Goodmorning everyone, well it’s morning where I am anyway.
Thought I’d give you all an update on how I’m going with reading those very important unit books I was telling you about.
There were six of them in total, now down to three:
- Fires, by Raymond Carver (a compendium of poetry, essays and short stories)
- Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
- Keep the Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell
- The plays of Anton Chekhov
- Short story collection by Flannery O’Connor
- Story collection by Lawrence Durrell
The first three I’ve already torn through with gusto, I’m still halfway through Chekhov but I’m getting there.
To start off with, Fires is quite an interesting collection of work. It starts with a section of essays detailing his writing career and expounding his ideas on writing theory (not literary theory, two different things), then progresses into a series of poetry and finishes with about six short stories, I can’t remember the exact figure now. Carver is an amazing writer. He’s got this style which borders on sparse, and yet it gives his work exactly the kind of feel it needs to get its point across. It seems emotionally rich without wasting too much time on scene or plot. He’s very character-driven when he writes. It’s something I admire as a writer and wish I could do better.
Heart of Darkness… this one stuck with me. It’s one of the few postcolonial texts that I actually managed to enjoy reading, I’ve read a few now but none of them stuck with me like this one did. It’s so good I’d buy it and read it again. This one is based on Conrad’s trip to the Congo and his experiences with the natives there. The title itself is a clever metaphor for a number of things, given the era and social setting. The main character is from England, sent to the Congo to complete an ivory trade deal. The whole story is about his journeys through the Congo and interactions with the natives, on a trip to find the man who supposedly has a ‘large cache of ivory’ which is worth quite a lot of money, named Kurtz. The title Heart of Darkness not only refers to the pure fear that the main character experiences when entering the jungles of the Congo on his paddle steamer, but also about the native populations both in servitude and in the wild. It also references the emotion given through Conrad’s words, the sense of, well, darkness. I know that’s very simplistic but there’s no other way to describe it. The phrase encapsulates a whole bunch of ideas, and the book itself takes a lot of contextual digging to understand. But once you get to the heart of the matter it all makes sense. You feel quite fulfilled afterwards. I won’t give away too much of the plot here because it’s worth a read, and it’s always better to come up with your own opinions rather than have them based on someone else’s.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It’s a funny title for a funny book. And I don’t mean funny as in humorous, because the subject matter is actually quite serious. It’s all to do with money. All of it. Orwell seems to have a liking for writing about dystopian societies, as he did with 1984 and Animal Farm, and this book doesn’t skimp on his ideals. In fact I conducted some research into Orwell’s life and this particular work is based on his own time spent living in poverty upon his return from the Indian Army. He returned from war and felt that he no longer fit in with society in England, so he wrote a book about it. For our protagonist in the novel, he uses the common household aspidistra plant as a symbol of the moneyed society in which we all live. He detests it with a passion that only the impoverished can have, and the whole piece is about how he comes to terms with his own ‘war on money’ and realizes that we might not like having it around, but its necessary and we have to use it, otherwise we get shunted out from society like the weekly garbage and its hard to get back into the flow of things. It’s a commentary on the society of the 1930s, the book itself was published in 1936. Another one definitely worth reading.
As for Anton Chekhov and his plays, it’s something to get used to. I haven’t really read many Russian plays, let alone authors (apart from fifty pages of War and Peace when I was in high school, I gave up it was too content heavy for me then), and I find the stilted style of Russian society is quite something to get used to. Chekhov has a way of bringing his words to life on the page, the characters sound believable and are easy to imagine as you read. It’s got all his plays and sketches in it, the book I’m reading, and each one of them is approached in the same lively manner. All of them, however tend to focus on society and what goes on in everyday family life, which can get a little pedantic after reading six sketches on the same topic. If you’re willing to stretch your patience a bit and you don’t get fed up with plays, then Chekhov’s a good playwright to read.
As for the other books, I’ll let you know what I think of them once I’ve read them. They were both favourites of Carver’s, and I’m hoping that I’ll find something in them for myself.
Until next time;