Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two good books to get your teeth into this month!

Great Expectations really needs no introduction. However, an extract from this unknown reviewer in 1861 gives some idea of its immediate reception. 'In Great Expectations, on the contrary, Dickens seems to have attained the mastery of powers which formerly more or less mastered him. He has fairly discovered that he cannot, like Thackeray, narrate a story as if he were a mere looker-on, a mere knowing observer of what he describes and represents; and he has therefore taken observation simply as the basis of his plot and his characterization. As we read Vanity Fair and The Newcomes, we are impressed with the actuality of the persons and incidents. There is an absence of both directing ideas and disturbing idealizations. Everything drifts to its end, as in real life. In Great Expectations there is shown a power of external observation finer and deeper even than Thackeray's; and yet, owing to the presence of other qualities, the general impression is not one of objective reality. The author palpably uses his observations as materials for his creative faculties to work upon; he does not record, but invents; and he produces something which is natural only under conditions prescribed by his own mind. He shapes, disposes, penetrates, colors, and contrives everything, and the whole action is a series of events which could have occurred only in his own brain, and which it is difficult to conceive of as actually happening. And yet in none of his other works does he evince a shrewder insight into real life, and a clearer perception and knowledge of what is called the world. The book is, indeed, an artistic creation, and not a mere succession of humorous and pathetic scenes, and demonstrates that Dickens is now in the prime, and not in the decline of his great powers.'

Bernard Schlink's "The Weekend' takes us into some dark territory. This is a review by "The Guardian'.
How do we like our terrorists now? Can a man with four murders to his credit, pardoned by the German state and released from prison after 24 years, ever be integrated back into society? Is there some fundamental shift in thinking since the events of 9/11 that has forever placed all ideologies of physical force beyond sympathy, beyond understanding?
These are the questions that draw us into The Weekend, a novel in which a gathering of family and friends come together to receive a member of the Red Army Faction terrorist group back into the everyday world of food and talk at a country house in Brandenburg. They also await an explanation. It's a day of judgment, looking back over the violent, revolutionary past in which they were once caught up in conflict with the capitalist state.