quieter ... than Frederick's.

The whole book appears to be something of a back-story to Bach's composition of the "Musical Offering," which he composed upon a theme given to him by Frederick, who was a moderately respectable composer himself.

A fine story, anyway, just the review. If you need to sign in to read it:

register: babblers8
pw: audrarules

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 26 December 2005 08:50 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The Globe and Mail Saturday book review section is usually such a disappointment to me, page after page - I think that the editors just are not given the resources to encourage their reviewers enough, and their choice of reviewers is often most quirky - but I digress.

This last weekend's edition, though slim, was actually quite good, and it ended with a luminous essay by the poet Don Coles that I thought many babblers would enjoy.

The last page of the section, called "Three for Thought," is given over each week to a writer to choose three books - of any vintage - on a related topic, an interesting idea although uneven in the execution.

Coles' essay this week, at the time of the winter solstice, is about light, books that have something to do with light ... and, inevitably, darkness. He chose to write about Ingmar Bergman's autobiography, The Magic Lantern, Annie Dillard's Teaching a Stone To Talk, which includes a memoir of the day she and her husband witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, and Beowulf, which he manages to summarize brilliantly in two paragraphs.

The ending of his essay lifted me up for the whole day after I read it. It goes like this:

P.S. So light triumphs, yes. But to the old and the ill, things are not as we have said.

Darkness and night are more familiar to them than they are to us, their hearts do not screech as the humiliations of the day are discarded and they enter that sought-after, unwatched, unjudged privacy. Not much that matters to them is going on right now anyway, no races, or few that interest them, are being run. They enter into the dark bearing their strong thoughts.

[ 26 December 2005: Message edited by: skdadl ]

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Babbler # 4211

posted 27 December 2005 12:32 AM      Profile for natas   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My favourite critical writer is actually a MUSIC writer - Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, who's been doing snappy, graded album reviews since 1967. His heroes are Pauline Kael and Raymond Williams. Little phrases and mannerisms from his work are CONSTANTLY creeping into my own writing, and I love how his format apes the most valuable things about the kind of culture he's reviewing, which is such a good idea. Here's a totally random sample:

Funeral [Merge, 2004]
First you notice that the opener really is kinda gorgeous, with its twin-xylophone-echoed piano flourish and all. Then you isolate Win Butler's sob and fantasize about throttling the twit, an immature impulse unmitigated by the lyrics, which are histrionic even for a guy who's just lost a grandparent (or whoever). But if you keep at it till the next song, which tells the story of his runaway older brother getting bitten by a vampire, you begin to admire his resilience--he's retained a sense of the ridiculous, which is more than you can say of most young twits who sing about losing a grandparent (or whoever). And that's how the album goes--too fond of drama, but aware of its small place in the big world, and usually beautiful. N.B.: if you're considering Montreal, which is certainly my favorite Canadian place, the ex-Texans and -Haitian here want to make clear that it's horribly cold. A-

the Voice's Michael Feingold is if anything more rigorous and revelatory if somewhat less fun, partly because I'll never see the plays he's reviewing; but a quickie response to a marginal issue in one of his reviews turned into a wonderful and insightful e-chat, and my heart melted. Check em out.

From: Vineland Station, Ontario | Registered: Jun 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 27 December 2005 07:40 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks, natas: I will.
From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 9831

posted 27 December 2005 09:27 PM      Profile for Boarsbreath   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
LRB is the only thing I know of that's even better than the NYRB...even in the online version! It's quirkier, but when it's good it's magnificant.

There was one by Colm Toibin about an inquiry into priestly sexual abuse in Ireland a little while ago...a sustained, restrained white-lipped piece, which slowly squeezes out fascinating atmosphere and information until nothing's left but a magisterial damning.

But every now and then I get my hands on a paper LRB...what an experience. Almost nothing related to anything else; everything fascinating.

From: South Seas, ex Montreal | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged

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