The Bald Soprano. Ionesco's first play and a good one right away. Reminiscent of Pinter (and Beckett I suppose) in its repetitive dialogue, full of non sequiturs and random phrases. I like the series of weird anecdotes towards the end and the cacaphonic, sort of primitive ending.

The Lesson. A nice portrayal of the disintegrating relationship between professor and pupil. It starts innocently enough, but by way of an interesting exposé of Latin languages and philology it becomes more and more violent and sadistic. It ends in madness and murder, closing with a circular motion towards the beginning, just like The Bald soprano...

Jack or The Submission. Didn't like this one that much. Remaining impressions are just of Jack's crazy relations (which somehow reminded me of Jan, Jannetje en hun jongste kind by E.J. Potgieter) and the grotesque Roberta's. Plus, the nice song by the grandfather; 'a cha-ar-ming trickster'. Stays in your head, that one. But, altogether a rather forgetful play.

The Chairs. Read this in Christchurch, New Zealand, thus finishing the first of the two Ionesco compilations I bought in San Francisco last week. I think, after The Bald soprano, this play is the second stand out piece of the book and it's probably the most famous. Even though you should call this play weirder than the BS it comes across as more life-like somehow. Two sad, senile old people staging their final climax as a big show for an empty audience; it's quite crazy but tragic too, a 'tragic farce' indeed. A good one, the longest and the best of the bunch.

22 December 2008

Grove Press, 1982
Original titles La Cantatrice Chauve, La Leçon, Jacques ou la soumission, Les Chaises, 1950-1955
Translated from the French by Donald M. Allen

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Comments

A long, rich work; full of excerpts of (Victorian) poems, letters and diaries. All brilliantly devised by Byatt, who didn't forget to include a good plot as well. It's an excellent mockery of a number of scholarly pitfalls, such as overzealous biography hunting or poststructuralist cynicism; liked that quite much, especially coupled with the exciting literary mystery. A very nice historical novel (I think I should call it), albeit a bit long.

4 November 2008

Comments

This is a difficult book to get through with its slow, dry text. It's divided up into three parts, in which part two makes up for most of the fun. But parts one and three are necessary and make part two possible, so to say. This structure, relying on unreliable editors and narrators is quite intriguing though. And if the narrative moves somewhat sulkily, the content makes up for it. Its plot about a (Calvinist) religious fanatic egged on to murder in the name of God by a devil figure shows nice parallels both with Faust (or something like The Mask or Star Wars) and with Muslim terrorists nowadays. It makes the book seem far ahead of its time and quite redeems all of its lesser qualities. Fascinating.

15 October 2008



Comments

A surprisingly good read, this book. It's a ton of subtle references to trace. It's got a crazy plot and even more crazy characters. It's just one big freak show after another, without getting boring or over the top. Especially memorable were the intelligent monkeys and the pig Sybil. Reminded me of Rushdie's Midnight's children and that's not an insult. Marvellous novel.

7 October 2008

Comments

The blueprint for drug-literature and a major influence for writers like Poe and Baudelaire. So, already interesting as milestone in literary history. Fortunately, it's not so badly written either, making it an enjoyable read by itself. Especially like the descriptions of his opium dreams; paranoid, claustrophobic, you get bits with crocodiles and dungeons. Nice stuff.

1 October 2008

Comments

Quite absorbing, this postmodern historical novel. Absorbing and intriguing. It's long, full of authorial asides, footnotes and epigraphs and has a catching story as well. The story is Victorian, the narrator is Victorian á la Dickens, but the whole novel reads like a parody of all that, a postmodern gimmick. But it's funny, thought provoking and reads like a train, albeit a long train. Excellent novel. (I like the ending confusion and author-as-character).

11 September 2008

Comments

The setting of this intriguing little novel is part communist, part fantastic. On one level it tells the story of an old man who's fanatically questioned by the secret police. They think he holds the key to some terrible mystery that could have its effect upon the whole society, until the hightest point of the hierarchy. And, maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. What is clear is that the old man is fond of telling stories. Each one of his memories links back to another series of memories and thus, in his recorded conversations with his questioners, he tells one long, associative tale. It doesn't seem to make sense, this tale, and it seems it doesn't have to. It's just a collection of stories that seem like fairy tales. Only somehow these fairy tales have their consequences for the people that listen to them. The line between fantasy and reality gets more and more blurred. The old man just keeps to his stories, but his audience sees one big political intrigue in it.
This novel is not about final meaning, because it doesn't seem to have any. It does, however, lure you in, slowly but steadily. You go from the narrator to a narrating old man, to narrating people within his stories. It seems like zooming in, but instead  it's only a continuous zooming out until you feel uncertain where it is you've begun exactly. It's the zooming that's the thing though, not the beginning or the ending, just the endless process of zooming. Intriguing, really.

7 August 2008

Meulenhoff, 1975
Oorspronkelijke titel Pe strada Mântuleasa, 1968
Vertaald uit het Roemeens door Liesbeth Ziedses de Plantes

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Comments

Very nice book indeed, both to read and to have read. It is fast-moving, going from one absurd scene to the next. Throughout Alice meets a host of (mostly unfriendly) people and creatures. It's nice to know what people mean when they mention the Mad Hatter's tea party (whose picture is also on a few Genesis records by the way). Good for the Bildung of an English student and quite enjoyable as well.

23 July 2008

Comments

My reaction to Urmuz' book was rather ambivalent. Initially my expression was predominated by a huge question mark: I've rarely come across stories that were so strange and ended so abruptly. While that expression of wonder surely never left it was occasionaly joined by mirth and/or fascination. Because besides being so weird these stories are also absurdly funny sometimes and relate events that trigger the imagination in an original way. Apparently Eugene Ionesco called Urmuz his great influence and I can see why. This reads like a premonition of absurdism, written decades before the term came into fashion.

4 July 2008

Meulenhoff, 1985
Original titel Pagini bizare, 1930
Translated from the Romanian into Dutch by Jan Willem Bos

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Comments

The last novel for the Woolf course. Its idea of following a family for some generations (while focusing on one generation in particular) seems appealing, but it's simply too long. Although The Years reads easier than The Waves, the plot is still rather loose and vague sometimes. Good prose, but it just couldn't capture my full attention.

26 May 2008

Oxford University Press, 2000
Originally published 1937


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