Wednesday, May 31, 2006

French writers

I had good intentions for reading a stack of novels during my beach vacation, but mostly I just studied the waves, the pelicans, and the sandpipers in between napping like a gator in the Florida sun. I did finish The Pure and the Impure by Colette, which was a pleasant read for lounging on the beach. It was more reportage than novel--apparently written as a semi-autobiographical look back at her life, reflecting on the characters that she had observed over the years--and naturally, their philosophy of love, which one might summarize as "love'm and leave'm." But that is to simplify! I think Colette was getting at nuances that I couldn't begin to parse, as a buttoned-up, rather bourgeois Americaine! But it picqued my interest in reading her stories, so I'll have to decide where to start. I think there are a series of novels about a character named Cherie--any Collete afficionados out there?

When I got home, I read another short novel by a French writer that I've heard a lot about as the "granddaddy" of the post-modern novel--Alain Robbe-Grillet. The novel was a very creepy mystery (for lack of a better description) called The Voyeur. Very interesting technically--I'd like to learn more about him. This novel was published in 1958, I think.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

NYT Best American Fiction of last 25 Years

The New York Times Book Review published their survey results for the best American fiction of the past 25 years last week. If you didn't see it, it was based on the votes of a pretty distinguished panel of critics and writers, but as all lists invite lots of second-guessing and pooh-poohing, this is one is no different. The entire list was heavily dominated by Philip Roth, who had the most books on the list, although it was Toni Morrison's Beloved that came in as the number one work of fiction. Among the Runners-Up were Roth, Updike's Rabbit novels (Everyman compilation), and McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
Well, I certainly admired Beloved, and I'm a big McCarthy fan, so nothing to quibble with there. However, if I were picking, I would give it to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a gorgeous novel about horrible things. I think it 's the last book that really amazed me, and that I find myself still thinking about on a regular basis. Dealing with the Vietnam experience is such a central issue in the American psyche, and I don't know that anyone has done it as well as O'Brien.

Don Delillo is well-represented on the list--and someone I've been meaning to read for awhile. Anyway, there's lots of food for thought.