Friday, August 28, 2015
This story takes place in the Fenlands (basically reclaimed swamps) of England. It is full of secrets and mysteries (just my thing!), both from the present and from various times past. It's as if everything is hidden under a heavy cloth. As the story unfolds, the narrator gives us glimpses under this corner and that, gradually allowing the outline of what's hidden to be seen. (Have I used that analogy before, in describing another book? I feel like I must have. But I don't care, because it works nicely, and preserves the effect of reading this novel.)
The narrator is a history teacher who finds himself following tangents during his lectures. He ends up relating his personal history rather than what would be expected from the syllabus. There's death (or murder?), war, kidnapping, insanity, really strong ale, incest, a potatohead, and emerging sexuality. And eels. Can't forget the eels. But it's not at all maudlin or melodramatic, as such a list might suggest; it's all treated with subtlety and suspense.
I'm somewhat surprised I was previously unfamiliar with Swift, who has had nine novels published over the past 3 1/2 decades. I'll definitely want to try another one of his books at some point. And I think I know which one will be next: Last Orders. Not only did it win the Booker Prize in 1996, but my copy of Waterland includes it in the same volume. Can't beat that kind of convenience.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
It's been an enjoyable time, as binges go. I have loved du Maurier ever since reading Rebecca in high school, though I haven't made it very far through her body of work. I find her writing suspenseful in an understated and subtle way. In general.
The Scapegoat is the story of an English man--a perfect French speaker--who happens to run into his exact double in France (one of a small handful of unlikely plot devices, but I was able to forgive it with a little effort). John and Jean spend a drunken evening discussing their shock and amazement and joking about the possibility of switching lives . . . or, John thought they were joking, anyway. He wakes the next morning with a hangover, all of Jean's belongings, and none of his own. Half bewildered and half outraged, John slides into Jean's life, missing every opportunity to rectify the situation.
So, everything considered, good times were had by all. My only problem with du Maurier is that I feel like she can't always pull off the ending. I'm not sure I was on board with the way things were left between Jean and John. The end of the eponymous story in Don't Look Now was almost silly. And "The Birds" left things completely unresolved . . . although I suppose that gives the reader the ability to ponder what might happen next, and why it happened at all.