Reading Journal: March 2015

Intoxicated Ghost cover(19) The Intoxicated Ghost and Other Stories by Arlo Bates.

Arlo Bates wasan American author and academic early in the Twentieth Century. The collection is interesting, but not excellent, saving one story I’d like to highlight Miss Gaylord and Jenny, which is one of the earliest uses of dissociative identity disorder I’ve seen in fiction. Another highlight is A Comedy in Crepe. It is a comedy of manners. In a small town, after the Civil War, three women each don mourning for a missing man, and fight for the social cachet of being his bereaved girlfriend.

This book is available from Librivox in audio, and in electronic formats by Project Gutenberg.

hornblower(20-24, 26-29) Midshipman Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur, Hornblower in the Crisis, Hornblower and the Atropos, The Happy Return, A Ship of the Line, Flying Colours, The Commodore, Lord Hornblower by C.S. Forester.

The Hornblower series is the work of a lifetime by a skilled author. It pretends to be a single series, but it actually mixes genres in a way authors today would not. The early novels are naval adventure stories, Lieutenant Hornblower is a murder mystery, Lord Hornblower is an action adventure story set primarily on land. It’s not as varied as, say, the Vorkosigan series, but it has a similar feel: the naval setting is sometimes used to frame a story has appeal factors from outside its genre.

I’m glad to have listened to these stories, because they’ve shown me something I’d forgotten about literature. Most of the fiction I’ve been reading and listening to recently is in first person. You are trapped in the head of the narrator, or you are reading their account as if you were in their world. This is an excellent way of writing mysteries, for example, because it prevents the reader discovering surplus information, without obviously limiting the reader’s point of view. This series, though is third person omniscient, and for these stories, it works perfectly.

Hornblower’s problems, and his solutions often have to do with naval matters. The author needs to give you sufficient information for you to understand why a situation is tense, what chances the character is taking, and what the consequences of failure will be. Forester is a genius at this, but he could never do it in first person narration. Hornblower can’t wander around thinking about things which are, to him, obvious. I’ve deeply enjoyed the worldbuilding in this series, and I’ve never really understood how excellent third persona omniscient is for this.

I’d like to note, for those wanting to just dip into the series, that Forester wrote the books out of the suggested reading sequence. Midshipman Hornblower is a fine place to start, but if you follow through the internal chronology, there’s a sudden swerve in the author’s technique between the Hornblower and the Atropos (written in 1953) and The Happy Return (written in 1937). The way he pays off things, then sets them up in his prequels, is seamless.

The Library Service has all of the Hornblower novels.  In my list about I’ve skipped the second novel, Lieutenant Hornblower, because I remembered the plot too well, and the final, Hornblower in the West Indies, because I’d like to take a break and come back.

Hold me closer cover(25) Hold me closer : The Tiny Cooper story by David Leviathan.

This is a “musical novel”, which I’d argue is actually a poetry anthology. In it Tiny Cooper,  a supporting character from the novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson, takes centre stage. It describes his personal journey, from being a “big gay baby” through a period of hopeless relationships, to his acceptance of his own completeness without partner.

The Library Service has copies of this book, and book club discussion questions have been provided in a previous post.