Sadness and chuckles and disgust: Reading in a nutshell.

Books mentioned in this post:

Martin Amis – Money

D.H. Lawrence – Sons and Lovers

Happy weekend, loves.

I’m pleased to report I’m on book two of my Guardian 1000 project, though not as proud to admit book one crashed and burned after just under 100 pgs. I invoked the Librarian’s Rule of Law: Thou Shalt NOT Read Icky Books, then threw Martin Amis’s Money onto the reject pile.

I defy you to find a photo of this man in which he's not sneering.

I defy you to find a photo of this man in which he’s not sneering.

If you’re an Amis fan this will mystify you but our relationship was shaky from the start and did not improve. It was a no-fault reading divorce. As I wrote on my Guardian 1000 blog, the book was far too dark and without redeeming value. I can read depressing books (see below) but “protagonists” who do nothing but smoke, drink, take drugs, use people and whore around are repulsive to me. They’re a breed I particularly despise, characters I cannot in any way either respect or identify with, without any redeeming value – especially when the plot itself offers nothing better to come.

Actually, it’s hard explaining exactly why my dislike of the book was so visceral, so extreme. I wanted to read an Amis novel, I really did. I’ve wanted to for ages and hadn’t managed it. I know his reputation for being one of the bad boys of literature and have also seen him waxing lyrical about his Great Reputation and how he’ll be an Icon when he dies, a bit of cockiness that makes me laugh, even knowing he’s probably right. So, when the opportunity arose I was glad to pick up Money but the whole thing went sour quickly.

Tell you what, Martin. If I get through the rest of the Guardian 1000 books and am still scrounging for something to read I’ll try Money again… That’s our compromise. Next up for my Guardian read is Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond. And what a relief it is…

Have you read Amis? Did you see something I didn’t? Should I ever try anything else he’s written?

I hope to get along better with Kingsley, once his number comes up. I’ve heard he’s genuinely funny. I’m expecting more an Evelyn Waugh style from him. Please don’t tell me I’m wrong about that.

In classics reading, I’m working on DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, for the Guardian Book Group. A more thoroughly depressing work is tough to imagine. Take  Madame Bovary, add a cup of How Green Was My Valley and a handful of Germinal and you’ll be on the right track. Unrelentingly DISMAL would be an appropriate term. Stick your head in the oven a la Sylvia Plath dismal, then throw yourself in front of a train and, finally, drown yourself. It would be kinder than experiencing the life of the Morel family.

So, why am I enjoying it? I expect because it has so much to say about the plight of the terribly poor workman and his family. Ironically, the father in this family is likewise a drunkard and occasionally physically abusive but Lawrence is not trying to make any kind of backhanded joke about his characters, no failed attempt at dark humor, like Amis. It digs deeply into the psychology of the main characters, giving motivation the horrible way they treat each other. Grim, yes, but for a reason.

“But still, in her heart of hearts, where the love should have burned, there was a blank. Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him, even when he roused her strong emotions.”

And the writing is masterful, really lovely. Lawrence finds beauty in a sunset, the most simple of life’s pleasures. He paints a realistic portrait of all the characters but especially of the wife, who simultaneously resents and fiercely adores her children. Who loves but hates her husband. There’s redemption and humanity. In Amis’s Money there is neither. None of the above: no beauty, no redemption, no motivation save the money itself. I find it repugnant.

I’ve also set myself a goal of reading one Virago and one NYRB edition every month – July to December – for the rest of this year. The Towers of Trebizond is published by NYRB, so if I wanted I could say it’s killing two birds but I’ll attempt to read one other, to be fair. Unless I run out of time, in which case I reserve the right to change my mind completely.

I hope to post photos of my Virago and NYRB choices over the weekend. I’ve basically grabbed them off the shelves madly, no particular rhyme or reason. It’s CRAZY. Just CRAZY.


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