Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Voices in the Evening

Voices in the Evening by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by DM Low, 171 pages

Natalia Ginzburg's Voices in the Evening intertwines the lives, loves, and losses of a group of upper middle class men and women living in a provincial Italian town before, during, and after the Second World War.  The war, as well as the fascist government that preceded and precipitated it and the social changes that follow in its wake, affects the characters like a natural disaster, more something that happens to them rather than something in which they meaningfully participate.  The focus is instead on the relationships among the characters as they evolve down through the years.

As the title implies, the stories of the novel are told primarily through dialogue, the characters talking to and about one another.  There is no overarching plot, the novel being tied together by the setting, the characters, and the theme that, in this world at least, happiness is like water - impossible to hold on to.

Monday, June 26, 2017


JeromeJerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies by JND Kelly, 339 pages

It sometimes seems as if the number of biographies of St Augustine of Hippo could fill a small library by themselves, with his own Confessions remaining the best.  By contrast, there are very few biographies of his interlocutor and rival St Jerome.  This is certainly not because he lived an uneventful life - to the contrary, wherever Jerome went, controversy swirled around him.  As Kelly ably reveals, this was the result of a character as passionately loyal to his friends as he was hostile to his enemies, "violently opinionated" with an "habitual tendency to exaggerate".  Jerome is best known as the translator who produced the bulk of the definitive Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, but in Kelly's biography this is secondary to Jerome's involvement in a range of contemporary disputes both theological and personal.  The result is a work which manages to be both lively and eminently scholarly.

This is not to say that Kelly lacks weaknesses - particularly troublesome is his consistent chronological snobbery that smirks at Jerome's sexual morality and airily waves about the latest word in biblical criticism as if it were the last word.  Throughout, it is clear that Kelly's own views are the yardstick by which he measures Jerome's successes and failures, and this colors somewhat his analysis of Jerome's mindset and motives.  Nonetheless, his solid scholarship compensates for these flaws, as the book is anchored solidly enough for the reader to dissent from Kelly's evaluations.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Captive Mind

The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Jane Zielonko, 251 pages

In his 1953 book The Captive Mind, Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz describes the place of an intellectual under socialism, a situation he compares to that of a violinist in a concentration camp.  Through a series of essays he analyzes the seductiveness of the System, especially in the East, where the world wars had thoroughly wiped away the past and the Soviet way seemed the only path to the future.  He vividly exposes the tragedy of thought under an ideology which not only prohibits opposition but demands approval, necessitating a thoroughgoing dissimulation which approaches schizophrenia.

Naturally, a book like The Captive Mind could never have been written under communism, and indeed Milosz wrote it following his defection to the United States in 1951.  He evocatively describes the tragedy of a poet living in isolation from his linguistic community, so that the book serves simultaneously as a justification for his own decision to leave and an explanation for the decisions of others to stay.  At the heart of the book are Milosz's biographies of four typical writers - a Catholic, a cynic, a Communist, and a nationalist - and the self-mutilation they must perform to survive under Stalinism.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost

 The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost (Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural---Book 1)

by Lucy Banks    284 pages

I was intrigued when I saw this book. I mean, look at that cover. It’s so intriguing that readers, especially lovers of a good ghost story, will pick up. The back cover copy is equally as enticing. It promises “A contemporary twist on the Victorian Gothic novel with a dash of humour to lighten the eerie, sinister tone of this modern day ghost story.” With a sentence like that, it’s just gotta be read.

The first sentence is ripe with foreshadowing. I’ve never read a first sentence that is able to put so much prophesy in only five words.  Between the fist and back covers and the first sentence, I couldn’t wait to dive in.

Twenty-two-year-old Kester Lanner lost his mother to cancer two weeks ago. Her dying wish was that he locates Dr. Ribero. Kester had never heard of this person until his dying mother uttered them as her final words.

Kester is an introverted, shy and quiet young man. He hates adventure, yet here he is standing outside the building where the office of Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural is located. Once he makes it inside, he learns that there is more to the agency than the name. Dr. Ribero has four employees who all stare at him as he walks opens the office door.

And now here the story takes a nosedive. Ribero’s employees bicker and squabble. They are always insulting each other. The three women and one man reminded me of a pack of silly adolescent boys. But I kept reading, waiting for the good stuff. Unfortunately, it never arrived.

Kester is invited to join the team, but he isn’t sure. He goes on a few minor jobs with the team involving spirts that was, frankly, stupid. Not a hint of a sinister tone anywhere. Kester doesn’t fit in. He prefers a more academic, structured environment.

Then the agency gets a call for a rally big case, the case they need to stabilize their business. During the first tangle with the green-dressed ghost, Kester realizes his isn’t cut out for this sort of life. But Ribero and the team like having him around. As they get further into the case, Kester discovers the gift that only he can bring.

The battle with the green-dressed ghost begins. And it’s just as silly as the previous jobs. It’s the team that gets in the way. They are so asinine.

I was extremely disappointed in Banks’ debut novel. I had high hopes for a great read, but all I got was inane wrangling. For this reason, The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost receives 2 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.