18 July 2014

Last Notes of The Luminaries

  • A hundred pages left to go. Finally hit a dry-spell, the courtroom scene. The only thing more boring than a lawyer is a courtroom drama.
  • Still there were some funny moments. Which reminded me of how humorous this novel is--an urgent message is delivered with instructions to destroy it after reading, and the destruction is mocked; Te Rau asking after a certain type of woman at the seance; the bluster of Mannering, the fey good goofy-nature of Staines, Lydia Wells' way of greeting a woman newly arrived to Dunedin. 
  • The problem of ending a book one spends a week with--and one only spends a week on a good book, at least in middle age--is that the next book, no matter what it is, won't be as good. Best to follow something like The Luminaries with a Warren Beatty biography. Or opium.
Non-Luminaries notes:
  • There is a California beach house rule that says only pocket paperbacks from the 1970s can fill the bookshelves.
  • Nothing tastes better than 4-hour-dead halibut.

17 July 2014

A note on the shape of The Luminaries

It is a circle to start--360 pages for part 1, and then the other parts proceed by half the previous part's length. Down to 1? Who knows, not there yet. Just picked up on this--not sure how Catton did it.

The structure reminded me of a funny paragraph from Nathanael West's debut novel The Dream Life of Balso Snell:

Is this journal to be like all the others I have started? A large first entry, consisting of the incident which made me think my life exciting enough to keep a journal, followed by a series of entries gradually decreasing in size and culminating in a week of blank days.

16 July 2014

The Luminaries at page 500 (more notes)

  • Curious why I'm reading it every chance I get, a hundred pages a day if I can make the time. Besides the enjoyment and the propulsion of the story, there is no resolution in the offing. Moody just opened Lauderback's trunk and rifled through it; Dick Mannering (great name) has been informed that his former whore is studying tarot. Don't know what to expect at the seance. Maybe a strangling (a la Arcturus). 
  • Has a celebrated novel ever been this influenced by a TV show? I conjure pictures of HBO's "Deadwood" constantly while reading this book. Makes me want to write a novel based on the best tv show ever, "Simon & Simon".
  • There's a nice division being set-up between characters who were in the hotel room and those who were not. 
  • Burning through this makes me hope the other big books I brought on holiday will be as enjoyable. They are Biskind's Star (Warren Beatty bio), Mann's Buddenbrooks, and Littell's The Kindly Ones. An actor, a family saga, and a Nazi--party time.
  • Have been out on two boats the past week, none named Godspeed.

14 July 2014

Notes on The Luminaries at its half-way point

  • Holds together well for a multi-character minutely-plotted novel. Haven't had to flip pages back to reread to clear up past action. Catton can leave a scene or character for a long time and come back to it nicely.
  • Wouldn't describe Catton's prose as natural, but she's expert at details (environment and character), and great at suspense; the first half of the novel is a huge set-up and I have no idea where it is going. Each sub-chapter seems like a client retelling the events that brought him to 221B Baker Street to ask Holmes for help and resolution.
  • Like Highsmith's The Termor of Forgery I won't be disappointed if all the loose ends of this novel don't get tied. I like loose ends, ambiguity, and unresolved puzzles. 
  • Have no idea what the Zodiac has to do with anything, yet. 
  • New Zealand's west coast is laid out well and it is easy to orient oneself within the novel as the characters make their way north and south and up and down river.
  • Tried over the years to read the two big Wilkie Collins novels (Luminaries got compared to Collins when it came out) and never finished them. Prefer Luminaries.
  • Wish that jail was always spelled gaol.

29 June 2014

The Screwball Novel

Arts and Entertainments, the new Christopher Beha novel, is a fun quick read that goes down easy, a beach book if I've ever read one. Maybe beach books should be renamed lemonade books; I live on the beach two months of each year and the beach doesn't go down easy ever.

Arts and Entertainments is a screwball novel--lots of silliness, more smirking-humor than laugh-out-loud humor--and its plot involves a handful of immature adults who get mixed up in the world of reality television, and all the embarrassing asides that come with that enterprise. The plotting in Arts and Entertainments is large and tight and it is this novel's best feature, as the characters themselves are queued to the plot's parameters.

Eddie Hartley, the main character, is a handsome and dim protagonist who becomes a perpetual victim to outlandish circumstances. The supreme example of this sort of plotting is of course The Crying of Lot 49Arts and Entertainments falls short of that great unpredictable maze, but Eddie's pursuit is vital and urgent and necessary to him, and his decisions--seldom good, mostly awful--compel a reader to read on.

I wish it were nastier; there are scenes in Arts and Entertainments that begin to remind one of the The Day of the Locust, only they don't flourish, likely because they don't have Nat West's wit or viciousness. Moody, the producer of the reality within the reality, is a supposed demiurge, but he isn't drawn as robustly or as menacing as he ought to be. The female characters, mostly in supporting roles, are better realized.

Beha's new novel is written in passive prose and laden with contractions, fashioned into plain sentences of the short descriptive nature, and his writing of environments and surroundings is often antiseptic. But he has proved himself now with a novel that builds taut suspense, a challenge for contemporary novelists. And with two novels to his credit, hopefully he has realized his strongest talent, writing women. This was Henry James' and EM Forster's talent, and one hopes Beha exploits his gift in bolder directions.