Monday, 18 March 2002

Undue influence and Granta 72

Listening to:

Schumann, piano trio in D minor, Op. 63.

Just read:

Anita Brookner, Undue influence.

I didn’t end up liking this novel a great deal. It was strictly OK. Its style is quite restrained, and rather in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro’s An artist of the floating world, featuring a continuous internal monologue. Ishiguro pulls this off beautifully, but Brookner’s novel fails in a number of ways. I think the most important is that the main character, Claire Pitt, is completely unbelievable. She’s a 29 year old in the 1990s and has no life. She has one friend, and never refers to having gone to school or university. She doesn’t seem to have any interests, perhaps other than visiting art galleries.

Then the plot is really pretty uninteresting. There are no great moral revelations for Claire; instead she ineffectually pursues a recently widowed man that she doesn’t really like. There are good bits. In particular, the story of what happens to the bookshop where Claire works is well done. We actually care a little bit about the two elderly sisters, their seemingly innocent view of the world, their father, and his influence on them.

Granta 72: overreachers (contents)

This issue of the magazine was a mixed bag. I liked the non-fiction, and two of the fiction pieces. One of the latter was The Hotel Capital by Olga Tokarczuk. This is a very good short story about a chambermaid cleaning a floor of rooms in a hotel and speculating on the inhabitants, who she rarely even sees. This story is vivid, and though it is also interior monologue in its way, this is appropriate enough. It differs from Brookner’s because it is driven by the character’s perceptions of the outside world, not just being sterile reflections about characters that we grow weary of.

The other fiction I liked was The Trout Opera by Matt Condon. This is set in what would appear to be pre-WW1 Australia and the section I read was narrated by a six year old boy. It’s part of a larger novel, and the presence of an eccentric German teacher who makes a positive impression on the boy, makes me fear that the rest of the novel will feature the mistreatment that Germans had to endure during WW1. Maybe I’m wrong, but in any case, the bit of it in the Granta is very appealing.

There are two particularly good non-fiction essays. One is by A. L. Kennedy about her grandfather, his passion for boxing and her memories of him. She has lots of perceptive things to say about the sport. The other non-fiction essay is by a barrister who successfully appealed a death sentence for a convicted murderer in Trinidad. He visits the island, and makes the acquaintance of a fascinating anti-capital-punishment campaigner called Ishmael Samad.

To read next:

Eric Newby, The last grain race. (32 books remaining on the List.)