The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
held this meeting in the run-up to one
of my plays, but I don't think it was just the play which prevented
me from finishing the book beforehand for I had started in plenty
of time, beginning in tandem with Jenny, on our weekend we spent
in Paris in June.
let me put my cards on the table here. I am not exactly a fan of
crime-fiction, but I do remember once reading Raymond Chandler and
being pretty impressed by the ethos he conjured, and since Orion
provide quotes on the cover of their current paperback edition testifying
to this book's 'masterwork' status, I was prepared to be won over.
We began in the Paris apartment, me on the sofa with my copy and
Jenny on the sofa-bed with hers. I read the first sentence. Sam
Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under
the more flexible v of his mouth. Flexible v? I tried
to imagine it. And who is this Sam Spade, by the way? (I haven't
seen the film.) I read the next. His nostrils curved back to
make another, smaller v. Eh? Two nostrils making one
v? Didn't he mean two v's? Or does he mean the point the nostrils
make when they come together at the end of the nose - in which case
why didn't he just say he had a pointed nose? And the next: The
v motif was picked up again by thickish brows (brows
- rather than a writer or an interior designer -picking up a motif
?) rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and
his pale brown hair grew down from high flat temples - in a point
on his forehead. High yet flat? And doesn't a widow's peak usually
reveal enough of the head to give the forehead a rounded impression?
And if it's a widows' peak, how can the hair be growing down? But
maybe I've got it all wrong, because the temples are the sides of
the forehead, aren't they, and that must be why he says they're
flat... But then how is the hair growing down from them into
a point on the forehead? Good god, I'm thinking, my mind going fuzzy
with all this complicated facial geography and all the points and
vs and feeling I could be missing some of them in the picture
I'm piecing together, which bears a disconcertingly (or laughably)
cartoonish resemblance to Captain Hook in Walt Disney's Peter Pan,
and not least because I still have no real clue as to who Sam Spade
is. But then the final sentence shattered the image: He looked
rather pleasantly like a blond satan. What? How pleasantly?
To whom? To the author? To another character in the room? And what
is this rather? And can I picture it anyway?
before I can find out any more about Spade, we get another disconcerting
description: He said to Effie Perine: 'Yes, sweetheart?' (Who
Effie Perrine? and where is all this taking place?)/She was a
lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung
to her with the effect of dampness. Eh? What? Is this 'dampness'
symbolic somehow, some thematic hint? It's somehow self-conscious
enough to make you entertain the possibility, but we know so little
yet about this situation and these people it's hard to grasp the
nature of the hint. Or is it simply a fancy way of trying to cover
up a cliche, ie 'her dress clung to her'?
read on, and you know from the imprecision, the clunkiness and the
repetition that it's the latter. 'Hey, listen to this,' I said to
Jenny: 'His eyes slid from side to side between his lids.
Where else would they slide?' Jenny giggled. 'Yes, I'm not finding
it very gripping,' she agreed. 'I can't get my head round this,'
I said as we sat in Paris airport waiting to go home: 'Spade's
elbow dropped as Spade spun round to the right ... Spade's elbow
went on past the astonished dark face and straightened when Spade's
hand struck down at the pistol. ... His right shoulder raised a
few inches. His bent right arm was driven up by the shoulder's lift.
Fist, wrist, forearm, crooked elbow, and upper arm seemed all one
rigid piece, with only the limber shoulder giving them motion.'
The thing that Jenny's shoulders were doing was going up and down.
'I'm still trying to picure him "grinning wolfishly" all the time,'
I'm sorry, folks, but this is a writer struggling with prose. 'You're
nit-picking,' Trevor said at the meeting, and Mark, amazed that
we hadn't thought the book remarkable, strongly agreed. What about
the great plot, Trevor said, and I could hardly comment on it if
I hadn't finished the book. I said but plot doesn't interest me
in itself, and especially not a simplistic plot about recovering
some old antique. Mark expostulated, But the book's not about that
really, it's about Sam Spade, about the fact that he becomes humanized,
which I would know if I'd read to the end. It's said to be the most
complicated and clever plot in fiction, and (John said) one which
people are meant to have difficulty grasping. For a start, if I'd
read to the end I'd know that Spade and the femme fatale Brigid
O'Shaughnessy had been double-crossing one another. I said that
I would hardly call that a recommendation, a book based on plot
in which the plot can't be grasped, but actually I'd known from
very near the beginning what the two were up to. Mark, backed by
Doug, said that that was only because the template which Hammett
set with this novel has now become familiar. I stuck to my guns.
I said to agreement from John that early on it's more or less stated
that this is what the characters are doing, and if readers don't
pick it up it's because of the fuzziness of the prose rather than
any cleverness on the part of the author.
any case, I said, I'm not interested in Sam Spade, he never comes
alive for me, he's described in totally physical terms, and we are
never party to his feelings. For me there's a big problem with viewpoint.
Somebody asked suspiciously, What's viewpoint? and I explained,
not without the feeling of being thought writerly and precious:
We don't share Sam Spade's viewpoint but there's no authorial viewpoint
to compensate and fill in for us; the authorial eye is unknowing
about Sam Spade, so there's no psychological depth. But they had
already stopped listening and were discussing opening another bottle
of wine, though Mark said, But that's the point - it underlines
the fact that Sam Spade keeps himself close and needs to be humanized.
I said, Well, I'm sorry, but a writer needs to write better than
this to convince me that this is a conscious or worthwhile strategy
or to engage me at all. Mark said, exasperated, How can you say
these things, when this book is held up as the greatest crime novel
ever? I said, I thought you were the one that saw through hype!
Mark said, But this isn't hype, this novel had stood the test of
time and sold in the millions! I said, Well so has Catherine Cookson,
and Harry Potter which you despise - sales don't mean great writing.
Then people said, Well, no one has claimed this book is literary,
it's a genre novel, it doesn't have to have great prose, and I said,
Well, yes, that's why I don't like a lot of genre fiction as a rule.
said, 'The trouble is, most people don't care about things like
that when they read a novel - language and viewpoint etc' and everyone
agreed, somewhat accusingly I thought, at which I felt like crawling
away and giving up on writing and said so to no sympathy.
Trevor said, 'Well, the thing that really upsets us is that you
laughed at it,' and I'm sorry, but I laughed again.
White Noise by Don DeLillo
story of university lecturer and Hitler expert Jack Gladney who
lives with his nth wife and a house full of step-children,
and suffers existential gloom - or more precisely, a fear of death
- in a contemporary world of confusing signs.
a while now since we met to discuss it, and in the meantime I've
been filming, so my memory of the discussion isn't too detailed:
what I remember more than the discussion is the darkness of the
evening, so typical of this summer, and the fact that the dog in
Hans's house was suddenly different, because his old one had (shockingly)
died, and every time we went to the loo the new one jumped up in
excitement and wrapped us in her lead.
know we all liked the book. Some of us, Trevor and I in particular,
loved it. Trevor began the discussion by stating that the author
was having a go at most things in the modern world, but I said,
Wasn't it more precisely about the loss of boundaries between fantasy
and reality (see, it's all coming back now) and Jenny said, No,
surely it's about the fact that we can no longer distinguish between
what's important or not. I had to agree that this was true too:
there's a running joke about the fact that there are 'PhDs now in
cereal packets', and key scenes of the book take place in the supermarket,
the place where people scan the small print on packages, wary
of a second level of betrayal.. Many have trouble making out the
words... Smeared print, ghost images... But in the end it doesn't
matter... The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners...
This is the language of waves and radiation.
all loved the hilarious discussions between Jack and the younger
visiting lecturer Murray, who is studying such cultural signifiers,
and the fact that Jack's subject, Hitler, is of no greater cultural
significance than Murray's, Elvis, in the scene in which they lecture
together, almost physically dancing their subjects together around
the room. We loved the way the household TV set ends up in the bedroom
of one of the children and becomes a god-like voice from above puncturing
conversations with surreal and meaningless or trivial announcements.
We loved the fact that when a real threat suddenly enters the family's
life - a chemical spill causing a toxic airborne event - no one
can immediately recognize the danger for what it is. We found brilliant
the book's subsequent joke in the response of the Simulated Evacuation
officer to the real-lifer toxic event: 'The insertion curve isn't
as smooth as we would like. There's a probability excess. Plus we
don't have our victims laid out where we'd want them if this was
an actual simulation... You have to make allowance for the fact
that everything you see tonight is real.' One of the brilliant
strokes in the book is the suggestion by the authorities that the
toxic elements in the spill cause deja vu which is consequently
experienced by the characters even after the suggestion is withdrawn.
were some quibbles: neither Hans nor I were convinced by the original
premise of Jack Gladney's obsession with dying - we felt that, on
the contrary, nowadays people refuse to think about death - although
there is a conversation between Jack and Murray in which Murray
states that this is the other side of the same coin. Most people,
even I, felt that the book lacked forward momentum before the airborne
toxic event, when it suddenly became riveting. Doug said that this
was his main objection, the fact that there was no real story, and
while he agreed about all the other things in the book, ultimately
he was left wondering if it added up to much as a novel, rather
than an entertaining and well-written exposition of a point that
was made from the very beginning. I said, But isn't this the point:
the book formally portrays its thesis, that we can't shape narratives
any more, we are at the mercy of forces and codes we can't decipher?
Jenny, however, said she like the comfortable tone of the beginning
and went off the book when she got to the toxic event.
said that he wasn't sure about the ending: were we meant to believe
that Jack really had committed such an extreme act at the end, and
if so why were there no consequences, when he had left so much evidence?
Or were we meant to conclude that he had just lost touch with reality
altogether? Everyone else said, No it's meant to have happened,
but it's unremarked on because violence is normal now, and no one
knows what's important or what anything means, though John still
looked doubtful. I said that I had had similar doubts about the
unrealistic lack of conflict or emotional disturbance in a house
full of stepchildren, but in the end had put them aside because
this wasn't a realist novel. Some people said they had skipped bits
as boring - which I couldn't believe, as I thought the prose so
brilliant - concise, witty and telling.
all noted how prescient this book was, pre-imagining Bhopal and
even 9/11, and prefiguring our present unease and uncertainty about
what we are experiencing - is this a freak period in the weather
or the new status quo? We marvelled that the bookwas published as
long ago as 1985.
John said that when he got to the end of the book he experienced
deja vu and thought he had read it before.
Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier
again I've been so busy I've got behind with the write-ups, and
I'm a bit hazy now about our September discussion. The things I
remember most vividly are that there were very few of us and that
when John and I arrived Clare and Doug were discussing their respective
forthcoming surgical operations.
had chosen the book, a French classic and one of her favourites
which had had a great impact on her when she first read it as a
teenager. It was published only a year before its author, Alain-Fournier,
was killed in World War I at the age of 28. The Grand Meaulnes of
the title is the young lad who enters the life of the schoolboy
narrator when he becomes a boarding pupil in the village school
of which the narrator's father is the headmaster. Meaulnes is his
surname, and because of his impact on the other boys - he's older,
bigger and with a somehow enigmatic presence - he becomes known
as Le Grand Meaulnes. The defining moment in the book comes when
he 'disappears' or runs away and stumbles upon a seemingly entranced
world - a grand but crumbling estate in which a party is being held
- and encounters a beautiful woman with whom he falls in love. After
his return, he and the narrator are constantly longing for and planning
to re-find this lost world.
said that what she loved this book for was its atmosphere, its descriptions
of the seasons and the French countryside and its depiction of a
mood of longing which conjures beautifully the adolescent condition
which the book is about.
all agreed about the atmosphere, but didn't find that it overcame
our other doubts, mainly the fact that the book wasn't simply a
depiction of adolescence, but was adolescent in itself. As Adam
Gopnik says in the introduction to the current Penguin Classics
edition, there's a lot of 'mooning about', and John had taken to
calling this book (which has apparently had many different titles
in translation) The Big Moan. Clare pointed out that after all the
romantic yearnings, the ending of the book leads to a kind of disenchantment,
but she then agreed with the rest of us that this disenchantment,
rather than a growing-up, amounts to a failure to accept the realities
of maturity. As such, I found it rather depressing. As Gopnik says,
it's not so much a rites of passage novel as a Peter-Pan type tale
of rejection of maturity.
also said that she was surprised when she re-read the book to remember
that the 'adventure' occurs fairly near the start of the book, and
that the rest of the book deals with repercussions continuing for
years - which underlines the notion that the force of the book,
and the true colour of the author's attitude, lie in those romantic
said he thought that maybe the book's classic status owed more to
the 'romantic' early death of its author than anything. Someone
else suggested something subtler: that the book's theme of a lost
world chimed with the sense of irrevocable change which the first
world war brought. Everyone agreed that the rural French world in
which the story takes place, and which is contemporary with Fournier's
own life, is singularly archaic, thus adding to the impression of
an old world only recently lost.
we met, Clare had met John in the street, and had said she wondered
if she shouldn't have suggested a book she was so fond of, and she
did indeed seem a little disappointed by the fact that we weren't
swayed by the lyrical prose. And then she noticed that she was the
only one with the earlier Penguin translation. She borrowed a copy
with the new one and took it away and reported back that, as we
had discovered with Camus' The Outsider, the newer Penguin
translation was far less lyrical and thus less persuasive.
Disgrace by J M Coetzee
crowd of us to discuss this Booker-winning novel about David Lurie,
a Cape Town teacher of Romantic poetry whose affair with a student
leads to his dismissal and who retreats to his daughter's smallholding
where he and his daughter are subsequently raided and his daughter
who had chosen the book, said he found the depiction of Lurie fascinating:
it was hard to know whether to condemn him for his chauvinism or
to admire him for his honesty and determination to stand up for
his own insights against those who were intent, like the South African
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on making him apologize.
long discussion followed - one of the longest we've ever had - in
which we tackled this and tried to tease out the meanings of the
novel. I said Lurie was a colonizer - as an academic (colonizing
poetry, perpetuating the culture of an imperialist nation in South
Africa), as a womanizer and as the seducer of his student (whom
he feels he is raping when she passively submits to him). John agreed
and said that everything in the novel was very highly patterned
around this theme: as he 'rapes' his student, so his daughter is
raped in turn (just as, as whites have 'raped' South Africa, they
must be raped in turn). As at the very beginning there is an ambiguous
contract between the apparent colonizer Lurie and the prostitute
Soraya (each using the other), so by the end of the book there is
an ambiguous contract between Lurie's daughter Lucy and the new
disagreed that this was the point about Lurie (but I've been so
busy I can't remember now what she said the point was), and she
said with a giggle that actually, having taught in universities
in the seventies she didn't think Lurie was all that bad as a womanizer,
which set us all off laughing pretty helplessly, and from that moment
on the whole meeting kept swinging between hilarity and the seriousness
to which the novel kept drawing us back.
said he was interested in the passivity which kept being enacted
in the novel - the sexual passivity of the student and Lucy's passivity
as she gives in to the consequences of her rape and to the new landowning
order. It's this passivity in Lucy which Lurie can't stand, but
which makes her the realist, and, as someone suggested, his (colonizer's)
inability to accept it makes him redundant and leaves him only the
option of retreat from this society.
fact, he returns to the smallholding, but the ending, turning on
the dog theme running through the book, and thus the whole book,
Doug and I found utterly bleak.
said I thought the book was too patterned: I didn't find at all
psychologically convincing the episode in which Lurie visits the
parents of the girl he seduced (which Hans suggested was a development
of the covert Truth and Reconciliation theme), and especially their
response, and most people agreed.
Clare said it was odd that Lucy's rape, which was the really vivid
(and horrifying) part of the book, and the episode which finally
pulled her into it, was the one thing we hadn't discussed. I said
that I thought that was because it was the only incident in the
book which was entirely unambiguous, everything else being morally
complex and shaded.
Clare, Jenny and Trevor said they thought the book fantastic, but
Ann said that while she had appreciated the themes and patterns
she had never become fully engaged.
knows how, but from the book we then got onto the subject of boils,
and the fact that people don't seem to have boils as they used to,
which we thought was due to better diet, and then people compared
boil experiences and remembered how painful boils could be and said
how horrible it must have been to have a boil on the bum, and Jenny
said she did.
by the time Ann offered her choice of two books for next time we
were far gone in hilarity and when she held up two whoppers, we
shrieked, How on earth could we choose (since we tend to go for
the shortest)?, and people compared the authors' photos and made
rude comments and considered turning down the one who looked snooty
and in the end we chose the book which went with Jenny's jumper.
The Maze by Panos Karnezis
is happening to our reading group, or maybe it's just this nasty
cold thing, but there were only five of us to discuss this choice
of Ann's. Perhaps it's just that life is more important than
books. Or maybe, I am sorry to say, it was the way people reacted
to this book.
spent much of her childhood in Armenia, Ann was understandably attracted
to this novel which centres on the retreat of a Greek army brigade
at the end of the brief occupation of Armenia after World War 1.
However, even Ann - or maybe especially Ann with her inside knowledge
- was left somewhat puzzled by this novel, which we thus felt was,
ironically, aptly titled. Ann's main problem with the book was that
it did not square with her conception of the history: the mass upheavals
which the real-life events created - Greeks having to return en
masse from Turkey, the evidence of which can be seen in the Turkish
street-names of so many suburbs of Athens - did not seem in any
way represented by this story, which centres on the effectively
claustrophobic situation of a single brigade lost in the desert
until it happens upon a small isolated town where the soldiers come
to be haunted by an act of vengeance they committed. She then wondered
if she should be reading the book differently, perhaps as symbolic
or mythic (especially as there is much reference to Greek mythology
in the book) but once again she found it unrepresentative, as the
desert, such a huge force in the novel, is not representative of
were we meant to read it as a psychological novel about particular
individuals rather than a period in history? But it was hard to
do so, people agreed: most thought the characters were cyphers,
representatives of certain states or positions, and they failed
to come to life on a psychological level. Was this intended? The
author had a particular technique of introducing his characters.
Initially we would observe a character objectively in a setting,
performing certain actions, and sometimes he/she wouldn't even be
identified to us straight away - a technique which hints at a kind
of Everyman universality. Then the author would provide us with
a potted history of the character (another somewhat distancing technique)
but which, however, would include accounts of the character's feelings
and psychological processes. Was there some kind of special point
to this? (After all, this book had been shortlisted for the Whitbread
First Novel Award, so we had to take it seriously.) Or was this
simply a case of Telling Not Showing? At any rate, we never felt
engaged by the characters on any deep level.
said that she was also distanced and puzzled by the language, which
seemed stilted and archaic. She had considered that this was deliberate
- as had Doug who, once he had taken it as so, got on better with
the novel - but a Greek friend had told her that actually the prose
reads like someone translating from Greek into English as they write.
(Karnezis is Greek, but wrote the book in English.)
just didn't know what to think. Was this book flawed or were we
just not getting it? Was it naive or very clever? I said, Well,
look at how viewpoint is handled. At one point the priest is sitting
alone thinking through his dilemmas - an unequivocally psychological
moment - and suddenly we read this: 'Science,' he said unexpectedly.
Unexpectedly to whom? Not to any other character, since the priest
is alone; not to the author, since he's writing the damn thing;
and not to the priest since it's he who's having the train of thought.
In other words, the author has lost control of viewpoint here, a
pretty good pointer to overall naivity.
would seem that the treatment of the pivotal issue of the novel
is intended as psychological, that what the author is interested
in here is psychological repression: it is only once they are installed
in the town that their terrible previous act forces itself back
into the conscious thoughts of the soldiers. Yet the overall lack
of psychological narrative treatment meant that the force of this
repression was not conveyed, and the fact that the incident was
left unmentioned for so long seemed to group members simply like
a narrative mistake.
said, 'Anyway, look at this sentence: The moon rose silently'
and someone else pointed out that it was a bit weird that soldiers
kept going in circles when they had a compass (even if the brigadier
in charge of it was off his head on morphine), and when you could
go by the sun anyway and everyone knows that if you go west in Armenia
you inevitably get to the sea. Also, I said, Would they have operated
on wounded soldiers on the move? and everyone shook their heads
which put paid to the narrative sense of the medic planning to operate
first thing in the morning when the brigade was due to up camp again.
Plus, several people said, the brigade was described as an endless
line as it entered the tiny town, but thereafter there was hardly
any sense of any soldiers around.
then Trevor, true to form, decided to stick up for the book because,
he said, he had liked it anyway, and Doug agreed.
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
now, here's an illustration of the contingency of reading.
years ago when Fugitive Pieces was published I read it greedily
at a sitting and when I got to the end put it down and thought to
myself, 'That is one of the most brilliant novels I have ever read.'
Ever since, I have told people how brilliant, and important, it
is: a novel which unfolds innovatively into two linked 'pieces'.
The first is the story of Jewish Pole Jakob who as a child during
the war escapes a Nazi raid in which his parents are killed and
his sister lost, presumably seized and taken to the death camps.
Having hidden by burying himself in the woods, he is finally rescued
by Greek scientist and archaeologist Athos who happens to be working
nearby on the lakeside site of a once-drowned city, and who smuggles
him back to his island home of Zakynthos. Athos nurtures Jakob through
his loss until his own death in Toronto to which he and the growing
Jakob have moved - a city conversely built in the bowl of a dried-up
prehistoric lake. The second part of the novel is the years-later
story of a young academic, Toronto-born Ben, who has lived with
a different kind of loss: the loss of innocence and security in
having parents who experienced and survived the death camps, an
insecurity which once caused them to refuse to leave their house
with young Ben when it was flooded by the river, and all of them
thus nearly to lose their lives. Now, at a party, Ben and his young
wife meet Jakob, now a poet and translator, and both he and his
wife develop a fascination with Jakob which deeply affects their
rich themes of loss, erasure and exhumation are vividly carried
in the images of the child burying himself in the wood, the drowned
city and the flooding river - and in the academic and not-so-academic
obsessions of the characters: the snow-burial of Scott's doomed
Antarctic expedition, Athos's interest in fossils and geology, Ben's
study of weather and the practice of biography. This and the lyrical
prose (Anne Michaels' previous reputation was as a poet) were what
entranced me the first time round.
how to explain the fact that when I read it again ten years later
I was dismayed to find I thought that, in spite of its merits -
including the most beautifully honed and profoundest sentences -
it seriously fails as a novel? For what strikes me now is that those
ideas and images which once so bowled me over are not anchored on
any novelistic scaffolding. The book does not take the structure
of a novel but, as someone in the group said, rather that of an
extended poem. There is no narrative tension, since in passing we
are told the outcomes (first the death of Athos, and then that of
Jakob) while the 'story' is still in progress, and also because
the 'action' is constantly arrested by brief philosophical disquisitions
or lengthy historical or scientific essays, the events seeming indeed
merely triggers for the latter, in the manner which operates in
poetry. Indeed, the only way to read this book, we all agreed, was
to read it as a poem - ie, to stop at these points and ruminate
consciously about such statements as 'Every moment is two moments',
or the tale of Scott in the Antarctic, or a description of a weather
pattern or geological process, and work out how they related to
the recent action between the characters. The trouble is, I found
that this time I was not prepared to do this, I wanted the events
and relationships to transmit the ideas more dynamically, and at
a deeper gut level, and sometimes found these gnomic pronouncements
pretentious or even at times clumsy.
little of the 'action' is dynamic: most of it is reported rather
than dramatized, and therefore, in spite of the seemingly rich imagery,
it lacks vividness. Nor is it convincing when it is dramatized,
as the author makes the basic error of feeding information to the
reader through unrealistic dialogue, and the characters all talk
like each other and like self-conscious poets. And here's the crux:
although the two separate parts are intended as separate first-person
narrations (the first Jakob's, the second Ben's), it's very hard
to tell them apart (and people said they kept getting mixed up between
Jakob and Ben and forgetting that they were separate characters):
ie there's no apparent distinction between narratorial and authorial
could hardly believe that I had had two such different reactions
to the same book. All I could imagine was that my earlier reading
was affected by the fact that I had at the time already conceived
a novel of my own on similar themes of loss and suppression (although
it would be several years before I wrote it, and it has still to
find a publisher), and was simply gobbling up ideas and images which
chimed with my own: ie, at the time all I was interested in were
the ideas, so I didn't notice that the book didn't work as a novel.
although Hans and John agreed with my new assessment (Hans had failed
to finish the book), the others felt I was being far too harsh.
Doug said that although he could see there were faults with the
book, he had been really impressed by its other aspects, and Ann
agreed. Trevor and Jenny said they'd really liked it, and all four
said that they hadn't at all minded having to read the book slowly
and thoughtfully, putting it down to think about the meanings and
the connections, and Jenny had been so impressed and touched by
one sentence about the nature of grief that she had marked it and
read it out:
If one needs proof of the soul it's easily found. The spirit
is most evident at the point of extreme humiliation.
I have to say, however, that this is one of those lines which
seemed so profound to me the first time round, but when I really
examine it now (and try to tie it in with the story) I'm not at
all sure what it means.
Hans and John had a seemingly inconsequential discussion about an
incident in the book in which Nazi soldiers on Zakynthos amuse themselves
by throwing down their olive stones for starving children to rescue
and nibble clean. Hans said he was left wondering whether this was
a historical truth. John said, Of course it was, people were really
starving during the war. And then I realized that this illustrated
an essential point about the book. Laden as it is with scientific
and historical facts, this novel had left Hans uneasy about some
of its 'facts'. But it's not factual but emotional truth which novels
can best provide, and if a novel works properly on a fictive level,
creates a universe which seduces and convinces, we just don't start
questioning its 'facts'.
which Ann said she wondered if this novel were based on something
close to the author but which she had been told, which would perhaps
explain its flavour of an account rather than a properly dramatized
(and thus objectified) story, and the general consensus was that
this was probably the case. Not that any of its four supporters
really minded this effect.
how dependent a book is on the reader?