Pale Wire (Popscene)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

British Literature


Thank goodness school is finally out so I can start learning again.

Beyond cramming to test out of a Macroeconomics requirement, which has been way more fun than it deserves to be (thanks largely, I suppose, to the freedoms such self-directed academic activities provide, ala drinking beer while studying), I've found the time to get back in the groove.

This week I got my first exposure to two highly regarded British novelists from Ian McEwan's Black Dogs and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

Both came with a lot of hype. Here are sprinkling of the adjectives found on the back of McEwan's "study of the fragile nobility of the human spirit": "virtuosic," "subtle and unforgettable," "masterful and moving," "acute and alive, vivid," "redemptive," "fresh...vast and disciplined."

Hoo-weeeeh! That there some wordin'. I know you've come to trust such august voices of the literary establishment as The NY Review of Books, Times Book Review, Post Book World and The New Yorker, but -- gosh darn it -- you've got to believe me: it ain't that hot.

Sure, it's well crafted; the damn thing (a fictional memoir about a pair of starcrossed lovers told by their orphan son-in-law) reads as easy as a peanut butter sandwich. But, all in all, it seemed so slight. And a little too easy. Unless you're out to make a clear political point (see: Animal Farm, The Crucible) don't step to me with such straightforward symbolry. Yeah, dad's rational, mom's mystical and sonny's somewhere in between, I get it. But I can't really relate. Granted, the form is compatible with McEwan's themes about memory and the little myths we all write for ourselves, but it just didn't cotton to the characters for me.

And, in the end, it didn't add up to all that much.

Dalloway, on the other hand, brought the heat. I doubt the world needs one more lit-wit rambling on about it, so I'll spare you. But I should say it's worth your time. Go get it.