reading round up

I don’t update this blog anything like enough… this is what I spend my time doing instead.

Persepolis was amazing. I read the first 230 pages in a day. I don’t read many autobiographies at all but it’s hard to imagine someone with a more fascinating life than Marjane Satrapi who grows up in the turbulent (to say the least) Iran of the 70s and 80s.

The personal parts of the novel never trivialise the political parts, and the politics and the history never feel like they’ve been forced into the story of the family. Satrapi has an obvious affection for her country and culture even as she’s forced to watch it torn apart by dictatorships and war. You get the feeling that Satrapi is probably as intense and witty as the book she’s created. It’s clear she’s very clever but she’s not ashamed to admit to the times she’s been immature or rude.

Oh, and this is the best movie-poster-book-cover ever, because the art style is more or less the same inside.

I fiiiiiiinally finished In The Shadow of Young Girls In Flower after, I don’t know, over a year. I could never be faithful to Proust, I have to kind of keep it on the side and read it in between other books. My plan at the moment is to read all 7 volumes by the time I’m 30.

This is a lovely summer time book, especially for a precocious teen going through puberty. It sees the narrator start to come into his own and develop ideas about love and art after a first volume that saw him playing the role of the observer to much stronger characters around him and devoting a huge chunk of that book to the story of Odette and Swann which took place before he was born.

(Actually, I’m really curious about the role the Swann family will play in future books. Although they were only in the first part of this one, I don’t think we’re done with them yet)

Anyway, the way Proust writes about the sea is terrifically inspiring and it makes an amazing backdrop for his turbulent teenage emotions. As someone who grew up by the sea and has gone on those weird family holidays by the seaside (okay, my family’s seaside holidays were not remotely as fancy as Proust… there aren’t a lot of Barons in mid-Wales) it all hit very close to home.

Oh, and fuck you Alain DeBotton for your stupid book about how Proust can change your life that MASSIVELY SPOILS THE EVENTS OF THE BOOK WITHOUT WARNING. I flipped through a library copy of DeBotton’s book and it told me more than I needed to know about Albertine. If someone spoils a movie you want to see, that’s pretty bad but spoiling a fucking seven volume novel? That’s true cruelty.

When I finished Lolita it was kind of a relief that I didn’t have to spend any more time with that awful Humbert! I don’t think I have anything to say about this book that hasn’t been said a hundred times before but it’s absolutely stunning that Nabokov has such a command of English and it’s not even his first language. It was a challenging read, not in the sense that it’s particularly difficult like Proust, for example, but in the way that the reader is constantly at war with the narrator. It’s not the first book I’ve read about unlikeable characters or the first one with an unreliable narrator, but Humbert is so aggressive and intense and righteous even when his lies are completely transparent that it’s almost exhausting. I mean, it should be exhausting but it actually propels you through the book, in the same way that getting into a really heated argument can give you more energy to keep hammering on at the other person.

I read the entirety of Breakfast At Tiffany’s in a day. (This isn’t bragging, it’s only 90 pages and, like almost the entire population of the UK the lovely hot weather has got me feeling a little self-indulgent.) I have to say, I really enjoyed it. There’s something light and airy about the way it’s written and like Lolita the story is warped by the magnetism of the central character but in this case the relationship between the narrator and his object is obviously less contentious. Holly Golightly is… well, it’s hard to label her as really likeable, but she remains weirdly compelling.

I’d also like to take a moment to talk about the racism in the book. Characters refer to one of their neighbours as “the Jap”, Holly reacts to a short story she reads by telling the narrator that no one cares about “negro” characters (or children) and at a few points speculates about men who she’d like a romantic relationship with… whatever race they are! How, er, charitable of her? There’s also a lot of mean stuff about lesbians, or as Holly usually calls them, “bull dykes”. Charming.

Some people will argue that certain slurs are excusable in novels that are about race to illustrate the dark realities of racism. Some people will argue that a long time ago people didn’t really know better. They’re not bad excuses, but they’re not watertight and figuring out what Breakfast At Tiffany’s is trying to do with all the racial stuff isn’t at all straightforward, especially since my knowledge of 1940s America isn’t exactly perfect so I can’t measure Capote’s characters against the consensus of the era.

Holly Golightly’s unpleasant comments are, ultimately, in keeping with her rather unpleasant character. She lacks the sensitivity, empathy and care not to say things like that, and yet the narrator’s fascination with her and her ability to charm people even as she treats them awfully burst off the page. She’s not unlike a model who is weird looking almost to the point of ugliness, but compels you to look at her.

Obviously I have a lot of feelings about this book, but I’ll wrap it up instead of going any further, and think about renting the film.

Tomorrow I’ll post the sonnet I wrote my dad for father’s day.

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