#readbyatt Chapters 14-19

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I apologize for the delay in getting this post out! Sunday totally got away from me and now Monday night has, too. Truthfully, though I’m not entirely sure I have much to say about this section. I went through to see what I bookmarked and I apparently found something interesting on page 364, but reading through it I have no idea what I found to be interesting enough to mark the page. I should really underline things.

So! What is going on in Possession. Well, Roland is still miserable. Maud is still reserved and quiet. They both dream of a white room with nothing in it but a white bed where they can go and be away from the noise and dirt of the world. It sounds silly when you write it out like that and I almost want to make fun of it, but it is touching and passionate when they talk about it. We find out a big secret about Christabel through her cousin Sabine’s journal.

Everyone talks about the letters being their favorite part, and I suppose in terms of literary accomplishment I agree with that. But in terms of juicy excitement, I liked Sabine’s journal even more. It’s scandalous and dramatic, but I agree with Kim in that it’s not shocking. I don’t know that it’s meant to be shocking to the reader, since we know that at the heart of this novel there are two love stories, but instead it is all about how Maud and Roland react and how their world changes because everything they thought they knew was incorrect.

As different as Maud and Roland are in their back story, they are fundamentally the same in the way they hold onto their own “normal.” Maud, after a disastrous relationship, is reserved and unwilling to trust. Roland has been in an unhappy relationship out of a sense of duty and because he can’t imagine life any other way. Neither is capable of shaking their lives up on their own, but maybe they can do it together. I don’t know – we’ll have to see if they get there.

Mindy commented on Kim’s blog that she thinks it is a good thing we’re reading Possession slowly and I have to agree with her. There’s been something leisurely about this readalong that’s given me time to really sit and think about the book. I’m not rushing to the end, but savoring each section slowly throughout the week. It’s been really lovely and while I’m excited to get to the end next week, I also know that I’m going to miss having a story like this to sink my teeth into week after week. It’s good to read things slowly sometimes.

#readbyatt section 1: me | Kim
#readbyatt section 2: me | Kim
#readbyatt section 3: Kim

 

#readbyatt Chapters 7-13

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Now for the next installment of the #readbyatt readalong with Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness! When we last left our scholars, Maud and Roland, they were both somewhat miserable, but they were on the brink of discovering something great about the two poets they study: Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. They discovered that the two poets not only knew each other, but were possibly in love and probably influencing each other’s work. Juicy stuff for scholarship on Victorian poets that hasn’t changed in eighty years or so.

This section was more primary source than narrative. Chapter 10 is an epic back and forth between RH and Christabel, where they go from platonic letter-writing friends to being scandalously in love. It’s very well-done, though there were parts that were difficult to get through, the payoff is worth it.

There are poems and letters and biographies of the fictional poets that are all interspersed throughout the main narrative featuring Roland and Maud. I mostly enjoy the story when it focuses either on Christabel and RH together or Roland and Maud together. The rest I enjoy less, like the biographies of RH or the sections that focus on other scholars.

I am interested in the way Byatt seems to focus her descriptions of the women on their physical appearance. She spends so much time talking about how large Beatrice Nest, a scholar who studies RH Ash’s wife, is. Take this passage:

If people thought of Beatrice Nest — and not many did, not very often — it was her external presence, not her inner life that engaged their imagination. She was indisputably solid, and nevertheless amorphous, a woman of wide and abundant flesh, sedentary swelling hips, a mass of bosom, above which spread a cheerful-shaped face […]. (125)

In fact her thoughts about her own sexuality were dominated entirely by her sense of the massive, unacceptable bulk of her breasts. […] Another woman might have flaunted them, might have carried them proudly before her, moulded grandly about a cleavage. (130)

I don’t know what to make of these passages, honestly. I can’t think of a male character that is described in such detail in connection with their physical appearance, other than the descriptions of Maud’s hair. Which is another passage I’d like to leave here for consideration:

Maud put up her hands to her head, and hesitated between unpinning the brooch and pulling off the whole head-binding. Finally, awkwardly for her, she did both, putting the scarf on the counter, and then unpinning its carefully constructed folds and handing the large black knobby thing to the old woman, who trotted away to hold it up in the dusty light from the window.

Roland looked at Maud. The pale, pale hair in fine braids was wound round and round her head, startling white in this light that took the colour out of things and only caught gleams and glancings. She looked almost shockingly naked, like a denuded window-doll, he first thought, and then, as she turned her supercilious face to him and he saw it changed, simply fragile and even vulnerable. He wanted to loosen the tightness and let the hair go. He felt a kind of sympathetic pain on his own skull-skin, so dragged and ruthlessly hair-pinned was her.s Both put their hands to their temple, as though he was her mirror. (282)

I bring up both of these passages because they seem to uncommonly focus on physical appearance in a way that other portions of the book do not. Since I think that Byatt is doing something very intentional here, I’m going to leave them for now without passing judgment. It was just something I happened to notice.

It’s really too soon for me to have any sort of opinion at all, other than am I enjoying it or not and the answer is yes, I am. But I did find a few more lines and passages that I thought were noteworthy:

A moth’s wing scaly like a coat of mail,
The sharp hooked claws upon the legs of flies –
I saw a new world in this world of ours –
A world of miracle, a world of truth
Monstrous and swarming with unguessed-at life.
– from Swammerdam, by RH Ash (223)

And after that — a rain — of Ash —
Ash the sheltering World-Tree, Ash the deadly Rain
So Dust to Dust and Ash to Ash again —
I see whole bevies of shooting stars — like gold arrows before my darkening eyes — they presage Headache — but before the 
black — and burning — I have a small light space to say — oh what? I cannot let you burn me up. I cannot. I should go up — not with the orderly peace of my beloved hearth here — with its miniature caverns of delight, its hot temporary jewel-gardens with their palisadoes and promontories — no — I shall go up — like Straw on a Dry Day — a rushing wind — a tremor on the air — a smell of burning — a blown smoke — and a deal of white fine powder that holds its spillikin shape only an infinitesimal moment and then is random specks — oh no I cannot —
-
 a letter from Christabel to RH (213)

Our next section is Chapters 14-19 for next Monday. I hope to see you there! As I mentioned last week, please be sure to leave the link to your #readbyatt posts and I’ll be sure to include them at the bottom of this post. What did you think of Chapter 10? Do you have a favorite character yet? Were there any quotes that you loved? Hated?

#readbyatt – Chapters 1-7 of Posession by A. S. Byatt

byattWhenever I think about Possession by AS Byatt, I think about how many people have told me that this book is their favorite. Then I think about all of the times I have cracked the spine and tried to make it my favorite book. That’s why I wanted to do this readalong with Kim, because I have tried to read this book so many times and so many readers I trust can’t be wrong!

And this time, I really felt like I understood why people love this book. The beginning is still difficult to get through. The first 40 pages or so, I was painfully aware that I was reading. I couldn’t get lost in the story without seeing exactly what Byatt was trying to do. It felt forced. Eventually, though, I got caught up in Roland and Maud’s quest to find out if Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte were in love.

When I wasn’t struggling with Byatt’s prose and how it sometimes felt forced, I was in awe of it. She has created such a complex narrative here, with fictional poets, who have fictional biographies, and the scholars who are fascinated by them. When it works, it’s amazing. In the first six chapters, we meet Roland, a Randolph Henry Ash scholar who has made an unusual discovery: an unfinished letter that the poet wrote to Christabel LaMotte, a somewhat obscure poet from the same time period revered by feminists for her unusual style and ambiguous tales. He visits a Christabel LaMotte scholar named Maud and the two of them end up discovering something important about their poets. They know that their scholarship is changed forever.

Roland is involved in a long-term dead-end relationship with a failed scholar he met while getting his PhD. The economy is miserable. His apartment is miserable. Roland is, all around, quite miserable. The discovery of this letter is his chance to make something of himself. While Maud doesn’t seem quite so miserable, not yet anyway, the thought that there is a whole element to LaMotte’s life that she doesn’t know about changes her scholarship and excites her, too.

And that’s where we are, sort of on the cusp of things to come. We know this is a romance, so I suspect that Maud and Roland will follow in the footsteps of their Victorian subjects. We ended this with a chapter that focuses mainly on Mortimer Cropper, the rival scholar from the US. I’m not entirely sure where this narrative turn is going and, until this chapter, I didn’t mind the literary asides. I am actually very taken with Christabel LaMotte’s poetry and fairy tales. I did find it difficult to focus on Chapter 6, though. Hopefully it picks up soon!

If you’re participating in your readalong, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll be sure to add it to the end of this post. You can read Kim’s reactions hereWhat was your favorite part of Possession? Before you started reading, were you as intimidated by it as I was? If so, do you feel a little less intimidated now?

Poetry Project August Round Up

Hello poetry darlings! Today is the official end of the Poetry Project for August. This was an amazing month. I can’t tell you how happy reading your posts made me all month. I am very pleased with the way the new format is working. The conversation really flows from one blog to the next. This Project wouldn’t exist without all of you who participate, so thank you. I really can’t tell you how amazing it has been to see so many blogs talking about poetry.

One exciting thing that has come out of the Poetry Project is all the new poetry blogs that have found their way here. Welcome! It’s also been great to see people really exploring poetry for the first time. I hope you’re a little less intimidated at the end of August than you were at the beginning.

If you are posting today and you want your post to be included in a round up, please link to it in the Mr. Linky for September, which will be hosted on my tireless, amazing co-host Kelly’s blog.

Now, onto the round up!

Kristin @ MatchedWith posts this month featuring poems by Wallace Stevens, WH Auden, and Anne Sexton, Kristin really shared some amazing poems! She also wrote her own poem, modeled after Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird.”

Snowball @ Come Sit By The Hearth: Snowball read Pulitzer Prize-winner Earnest Hemingway for this month’s challenge, working her way around the prompt a little bit since he won the prize for fiction, not poetry. You know what I say, “rules” were meant to be broken! The poems she includes are interesting and one of them is very funny. She also posted a reaction to “A poem a day” by William Sieghart and a few poems from Rita Dove’s collection American Smooth. 

Amy @ New Century Reading: Amy shared the poem “Morning Song” by Sylvia Plath, commenting that she really loves the way Plath represented motherhood in her poetry.

Jeanne @ Necromancy Never Pays: Jeanne shared two amazing poems and poets with us this month: “The Lake Isle at Innisfree” by WB Yeats and “Spiral Notebook” by one of my favorite poets, Ted Kooser.

Gavin @ Page 247: Gavin shared two poems by new-to-me poet Lisel Mueller called “Sometimes, When the Light” and “Why We Tell Stories.” She also shared “Thanks” by WS Merwin.

Nancy @ Simple Clockwork: Nancy shared poetry connected by a theme: adultery. In her post, she compared the poems “For My Lover, Returning to his Wife” by Anne Sexton, “What My Lips Have Kissed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I Knew A Woman” by Theodore Roethke, and “Sonnet to a Gardener: II” by Filipino poet Trinidad Tarrosa-Subido. This post is fascinating! She also posted about Angela Manalang-Gloria, another Filipino poet. She included the poems “Revolt from Hymen” and “Soledad.”

Evelyn N. Alfred @ Librarian Dreams: Evelyn shared the poem “Straw Hat” by Rita Dove, another new-to-me poet that I’ll be exploring more now.

AnnaEA @ Knit-Write: AnnaEA shared the poem “Sorrow” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay is one of my very favorite poets, so I was thrilled to have a reason to read so many of her poems this month!

Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life: On Lizzy’s blog, she is giving away two signed copies of The Magicians of Edinburgh by Ron Butlin. You have until September 2nd to enter!

Vasilly @ 1330vVasilly posted about a lovely poem called “The Healing Time” by Pesha Joyce Gertler. It was also her birthday! Go wish her happy birthday.

Kaye @ the road goes ever ever on: Kaye did something different and great for the Poetry Project – she highlighted a blog, DS at The Third-Storey Window, who often features poetry. I love this!

Trish @ Love, Laughter & a Touch of Insanity: Trish! I have been begging and begging Trish to participate and I’m so happy and grateful she did. Trish is so honest about talking about poetry and how it can be difficult sometimes, especially if we’re used to blogging about books. They’re very different to talk about. Trish does an amazing job discussing her reaction to Conrad Aiken’s “Morning Song.”

Here, on Regular Rumination: This month, I talked about my favorite Pulitzer Prize-winning poets, I wrote a how-to post called “How to Love A Poem,” I posted the poem “At Some Point, They’ll Want to Know What it Was Like” by Tracy K. Smith, and I did a few random poetry lines from random poetry books.

Kelly @ The Written World (my co-host!): Kelly posted her thoughts on two books of poetry: New Hampshire by Robert Frost (Part 1 and Part 2) and The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I absolutely love how she blogs about each poem!

I hope you’ll take some time to click through these links and read the poems that the Poetry Project participants shared or suggested. There are amazing poems included in this list and it would be a great way to discover new poets.

Thank you again for making August such a huge success for the Poetry Project! Remember, next month’s theme is a “classic” poem. Play with that theme! Kelly will have more about this month’s theme on her blog on Wednesday, September 5 and I will have a list of my suggestions, just like this month. I hope to see you there!

Standalong!

When Trish first suggested reading The Stand, I wasn’t convinced. Not because I wasn’t interested in reading The Stand, but because it is so long and I have a horrendous track record with readalongs and books I “have” to read. But it’s been a long time since I successfully read a Stephen King book. If you had asked me when I was 14 who my favorite author was, I most likely would have answered Stephen King. (Or if I thought you weren’t the kind of person to judge me, I would have most certainly said JK Rowling, because Harry Potter wasn’t cool yet and I was still hiding my fan fiction and obsession binders under my bed.) I tried to read Under the Dome when it came out, but I was underwhelmed and never finished that beast of a book. So, I thought, it’s probably time to try Stephen King again.

The thing about reading an author that you once loved unconditionally is seeing their flaws for the first time. I don’t know that, as a 12-14 year old, I was reading anything critically. I just read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on. I also traveled a lot and Stephen King was the only thing that I found worth reading in most gas stations.

This isn’t to say that Stephen King isn’t a good writer, because he is. Sometimes, he’s a downright brilliant writer, and I live for those amazing moments when you realize how good he is. This also isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying The Stand, because I am. Even though it’s one of the longest books I’ve read in a long time and I have barely read anything else for the entire month of June. There is no getting around the length of this novel. It will take you a good chunk of time to read and, since I’m only about 60% of the way through, I can’t quite yet tell you if it’s worth it.

With a book this long, sometimes I forget how much I really loved the beginning, despite how horrifying it was. Essentially, a government-created flu begins infecting people in Texas. It’s the end-of-the-world type flu. A flu that leaves everyone dead, except for one or two people in each town. The people who are left begin traveling and trying to find each other, which becomes much easier when they all start dreaming of Mother Abigail, an elderly black woman who knows that she has been chosen by God to lead the “good” people to Colorado.

The thing is, they’re not only dreaming of Mother Abigail. They’re also dreaming of “the dark man,” named Randall Flagg. People are gathering around him, too, but they are the least savory sort of folks: escaped convicts, drug addicts, and the technically inclined.

So, I just looked up what year this was published to try and figure out what decade it was so I could say, “Look it was the _____. Having a well-rounded cast of characters that didn’t perpetuate stereotypes wasn’t the norm yet.” Or at the very least, you probably weren’t being called out for it by every reader with a blog. I had no idea that The Stand was originally published in the 70s and then rereleased in the 90s and King changed the dates of the novel. What a strange decision! And, finally, it makes sense that the characters were saying “You dig?” and expecting me to really believe that relatively hip people said that in the 90s. Because they didn’t. I’m assuming. I was young then.

The way Stephen King approaches race has been addressed again and again. I think this article by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu about the presence of “the magical negro” in King’s books is a really great place to start. Like me, Okorafor-Mbachu is a fan of Stephen King, but it’s important to point out the flaws in the things you love.

Right now, I’m grateful for a little break from The Stand. I’ve been reading it with no breaks since the first week of June and I’m about 800 pages in, so I’m a little ahead for the readalong. I don’t want to be sick of this story, so I think that it will be good to take a short break and come back to the story excited to finish and eager to get back to the story.

(Also, I have told so many people that I’m reading The Stand and all of them have kind of given me this look, one eyebrow raised, and said, “Really? You?” To all the people who think that I think I am too good for reading The Stand: You have no idea how many really cheesy YA novels I read. Not that The Stand is a cheesy YA novel, but that is just an example of how non-snooty my reading choices are. If I had said I was reading Nicholas Sparks, then that reaction would have been acceptable.)

 

Dutch Lit Month!

Iris is hosting her Dutch Lit Month again in June 2012. I missed this event last year, so I’m very excited to participate this year. I don’t read nearly enough books in translation, let alone Dutch literature. You can read more about Dutch Lit Month and sign up for the event (and two others!) over at Iris’s blog.

I’ve decided to read the newest novel by Margriet de Moor called The Storm. I wanted to read one of the books that Iris suggested, but I had a surprisingly difficult time finding their translations at my library. They were often available, but I couldn’t put them on reserve. We also have a HUGE collection of the books in their original Dutch. I was really excited to see that.

I’ll admit, what attracted me to The Storm is the cover. Isn’t it beautiful? I’ll be reading and reviewing this title sometime in June and I hope you’ll join the Dutch Lit Month challenge!

 

Moby Dick Readalong – Chapters 1-28

Whoa, there, guys. If someone had mentioned that Moby Dick was both hilarious, insightful, blasphemous, and beautiful, I would have picked this book up a lot sooner. All I’d really heard about Ishmael was that he was a long-winded, confusing narrator, but the truth is, I absolutely adore him.

I think a book like Moby Dick comes with a lot of preconceptions and I spent most of Chapters 1-10 unpacking them. Here’s a list of everything I knew to be true about Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is “Call me Ishmael,” because that’s the line Matilda read.

3) It’s an allegory.

4) There was someone named Captain Ahab in it.

5) As ridiculous as this is, I may or may not have thought Ishmael and Captain Ahab were the same person. You know, he was just getting friendly at the beginning of the book. “Oh, don’t bother with that silly Captain business. Please, call me Ishmael.” Why thanks, Captain Ishmael Ahab, I will!

Here is what I now know to be true of Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is not “Call me Ishmael,” it’s “The pale Usher– threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. Was he ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.”

3) The religious metaphors and references are fascinating.

4) There is someone named Captain Ahab in it and he is Mysterious with a capital M.

5) Ishmael and Captain Ahab are most certainly not the same person.

All joking aside, I was not prepared for how much I would truly enjoy Moby Dick. It’s a fascinating novel so far, that has never felt too wordy, difficult or boring. Ishmael is a hilarious narrator, but Moby Dick is surprisingly beautiful. Take this passage for example:

Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to  sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. (3)

I found myself with highlighter ready, marking up every page with funny, beautiful or possibly important lines. I remembered why people carry a pen with them when they read in the first place. I know I keep repeating it, but I just had no idea. What other classics are sitting on my shelves that I haven’t picked up because I think they’ll be boring? If nothing else, the classics I have read recently have shown me that I love reading them. So why don’t I read more classics?

Anyway, back to Moby Dick. I am a fan of short chapters! And really, who isn’t? Is Moby Dick the first postmodern novel? I don’t know about that. Plot-wise, Herman Melville does a lot of interesting things, but I’m not sure the right word is postmodern. It’s difficult to really form any opinions after only 120 pages. There is still so much to come! They only just got on the boat after all.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the narrator’s religious opinions. I know that religion and religious imagery will play a large part in Moby Dick, but I don’t know how, exactly yet. I’ve managed to stay quite ignorant of the classics I haven’t read. I hate spoilers. I know some people don’t mind them, but I like to come into a story with nothing but myself. I prefer having no expectations. I mean, you saw the kind of expectations I had going into Moby Dick: they were almost all wrong. Anyway, I don’t know how Moby Dick is going to play out, though I imagine there’s a whale in there somewhere. All I do know is right now, our friend Ishmael says some very interesting things about religion. This is one of the most interesting quotes:

“All our arguing with [Queequeg] would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (79).

The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael was also very interesting to me. It just never played out exactly like I expected it to. While there are definitely aspects of his portrayal that border on caricature, his description as a cannibal and a savage for one, he is also a very interesting character and Ishmael shows him genuine respect. Their relationship often leads Ishmael to discuss religion, and I fear that this may be his primary importance. I wonder if he’ll still be as important a character once Captain Ahab and the great white whale take over.

Moby Dick continues to be a very enjoyable read and it is never quite what I expected. I’m excited to keep reading and I’ll see you back here for a discussion of chapters 29-55 on January 19!

This Moby Dick readalong is being hosted by The Blue Bookcase. I will be updating this page with links to fellow participants blog posts this evening. 

A Moby Dick Readalong for Your Winter Blues

So when I posted my TBR Dare/Challenge post, I cheekily listed Moby Dick on there, thinking there was little chance I’d actually read it. But then so many people commented saying that they loved Moby Dick and that I should start of 2012 with that particular novel. Of all the books I listed, more people mentioned Moby Dick. Then it seemed to be everywhere. People were writing blog posts about it, saying how much they loved or hated it. Finally, I just decided that Moby Dick will be one of the first books I read in 2012. Someone (Jillian, perhaps?) pointed me toward the Conquering Moby Dick Readalong by The Blue Bookshelf and I’m thrilled to join in.

I’ve already started reading and let me just tell you, I love it so far! It’s so interesting and actually funny in some parts, though I’m not entirely convinced it’s supposed to be funny. Most of all, though, I love the narrator and his voice and I think there are some truly beautiful passages about the sea. I can’t wait to keep reading more. So if you think you might like to join in, the first post goes up on January 12! I know it’s soon, but I’m surprised how quickly I’ve been reading Moby Dick. We’ll see if I still feel the same way when I’m 200 pages in, but so far, so good.

Thanks for convincing me to read Moby Dick, y’all!

Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset, Simone de Beauvoir

Kristin LavransdatterI am, unfortunately, very late to the Kristin Lavransdatter party.  I finished the first book a few weeks ago, but did not have any inspiration for what to post about.  The Wreath was a well-written medieval tale that made that the time period come to life unlike any book I’ve read.  I fell in love with the setting and enjoyed the story, but outside of that, I didn’t quite know what to say.

On Tuesday, inspiration struck during my literary studies class after we read and discussed “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir and it put a completely different spin on The Wreath.  More or less contemporaries, there are certainly similarities to be found.

But it’s an artist that I want to be, a woman artist, and not a pen-wielding lady.

Undset wrote those words in a correspondence with her friend.  I think she lived up to that.  Kristin Lavransdatter is nothing short of an epic, that not only brings into question what it meant to be a woman during medieval times, but what it meant to be a woman in the 20s.  I can’t speak for Undset, obviously, and her intentions, but whether the reflection of her own tumultuous, post-WWI Europe in the medieval was intentional or not, the similarities are impressive.  There are frequent references to the changing times in Norway that breeds an ominous tone throughout the whole first book.

But, the first thing that struck me about the novel was the sheer beauty of the description in conjunction with the simplicity of the language.

There were forest-clad mountain slopes below her in all directions; her valley was no more than a hollow between the enormous mountains, and the neighboring valleys were even smaller hollows; there were many of them, and yet there were fewer valleys than there were mountains.  On all sides gray domes, golden-flamed with lichen, loomed above the carpet of forest; and far off in the distance, toward the horizon, stood blue peaks with white glints of snow, seeming to merge with the grayish-blue and dazzling white summer clouds.  But to the northeast, close by – just beyond the pasture woods – stood a cluster of magnificent stone-blue mountains with streaks of new snow on their slopes.  (pg 13)

Though there is beautiful language throughout The Wreath, there is also a darkly ominous side to it.  I was surprised by that dichotomy that was present as soon as the first chapter.  The relationship between young Kristin and her father is lovely, but there is always that underlying knowledge that there is going to be the betrayal later on, that Kristin will go against her father’s wishes.  There is so much foreshadowing in the beginning of Kristin Lavransdatter.

Good days can last a long time if one tends to things with care and caution; all sensible people know that.  That’s why I think that sensible people have to be satisfied with the good days – for the grandest of days are costly indeed.  They call a man a fool who fritters away his father’s inheritance in order to enjoy himself in his youth […] But I call him a true idiot and fool only if he regrets his actions afterward, and he is twice the fool and the greatest buffoon of all if he expects to see his drinking companions again once the inheritance is gone.  (49)

At those times when one needs either prayers or advice one usually has no mind to learn or understand. (49)

There is a lot of mention of Catholicism and religion in this novel, but also of paganism.  More duality!  What stood out for me was the constant referral to woman as witch, or the “mysterious woman” that de Beauvoir talked about in “The Second Sex”.  Undset outright contradicts this assumption: “It could be that the woman knew more than was good for the health of her soul – and yet one should not forget that ignorant people often spoke of witchcraft as soon as a woman showed herself to be wiser than the councilmen”  (55).  

These “ignorant people” that Undset refers to are the “masculine hearts” of de Beauvoir’s essay.  She says:

Few myths have been more advantageous to the ruling caste than the myth of woman […]  Of all these myths, none is more firmly anchored in masculine hearts than that of the feminine “mystery.”  It has numerous advantages.  And first of all it permits an easy explanation of all that appears inexplicable; the man who “does not understand” a woman is happy to substitute an objective resistance for the subjective deficiency of mind; instead of admitting his ignorance, he perceives the presence of a “mystery” outside himself: an alibi, indeed, that flatters laziness and vanity at once.  A heart smitten with love thus avoids many disappointments: if the loved one’s behavior is capricious, her remarks stupid, then the mystery serves, then the mystery serves to excuse it all.  (1409)

Simone de Beauvoir wrote critically about it and Undset wrote it into her novel.  It did not necessarily seem to be Kristin that, thus far, has given anything to contradict the tendency for the representation of women in literature, but rather Aashild, her Erlend’s aunt.  I wonder if Kristin will continue to act this way or if she will change with the rest of the novel.

But what all of this boils down to is that I just don’t know what I think of Kristin and Erlend.  Yes, Kristin follows her heart and gets what she wants, but at what cost?  Is there irony here?  That for all of her forward-thinking, Kristin falls into the same trap as all the other women?  She frequently talks about how little she wants to be intimate with Erlend, but allows him to.  I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to think about this couple and I’m torn between believing that Kristin is an independent woman ahead of her time to thinking that she gave up one kind of servitude for another. If only she’d stuck with Arne!  He was the one and it ended in tragedy.

Now she felt that she had grown up from maiden to woman.  This was not just because of the passionate, secret caresses she had received and given.  She had not merely left her father’s guardianship and subjected herself to Erlend’s will.  Brother Edvin had impressed on her the responsibility of answering for her own life, and for Erlend’s as well, and she was willing to bear this burden with grace and dignity.  (159)

I’m not too worried, though, Kristin has plenty of time to prove herself as a strong woman as the story continues.  I’m looking forward to getting back to the medieval world of Kristin!

Thanks to Richard and Emily for hosting this read-along!  Other participants: kiss a cloud, She is Too Fond of Books, nonsuch bookpage 247, 5-squared, Rhapsody in Books, Save Ophelia, what we have here is a failure to communicate, Fizzy Thoughts, tuesday in silhouette, Life Is A Patchwork Quilt, This Book and I Could Be Friends.

See you again at the end of the month for Part II!

2666 Readalong – Part V: The Part About Archimboldi

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Check out what my car mileage was!

I can’t believe we’re here!  The readalong is over and we have made it through the behemoth 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, all along the way sharing our ideas and interpretations and making it a better reading experience over all.  It has been an amazing time, and I don’t think I would have kept reading this book, let alone finished it and come to love it and, maybe, understand it, without all of your input.  I guess my point is: thank you!  Thank you to Steph and Claire for hosting, thank you for everyone for participating and making this an amazing experience.  I’m glad that we don’t have to give it up after this, I’m glad there’s more to come with the Kristin Lavransdatter readalong, for which I am very excited!  Now, on to the discussion:

The Part About Archimboldi

I have a confession to make.  After finishing this book last night, I realized that I made a huge mistake while reading this book.  I was reading it and trying to figure things out, to understand how everything was going to come together in the end.  I thought that all of the stories would somehow converge, that we would meet the critics again, that Amalfitano would make another appearance.  I was wrong.  This novel is more like a collection of events and the people that are affected by those events; their lives intersect, but there is no final conclusion where we see all of them together, where everything finally makes sense.  And though, when I finished, I was somewhat disappointed by that, I realized later on that no, this was perfect. This is a hyperrealistic novel and to have an ending like that would have been false.  It wouldn’t have rang true with the rest of the novel, because that is not how life is.  In this book, the lives are intersected in small ways.  I felt like we read the book backwards.  The Part About the Critics started us off with the mystery of Archimboldi and the mystery of the murders in Santa Teresa.  We are then introduced to two people who are impacted by the murders of Santa Teresa.  Then the murders themselves and finally Archimboldi and his story and connections.  The critics never find him, at least we never know if they do, because in the end it doesn’t matter.

About half way through the reading of The Part about Archimboldi I figured it out.  I realized I had been reading it incorrectly the whole time and then just let the last section take me along for the ride.

The beginning, Archimboldi’s childhood and his obsession with the ocean, was so wonderful to read.  I loved it.  It was filled with wonder, humor and beauty.  And of course, since this is 2666, tragedy.

“And who is that?” asked the former pilot.
“My son,” said the one-legged man.
“He looks like a giraffe fish,” said the former pilot, and he laughed. (652)

There is so much in this section about physical appearance and names and what, if anything, that means about who we are on the inside.  Archimboldi’s father is the “one-legged man”, his mother “one-eyed”.  Archimboldi’s own name has been changed.  Lotte defies all misconceptions about her age and learns Spanish over age 70.  Lotte, Archimboldi’s sister, thinks of him as a giant his whole life, and when they finally reconnect, she remarks that he isn’t a giant after all.

We know that Bolaño wrote this section at the end of his life and it’s interesting to read it with that in mind.  There is a lot of ruminations in this section about age and death and what it all means.  Then, further still, what does art say about the artist?  There were many times while reading 2666 that I thought that Bolaño’s voice was coming through and he was speaking about his own novel-writing process and his own concerns.

The book Animals and Plants of the European Coastal Region was stamped on his brain, and while he dove he would slowly page through it.  This was how he discovered Laminaria digitata, a giant seaweed with a sturdy stem and broad leaves, as the book said, shaped like a fan with numerous sections of strands that really did look like fingers.  Laminaria digitata is native to cold waters like the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Atlantic.  It’s found in large masses, at low tide, and off rocky shores.  The tide often uncovers forests of this seaweed.  When Hans Reiter saw a seaweed forest for the first time he was so moved that he began to cry underwater.  It may be hard to believe that a human being could cry while diving with his eyes open, but let us not forget that Hans was only six at the time and in a sense he was a singular child.

Laminaria digitata is light brown and resembles Laminaria hyperborea, which has a rougher stalk, and Saccorhiza polyschides, which has a stem with bulbous protuberances.  The latter two, however, live in deep waters, and although sometimes, on summer afternoons, Hans Reiter would swim far from the beach or the rocks where he had left his clothes and then dive down, he could never spot them, only fantasize that he’d seen them there in the depths, a still and silent forest. (641)

I really like that section.  I think it’s beautiful and Hans’s wonder comes through.

Hans said he didn’t know anything about his father.
“True,” said Halder, “one never knows anything about one’s father.”
A father, he said, is a passageway immersed in the deepest darkness where we stumble blindly seeking a way out.  (656)

This section as so fascinating.  Archimboldi does not know or claim to know his father, though he was raised by him.  And how true is it that no matter how well we think we know our parents, there is always something about them that surprises us, that we never knew before?

“They call me Benno after Benito Juárez,” said Archimboldi, “I suppose you know who Benito Juárez was.”

So who was Benito Juárez?  His most famous quote is: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”  Sounds like a pretty cool guy.  But I have no idea about the reference.

That night, as he was working the door at the bar, he amused himself by thinking about a time with two speeds, one very slow, in which the movement of people and objects was almost imperceptible, and the other very fast, in which everything, even inert objects, glittered with speed.  The first was called Paradise, the second Hell, and Archimboldi’s only wish was never to inhabit either. (800)

I feel like this post is turning into nothing more than a collection of quotes I liked.  I’m okay with that.  Finishing 2666 made me want to get out the first book and start all over again.  I want to find everything I missed when I was trying to make those connections that don’t, ultimately, even exist.

I am intrigued by the final note in the book, in which it is said that Bolaño believed there were two centers to this novel.  The obvious, the murders in Santa Teresa, and one that is much less obvious.  I don’t know what the right answer is.  I don’t know what that center is.  Maybe it is mortality.  Maybe the center of 2666 is the idea of immortality and mortality and how, even authors or artists or criminals, who have left their mark on society, will die.  There is no cure for it. All the characters are faced with this painful realization at some point and only Archimboldi seems to approach it with grace.  The Critics, faced with the death of one their own, approach it with disbelief and a lack of concern.  Amalfitano essentially loses his mind at the thought of losing his own daughter, though it might not look like that at first.  Fate, thinking about the death of Amalfitano’s daughter who he is attracted to, decides to help her escape.  Lotte, faced with her own mortality, defies convention and learns Spanish and travels to save her son.

That night, during dinner, they talked about the crypt, but they also talked about other things.  They talked about death.  Hoensch said that death itself was only an illusion under permanent construction, that in reality it didn’t exist.  The SS officer said death was necessity: no one in his right mind, he said, would stand for a world full of turtles or giraffes.  Death, he concluded, served a regulatory function.  The young scholar Popescu said death, in the Eastern tradition, was only a passage.  What wasn’t clear, he said, or at least not to him, was toward what place, what reality, this passage led.

“The question,” he said, “is where.  The answer,” he answered himself, “is wherever my merits take me.”

General Etrescu was of the opinion that this hardly mattered, the important thing was to keep moving, the dynamic of motion, which made men and all living beings, including cockroaches, equal to the great stars.  Baroness Von Zumpe said, and perhaps she was the only one to speak frankly, that death was a bore.  General Von Berenberg declined to offer an opinion, as did the two general staff officers.

Then they talked about murder.  The SS officer said that murder was an ambiguous, confusing, imprecise, vague, ill-defined word, easily misused.  Hoensch agreed.  General Von Berenberg said that he would rather leave the laws to the judges and the criminal courts and if a judge said a certain act was murder, and if the judge and the court ruled it wasn’t, then it wasn’t, and that was the end of the matter.  The two general staff officers agreed.

General Entrescu confessed that his childhood heroes were always murderers and criminals, for whom, he said, he felt a great respect.  The young scholar Popescu reminded the guests that murderers and heroes resembled each other in their solitariness…. (681)

Look!  More giraffes!

Maybe I am reading too much into what was happening in Bolaño’s own life while he was writing this, but I think it might not be totally off base.  Maybe it’s not what Bolaño had in mind, but I’m certain it’s there.  All I want to do now that I have finished 2666 is start all over again.  I want to find all of the things that I missed.  I know that there is so much to this novel that I will never understand.  And that’s a hard thing to accept.  All I do know is that reading this book has changed me somehow, as a reader and as an artist, and I do plan on reading it again.  I’m hope hope hope hope hope hope that at some point in my life, some university I go to will offer a class on Bolaño’s work.  Maybe next semester is too hopeful?  Maybe the next?

What do you think the alternative “center” to this novel is?   What did you think of the ending?  Do you want to read more?  Were you less enchanted, or were you like me, feeling lost and lonely with Bolaño to go back to?

I’m really at a loss now that I have turned the last page and closed the cover on 2666.  I just can’t believe that it’s over.  I think there might be more for me to say, but I’m not sure.  Thanks to EL Fay, Claire, Steph, Frances, Richard, Gavin, Isabella & Jackie for participating and I’ll see you again in October with Kristin Lavransdatter!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4