Kim

 

I feel terrible for leaving this so long – I have little excuse, although life, as with most people, has left little room for leisure. In reality, however, the reason behind my lateness is that this book just failed to capture me fully, and left me disappointed.

The word disappointment is key here, because ‘Kim’ began as a beautiful tale. Written by a man renowned for his work on middle-eastern culture (‘The Jungle Book’, of course), it doesn’t fail to kindle mystical images of the Indian world, albeit viewed with an unsettlingly imperial tone. The characters are full of spirit and at times the imagery is wonderful. And yet, as I said, I’ve had to drag myself here to write about it.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been busy in my head recently, but ‘Kim’ felt frenetic, and not always in a good way. The plot is layered in confusion – maybe this is because of Kipling’s vision of a muddled India – but it ultimately left me feeling like I’d missed several tricks. It seemed unwholesome.

Maybe I need to come back to this one, much like ‘The Elephant’s Journey’. It has so much charm in it, even depth, but I can’t help feel that the plot sags under its own lack of clarity. That said, the writing style is fantastic – I’ll be sure to return to old

 

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Upcoming novel: ‘The Home and the World’ by Rabindranath Tagore

Image: ‘Rudyard Kipling’ retrieved from https://fineartamerica.com/featured/rudyard-kipling-granger.html

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The Saga of Gosta Berling

It’s been a few weeks, I know – I’m afraid between moving home and just being generally busy, this one has felt like a slow burner. But now that it’s finished, I can say I’ve heartily enjoyed it!

‘Gosta Berling’ was first published in 1891 by the Swedish writer, Selma Lagerlof; in 1909 it contributed to her accolade as the first woman to win the Nobel Prize (wow!) Lagerlof herself was an interesting character – a  homosexual suffragette, she certainly fitted the bill for the intriguing ‘creative type’. Her background – growing up surrounded by the fairytales of rural Sweden, as well as being consistently in the presence of strong female personas – has clearly coloured the plot of ‘Berling’ significantly.

The novel itself, as I said, is a joy to read. In particular, the anthropomorphism of all sorts of ordinarily inhuman concepts, from storms and lakes to woodlands, sleighs and wolves, is truly poetic. Again, the strength and prominence of female characters is also an encouraging quality, and not at all what I was expecting from the novel’s blurb (which led me to suspect this would be a story about Gosta Berling’s numerous nauseating conquests). Finally, the fragmented nature of the plot, although not wholly to be praised, kept the novel interesting and varied, with a multitude of characters and settings across Swedish Varmland.

This splintered style of story-telling, however, did have its weakness – a little like ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, it left me feeling at times like the novel had no focus. Indeed, more than once I found myself wondering what this has to do with Gosta or his immediate circle. On a more functional level, the translation (Paule Bancroft Flach), whilst mostly brilliant, fell short at times – I noticed repetition of particular adjectives and structures which didn’t feel entirely deliberate, rather a case of clunky errors. These were rare, though.

Overall, this is a whimsical and at times magical story which I would definitely recommend. It might not have you sat at the edge of your seat throughout, but its excitement peaks and dips much like real-life, and I think, despite the at times fantastical themes, this naturalism is what Lagerlof might have been aiming for.

 

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Upcoming novel: ‘Kim’ by Rudyard Kipling

Image: ‘Sophie Elkan & Selma Lagerlöf’ retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selma_Lagerl%C3%B6f

The Elephant’s Journey

Hello readers, and welcome back again!

This week’s novel has been ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, by José Saramago, first published in Portuguese in 2008, then translated a couple of years later. It follows the movement of an elephant, Solomon, and his rider (or mahout) from Solomon’s ‘owner’, the Portuguese king, to the Archduke of Austria. The event supposedly took place in 1551 as a bit of political greasing. Whether it actually did or not hardly matters – Saramago capitalises on his charming way of manipulating history.

I’ve not read anything else by the author, but have noted his intense critical praise up until his recent death. Of his “subversive” plots [shamelessly quoted from Wikipedia], this is reportedly one of the more ‘fun’. I wonder whether some wider reading is needed from me here…

The reason I ask is because I’m not altogether satisfied with this little book. But let’s begin with the positives. Saramago’s story is undeniably charming, at least to begin. The kind, humorous tone complements the discursive sequence of events, which pass along smoothly, like sailing on a sea of honey [or something more poetic]. The characters are all subtly endeared to the reader without recourse to greatly dramatic events – we like them as a casual acquaintance, and we believe them.

Nevertheless, I cannot share entirely in this book’s high praise. For me, its wonderful lightness rendered it a little bit insipid – by the end of its 200 pages or so, I felt like I’d read a stream of nothings, rather than an over-arching, substantial arc. On top of this, the occasionally trite pop-corns of wisdom had me rolling my eyes towards its end – perhaps this is the cynic in me, or the fact that I whisked through it… I might return to it one day to find it actually is intensely meaningful. But I’m not sure.

While the book hardly had me riveted, it left a distinctly warm feeling in my consciousness, and I’m intrigued enough to read more of Saramago – I suppose that has to count for something!

 

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Upcoming novel: ‘The Saga of Gosta Berling’, by Selma Lagerlof

Image: ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, Melissa Lotfy. 

Quo Vadis?

Welcome back! To kick off our Nobel journey, I’m bringing you a pretty hefty historical novel – ‘Quo Vadis?’, by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

First published in 1895, it comes from a Polish writer whose spotless Catholicism is perhaps best indicated by the fact that, at his funeral in 1916, Pope Benedict XVI made a personal address! The book itself revolves around the story of Saint Peter in Ancient Rome; his determined residence beneath the notoriously ‘sinful’ Emperor Caesar has become a symbol of the Christian mission. Peter only forms a backdrop, however, to the more clichéd romance between a Christian beauty and a wild Roman notable.

Overall, it’s a great book, despite its traditional subject matter. In particular, the descriptive skill (which in part must be due to fantastic translation from Jeremiah Curtin) is at times truly beautiful; the shocking scenes within the Colosseum had me completely hooked. The characterisation of Nero, too, as the novel’s ‘villain’, is very effective – hateful but nuanced. Whether this is an accurate image of the Emperor or not, it’s impressive.

On the down-side, the novel is predictably biased in favour of Christianity – perhaps without this Western focus, Henryk would not have been awarded the Nobel Prize. I had read this comment in other reviews before reading, and was expecting it to be extremely sanctimonious. However, it’s not impossible to get over – most of the Roman citizens aren’t treated as irredeemable sinners.

Another possible flaw is the verbosity of the text, especially in the beginning. In honesty, though, this isn’t really a fault on the writer’s part – he clearly had done much research into Ancient Rome, and wanted to appear authentic. Unfortunately, this at times translates into a muddle of Roman terms which might feel, to those not clued up on ancient history, somewhat pretentious. Again, though, this is a matter of opinion, and personally I felt it did less harm than good for the reading experience.

Overall, for any interested in religious history, this is a monumental work which deserves your attention. For those not normally inclined to this kind of thing, give it a go! Thinking about it, the themes raised resonate with the state of current world affairs. With immigrants and refugees being scattered and, at times, hounded by the ‘dominant’ society of today, and *ahem* certain leaders doing little to make them feel safe, ‘Quo Vadis?’ has a lesson – however moralistic – which we could all stand to keep in mind.

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Upcoming novel: ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, by José Saramago

Image: ‘Triumph of Faith: Christian Martyrs in the Time of Nero 65AD’, Eugene Thirion (1839-1910) taken from https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/331085010088268640/ 

 

A new adventure

Welcome!

To any who’ve managed to find themselves here, if you’re obsessed with books, history, or the myriad complexities of the human condition, I may be able to interest you. If not, even better – I want to get you reading!

This blog, ‘A Nobel Journey’, sets out to cover at least one novel from every Nobel Prize for Literature winner throughout its 100-year or so existence. Here I’ll be discussing my personal opinion on each book’s pros and cons, and trying to flesh out how these works of art, which are so often overlooked in the public eye, might relate to our real lives.

I’m hoping for it to be short and punchy, but with plenty of food for thought. Any comments are always welcome – in fact, that’s the principal aim of the blog, to have ‘ordinary’ people like us talking about these extraordinary books.

House rules:

– I’m going to aim for a two week turnover, but of course might not always make it. At this point, though, I’m determined not to break!

– I’m not entirely sure that the novels will come in date order – in fact it might be more interesting to mix it up. The real reason behind this rule, though, is that books cost money, and aren’t always readily available (if ONLY people would invest in some sort of public body to distribute high quality literature…)

That’s it for particulars – without further ado, let’s get this show on the road!

Oh, and I’m Joe by the way 🙂

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Upcoming novel: ‘Quo Vadis’, by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Image: ‘Reading’, Ada Thilén (Finland, 1852-1933) taken from https://thesleeplessreader.com/about/fellow-readers-favorite-paintings-of-women-reading/