Shells, Hearts, Boarding, and Someone’s Typing Up my Thoughts: Elizabeth George’s Believing the Lie; Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart; Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man; Muriel Spark’s The Comforters
This will be a catch-up post of a grab bag of this week’s books.
502) Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George, 2012 (hard copy, library)
I’ve read every book George has every written. She’s one of just a few living writers (also Alice Munro, Sue Miller) about whom I can say this.
Inspector Lynley is back (still smarting from the death of his beloved wife, Helen) working with Detective Sargent Barbara Havers to solve the death of Ian Cressler. Ian was a member of the wealthy, powerful Fairclough family. He died getting out of his rowing shell and falling on lose dock stones.
Lynley is brought in when the Fairclough head calls in some favors because the death, ruled an accident, seems suspicious. But Lynley has to keep it all a secret, even from his boss, with whom he happens to be, shall we say, getting it on. And, of course, he requires the assistance of the indefatigable Havers (NEWS FLASH – Barbara gets her hair cut in a salon! in this book) and she gets results.
As we wend through this 624 pp book, we come to meet the many members of the Fairclough clan, including a troubled 14 year boy showing sociopathic signs, Ian’s former male lover, Ian’s former and currently very “cheesed-off” wife, and a whole host of not very sympathetic people. It’s always nice when people are well-rounded, but by and large, other than Lynley and Havers, these people are just not very nice (although by the end some of their good sides become more visible).
This was an interesting one in that they were looking at a murder that may or may not have taken place and because they keep finding new potential crimes, or at least, injustices. However, I never really got into it. I’ve sucked down the many prior Lynley’s, generally with great enthusiasm, but for some reason, not this one. But, glad I read it if for no other reason than I’ll be ready for the next one.
58) The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty, 1953 (Hard copy)
I actually read this not so long ago, but it was on my list, I’d just read the Welty autobio of sorts, and I figured I’d re-read it.
This is the story of young Edna Earle Ponder and her Uncle Daniel. Uncle Daniel is wealthy, especially after Grandpa Ponder dies. But Uncle Daniel is simple, if not intellectually, then emotionally – he tends to give everything he owns away to just about anybody, including his heart.
If you’ve read the work of Flannery O’Connor (an old favorite of mine) or Carson McCullers (another fave) Welty will be quite familiar. I have not, to my knowledge, read any of her other work (I own The Optimist’s Daughter and plan to get to it soon). Only Welty’s less serious. Welty was from the South and her writing is very much in the Southern style – full of characters, colloquialisms, and Southern culture.
Edna Earle tells the story of Uncle Daniel figuring himself out. This process largely begins with Grandpa Ponder temporarily committing him to a mental institution (and getting himself committed instead) through Uncle Daniel’s two very bad, but colorful marriages. Through it all, Edna Earle is the patient, grounded observer (a stand-in for the author?) who gets things set right with a little help from her friends.
It is an enjoyable lark of a book – silly and fun. I’m still trying to understand the point, though. Welty’s a highly respected author, I enjoyed her “bio” and look forward to her other book that I own. But I have to say, I hope it has more meat than The Ponder Heart.
223) Dangling Man by Saul Bellow, 1944 (hard copy)
Bellow’s another author who is so highly respected, but one I haven’t read. I don’t tend to enjoy a lot of fiction by male authors. But he’s an important author, so I figured I’d give it a go and read the several Bellow’s I’ve collected cheaply over the years.
And here’s my sole Bellow anecdote: as mentioned earlier, I started college at the University of Chicago, which, in 1979 feature prominently its 44 Nobel Prize winners (including Bellow) on their faculty. So, I knew long ago that Bellow was very famous. And I had a good friend there who happened by Bellow’s department looking for another faculty member. It may have been a quiet time. My friend, Steve, recounted how friendly and helpful Bellow was in helping him out. And that’s it. Bellow was nice to a poor undergraduate wandering the halls. But you have to keep in mind that Steve found the niceness of a Nobel winner very remarkable. And, as a grumpy professor myself, I can say I don’t always go out of my way to help out errant undergraduates – depends on my mood, so it is a bit more impressive than it sounds. Which is not much, I know!
Anyway, Dangling Man was Bellow’s first book. It has superlative jacket blurbs from high places comparing him to Hemingway (if you squint you may be able to read them in the picture). It is the story of Joseph and Iva. They are in limbo, especially Joseph.
Joseph has been drafted into World War II, but various forms of red tape are keeping him from actually joining the army. Meanwhile, he’s a “1A” whatever that means, but it prevents him from working. As a result, Iva is supporting them both and Joseph is drifting through his days idle and depressive.
This short book reminds me of Lord of the Flies or a Kafka novel. Not enjoyable, but important. (As Jillian’s teacher mentioned on A Room of My Own Blog said, “don’t expect every book to entertain you.”)
You very much get a sense of Joseph’s claustrophobia and struggle to just do something, just know something, just move forward in any way possible. It seems like a unique point of view. It will be interesting to see how it compares to his other work.
381) The Comforters by Muriel Spark, 1957 (hard copy)
I’ve got some Sparks on my shelves, I’ve never read her and I’ve been meaning to, so I thought I’d get on with it starting with The Comforters.
This is the story of Laurance Manders, his grandmother Louisa Jepps, and his erstwhile girlfriend, Caroline.
It turns out Laurance works at the BBC (done well for himself, he announces sport scores), Louisa (78 years old) is smuggling diamonds with her gang of senior citizens, and Caroline is hearing taunting voices and typewriter keys that repeat her inner thoughts. The story focuses on figuring out why and how his grandmother is doing this (and, is she REALLY doing it?) and if and why Caroline is hearing things.
Hmmmm…. I was very happy to read A Captive Reader’s review of Loitering with Intent when it came to my email box this morning because she had exactly the same reaction I had – which is that I couldn’t really get into this book. And, coincidentally, that hearing typewriters and voices thing? – Spark uses the same “tropes” with a different twist (but same cause) in that book. I’ll keep reading Spark, but this book definitely didn’t grab me.
So, one of those weeks – four books down, none that I loved, all books I’m glad I read.
Happy Reading, Ruby