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Showing posts from December, 2011

Travelling Lit

Today, two more gifts: Jean Genet's Thief's Journal and Evelyn Waugh's When the Going was Good, which is subtitled 'Everything the author wishes to preserve from his pre-war travel books'. This seems revisionary.

It has a fabulous beginning, from 'A Pleasure Cruise in 1929':

In February 1929 London was lifeless and numb, seeming to take its temper from Westminster, where the Government was dragging out the weeks of its last session. Talking films were justbeing introduced, and had set back by twenty years the one vital art of the century. There was not even a good murder case. And besides this it was intolerably cold...People shrank, in those days, from the icy contat of a cocktail glass, like the Duchess of Malfi from the dead hand, and crept stiff as automata from the draughty taxis into the nearest tube-railway station, where they stood, pressed together for warmth, coughing and sneezing among the evening papers.'

In his introduction of 1945 Waugh says …

I'll be Home for Christmas

My parents still live in George, a small city on the south western South African coast, flat and spreading, named for George III and celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary this year. Provincial and predominantly Afrikaans, George was a pleasant place to grow up, but young adults move to larger cities like Cape Town, Durban, or Johannesburg if they can.

Like many provincial cities, I suppose, it is an intellectual dry-spot. We weren’t taught to relish reading or studies at school; we didn’t have a library of our own, and the school system encouraged parroting, not critical thinking. People here live outdoor lives. The beach is so nearby; the mountain so close. You can drive your bakkie across the pass to the Karoo and to the hot springs.

When I went regularly to the George library as a girl – a flat-roofed, squat building which was trying very hard to be Cape Dutch, but obviously built in the 60s - I’d pick crime novels, science fiction, fantasy, regency romances. I now consider time…

Finally, Fiction

At last! The term is done and I have read a novel. Published in the last thirty years. Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot.

Avoid if you dislike narrative pretension or digressions or books which are not quite clear about their genres. Stay away if you dislike novels which point to themselves and their sisters, and which are called by their admirers post-modern.



[David Hockney's Felicite Sleeping, With Parrot: Illustration of 'A Simple Heart', for Gustave Flaubert, print, 1974]

Based on your qualifications, Flaubert’s Parrot may be only slightly a novel.. It is a pseudo-biography of the author of Madame Bovary, assembled by the narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, as he explores and problematizes literary biography, characterized by his search for the ‘real’ parrot which inspired Un Coeur Simple. It is a primer of how to experimentally collect and whimsically group the data of a literary life: by chronology (Braithwaite/Barnes includes an optimist’s and a pessimist’s chronology), Fla…