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Swimming Home (2011)

by Deborah Levy

Other authors: Kerstin Paradis Gustafsson (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7124723,062 (3.32)2 / 129
Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Accidental by Ali Smith (kitzyl)
    kitzyl: A family on holiday whose lives are disrupted and changed forever by a mysterious interloper.

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» See also 129 mentions

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edwinbcn's reading in China 2019, Part 1
Club Read 2019
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Edited: Feb 3, 10:49am Top
This will be my 9th year as a member of Club Read.

In 2017 and 2018 my participation was severely hampered because of limited access to the Internet in China. For the moment it seems I have full access to LibraryThing and can only pray it lasts (I am not looking into using a VPN).

Perhaps as a result of not spending a lot of time on LT, I managed to read 219 books in 2017, and 189 books in 2018. Instead of writing long reviews on LT, I started writing short reviews on a social media platform. I hope I can find the time again to write longer reviews here, provided I have access.

Over the past two years I have changed my reading habits a little bit. According to my LT catalogue I have at least 3200 unread books on my shelves, but in reality that number is much higher, because not all books have been catalogues and / or not all books have been tagged as unread. In 2017 and 2018 I managed to only read books I already own. I didn't buy and new books. I donated 400 books to libraries in Nanning (China) with another 600 books to be shipped to the Guangxi Library (in Nanning) from my home in Guangzhou (Canton, China).

Another change to my reading habits is that I go into skim-read mode if books bore me or abandon them altogether. I have also started discarding books unread if two or three books of the same author bored me to death.

About myself:

I will be 53 years old this year, born in the Netherlands I have been living and working in China for nearly 20 years. I work as a teacher and textbook author, and have published two textbook series for learning English in China. I divide my time between two cities both in southern China, namely Guangzhou and Nanning. The distance between these two cities is about 500 kilometers.
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Edited: Feb 3, 10:50am Top
001. Reborn: Early Diaries, 1947-1963
Finished reading: 6 January 2019

Susan Sontag is in particular well-known for her essays, but she also wrote novels. This first volume is a selection from her early diaries, written between 1947 and 1963. The diaries are not written in a flowing narrative style, rather more they are often mere jottings of ideas, lists of books she read, plays and films she watched, or people she met. The early years being the formative years, her reading shows a strong interest in left-wing writers, sociology and culture across the literatures in English, German and French. Sontag can be observed to travel extensively. Susan Sontag is often seen as an awe inspiring woman, but these early diaries show her vulnerability, as she started to come to terms with her queer identity, separated from her husband while taking care of her son David. Sexuality is openly discussed in the journal.

To read the journal it would be advisable to first read some of her essay collection, although the writing of those lay far in the future. The journal for 1962/3 refers to her work on her first novel, The benefactor.

So far, two volumes of Sontag's diaries have been published.

Other books I have read by Susan Sontag:
The complete Rolling Stone Interview Highly recommended
Against interpretation and other essays
Regarding the pain of others
Under the sign of Saturn. Essays
Where the stress falls
Illness as metaphor & AIDS and its metaphors

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Feb 3, 7:08am Top
002. The last tycoon
Finished reading: 9 January 2019

The Last Tycoon is F. Scott Fitzgerald's last novel. It was unfinished and published posthumously. This edition contains the full text as finished by the author + outlines, notes and correspondence about the novel which elucidates or helps understand the novel and how Scott Fitzgerald intended to finish it.

Scott Fitzgerald was one of the top authors of his age, the best-paid short story writer of the 1920s. He is probably best known for those stories which are the ultimate expression of the 'Roaring Twenties'. After the Great Depression of 1929, the market for magazine-published stories collapsed, and his stories written and published in the 30s reflect this depressing period, almost like a hangover from the previous decade.

Scott Fitzgerald's novels tend to be a bit more serious. They are set in the same milieu of the jet set, often featuring loose lifestyle morals with a tendency to flippancy. The Last Tycoon is a little bit more serious.

The novel is set in Hollywood, but its main character is not a film star. She is the daughter of a wealthy director. Thus, the novel portrays the Hollywood life from within, but not directly from its glamorous side. Focus is rather on the writers and the makers of movies, perhaps one might say the unglamorous side of the film world.

While Hollywood movies are all about the fulfillment of Romantic love, the novel is about unrequited love: She loves him. He loves someone else. The idea is simple, yet so true.

Besides this main theme, the novel develops some sidelines about the less glamorous side of Hollywood.

Personally, I find the novels of Scott Fitzgerald difficult to read. The writing is obviously very good, and in many places wonderful, creating great moments, however, the overall structure is loose and sometimes it is difficult to follow what's going on. With Fitzgerald, however, it's worth the effort, and on the whole The Last Tycoon is a satisfactory read.

Other books I have read by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
This side of paradise
A short autobiography
The curious case of Benjamin Button, and six other stories
On booze
The curious case of Benjamin Button
Flappers and Philosophers
The diamond as big as the Ritz and other stories
The beautiful and the damned

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Edited: Feb 3, 10:47am Top
003. Turning back the clock. Hot wars and media populism
Finished reading: 10 January 2019

The Italian author Umberto Eco is an extremely prolific writer, who has published several novels, collections of essays and academic papers, particularly in the field of semiotics. This interest in semiotics, perhaps, leads to a tendency to look for meaning in places and events where others see no connection. Some of Eco's novels are suggestive of conspiracy or dark powers. However, Eco is much more sophisticated and much more careful than, for instance, Dan Brown (This book features an essay on The Da Vinci Code).

Eco's massive output makes selective reading necessary. This collection of essays contains several short pieces of very temporary value, often very specifically related to Italian politics. While these pieces are related to the main theme of the book, they are hard to follow for readers at a greater distance.

"When people stop believing in God, as Chesterton used to say, it's not that they no longer believe in anything, it's that they believe in everything." (p. 301)

This sentence perhaps most clearly demonstrates the main idea of these essays. It is the expression of the shattered optimism that postmodernism has brought to the fore. While in the intellectual aftermath of the Second World War, writers gradually concluded the demise of the Age of Enlightenment, the emergence of postmodernism led to an increasingly depressing outlook on the world. Reason is seen to have failed, and rationalism has led to computationalism and mechanization, which has been seized upon by capitalism to take a squeeze hold on society. This is reflected in the emergence of conservative politicians in the United States and Europe, a trend which has become even more pronounced recently with the emergence of strong authoritarian leaders in various countries around the world.

This pull to the right means much of the optimism of the 60s and 70s has evaporated and much of the progress achieved in those decades is under threat. «Turning Back the Clock» .

Other books that I have read by Umberto Eco:
Inventing the enemy. Essays
The Prague cemetery
Foucault's pendulum
Travels in hyperreality
Five moral pieces

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Feb 3, 11:10am Top
It’s nice to see you back, Edwin. I hope that your internet woes are over.
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Feb 3, 8:10pm Top
Thanks, Nana. I hope so, too.
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Feb 3, 10:24pm Top
004. Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu
Finished reading: 13 January 2019

Marco Polo (1254 - 1324) has become the embodiment of East-West relations with China. To any foreigner with ties to China, Polo looms large. Both in Venice, where Polo was born and where he died, and Beijing, where he lived for some time, there are historical relics, in Venice his home known as 'il corte del milione' and the Marco Polo bridge in the western suburbs of Beijing (Lugouqiao).

Marco Polo was a contemporary of Dante Alighieri, and lived nearly a hundred years before Geoffrey Chaucer. Few people read works from the Middle Ages, as both the language and mind set of people of those times are difficult to comprehend. Polo's description of the world, or his travels have often been characterized as a phantasy, fiction rather than fact. However, an increasing amount of scholarship, including contemporary Persian and Chinese sources indicate that the Polos did actually reside in the Chinese empire, suggesting that Polo's travelogue is largely true.

Laurence Bergreen's book is not an edition of Marco Polo's Travels. Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu is more of a concordant history book. As the author explains in various places, Polo's book seems to be based on a loose-leaved manuscript that has fallen down the stairs and been recollected: there is no logical, historical progress to the narrative. Marco Polo claims to have been an emissary to Kublai Kahn, the then-ruler of China. The travels suggest that he made several prolonged stays in Chinese cities other than Beijing, but it isn't clear whether he would have returned to the capital after each mission or reported to the Kahn while travelling. In this sense, Bergreen's assumption that Polo's stay in China can be charted as a linear progress rather than a back and forth to the capital may constitute a violation of the historical accuracy of Polo's work. However, it does considerably clarify Polo's trajectory and create a clear and logical framework for the reader.

The opening chapters of Bergreen's book shine with a brilliant description of the Venetian Republic in its full splendour. In 14 chapters, Bergreen describes all we know about Marco Polo, all the people who surrounded him, both literally and historically, and all facts of history and geography that are relevant to the various stages of Polo's travels from Venice to China, and on the way back via India, returning to Venice. Bergreen's book bring together an impressive amount of scholarship, and he does not fail to point out contention and disagreement. Nonetheless, Bergreen is a strong proponent of the essential veracity of Polo's travelogue, and in Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu tries to tell us what Polo's cannot make sufficiently clear. In that sense, Bergreen's book is a great tribute to Marco Polo.

The final chapters of Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu are dedicated to the reception of Marco Polo's Travels, including Coleridge's famous lines. In these chapters Bergreen points out the problematic textual history of Polo's travels, authorship, language and manuscript versions. In fact, the end notes of Bergreen's book make a very interesting reading, and can be read as a succinct academic summary of the book. However, it is obvious that Bergreen is no sinologist of medievalist, and his book which is largely free from references and footnotes is intended for general readership.

Marco Polo. From Venice to Xanadu is a great book that (re-) tells a fascinating story. It is a pity that Chinese scholars are mainly wary of any research beyond anything purely Chinese. In fact, the legacy of Genghis Kahn as a conquerer of China is not without controversy in the People's Republic, while Chinese scholars do not really see Marco Polo as a truly researchable object within the body of Chinese history or Chinese studies. However, a thorough study of Chinese sources might reveal and make a major contribution to the understanding and significance of Marco Polo as a link between the western world and China.

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Feb 4, 1:13pm Top
Nice to see you here, Edwin. Hoping your access stays open. Enjoyed these. You’re response to Eco’s quote rings true. Enjoyed your review of the Marco Polo book, which I’m suddenly drawn too.
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Feb 5, 8:13am Top
Good to see you back Edwin. I always enjoy your reviews.
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Feb 5, 9:17am Top
Thanks, Bas. Glad to see you've developed your reading skills in French.
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Feb 8, 6:40am Top
005. Harvest
Finished reading: 15 January 2019

Harvest by Jim Crace is not an easy book to review. The novel seems fraught with meaning and mystery that drives the critical reader mad. Harvest is a relatively short novel, but its sparseness in number of words merely means that almost every sentence bears on the story. The language of the book is often archaic, at times very precise, and at times vague, oddly poetic with suggestive metaphore and similes. Scattered throughout the book, the story provides an enormous amout of detail, which gives the reader the impression that careful reading or rereading may solve the riddle, but the enigmas in the book remain unsolved. It is obvious the writer likes teasing the reader, for instance with the names of characters. A critical reader will soon assume that the name Walter Thirsk might contain a clue as the name could hide the words "Water" and "Thirst" and the author throws this suggestion at the reader. Likewise, it is suggested that the name Philip Earle is suggestive of the "Erlking" suggesting this character is shady or unreliable. The novel is built around numerous dichotomies, old versus new, young versus old, blond versus dark, inside versus outside, etc. Numbers seem to play an important role, 12 years since Walter came to the village, seven days in which the story unfolds, three widowers and three bachelors. There is no historical reference for the choice of a "Gleaning Queen" and names such as "Mistress Beldam" and Willowjack seem to draw on readers subconscious cultural knowledge that might be accurate of not. Similarly, the reader is teased with the idea as to whether horses sleep while standing or lying down.

In its treatment the novel is more like an allegory than an historical novel. Set in the late-Sixteenth Century, the community is described as small, and remote enough to have escaped the great modernization of its time sofar. The feudal community consists of some 60 serfs to the lord of the manor, a peaceful pastoral community that lives in medieval tradition of plowing the land, livelyhood dependent on harvest but guaranteed by the benign lord of the manor. This lord, Master Kent, is described as unusually mild and benign. Thus, this small rural community seems to exist is a bubble, ill-prepared for reality and modern progress.

The action of the novel is apparently set in train by the arrival of three strangers, but as becomes clear towards the end of the novel, these three refugees are as much victims of the modernization that is sweeping through the country as the community members who are driven out upon their arrival. The backdrop of the story is the Agricultural Revolution, and specifically the introduction of the Enclosure Acts, which took away the commons, and the transition from cropping to raising sheep. The production of wool and cloth, being more profitable and more stable, depending less on the fortunes of the weather, but also requiring less labour revolutionized the countryside, displacing small farmers. The three strangers are the victims of the same phenomenon elsewhere, and the villagers driven out awaits the same fate as theirs.

Readers are closely searching for clues in the book to see who within the community has perpetrated the evil acts which so much upset the community , the killing of the doves, arson of the stables, and the killing of the horse, all apparently against the lord of the manor. Suspicion falls on the three strangers, but as is clearly shown, they cannot be the culprits. In fact, the only villains capable of such cruelty and violence seem to the the men brought in by the young Master Jordan, heir to the estate. It is he who wants to push for modernization, who wants to to replace the old master.

Most emblematic about Walter Thirsk is his injury sustained at the beginning of the novel, establishing that he could not "have a hand" in any of the main actions of the story, as there is also much emphasis on his alibi. This creates as aura of innocense which is, of course, deceptive. As a close associate of Master Kent, Thirsk is "in" on the whole scheme from the beginning. Long before the serfs, he knows what fate is going to befall the community, and while he may not be an agent in the unfolding of the action, neither is he one of the victims. In fact, after the masters Kent and Jordan have left, Thirsk remains to literary "oversee" the winding up of the story from the manor, his high point a turret of the manor, "Master Jordan's trusted winter man" (p. 268).

Other books I have read by Jim Crace:
All that follows
The pesthouse
Being dead
Signals of distress

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Feb 8, 8:01am Top
006. The Emperor Waltz
Finished reading: 16 January 2019

The Emperor Waltz is a post-modern novel consisting of five narratives, divided over ten sections. Two main narratives each consist of three sections, supplemented by three minor narratives and one concluding, dual narrative. The main narrative relates the fictional history of a gay bookshop in London. The novel itself seems to be an overturned book case, each narrative seemingly a pastiche of other gay novelists, the Twenties and Thirties for Stephen Spender or Christopher Isherwood, the Eighties and Nineties for Alan Hollinghurst, while the smaller fragments are not as easy to characterize, perhaps the Christian era episode as in the novels of Mary Renault, while the contemporary like Michael Cunningham, etc. What all these writers have in common, and what perhaps binds the five narratives is the theme of oppressions, persecution and phobia.

Unfortunately, each narrative is extremely superficial, while extremely wordy. The Emperor Waltz is a real door stopper. The Bauhaus episodes consist of a quasi historical novel set in the Weimar Republic, but the style does not quite emulate that of its historical predecessors, neither German-speaking nor English-speaking authors. The London Bookstore episodes are too obviously inspired by Hollinghurst to whom several very obvious references are made. Since this narrative is more or less contemporary, there is no particular stylistic challenge. The other fragments are very short.

Together with the decline of general bookstores, so-called gay bookstores have lost reasons for existence. The main narrative, namely that of the gay bookstore, is perhaps still of some interest as it documents this historical phenomenon of specialized bookstores which existed in large cities in western countries from about the mid-Eighties till about the beginning of this century, with some still surviving. However, their surmise is not succumbing to homophobic repression but rather a decline in interest to shop with specialized retailers, as likewise general acceptance has apparently led to the decline or disappearance of gay bars in many places, while shopping and dating have migrated to the Internet or blended in with general sites.

The Emperor Waltz or in German the Kaiser-Walzer (opus 437) is a waltz composed by Johann Strauss. It was originally titled "Hand in Hand" symbolic as a 'toast of friendship' between the two emperors of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

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Edited: Feb 8, 9:59am Top
007. Decolonization
Finished reading: 16 January 2019

Various colonial empires were built up and sustained for several centuries while the undoing of colonial history took place in less than 50 years, with most African counties becoming independent within the decade spanning the 1960s. Decolonization by Raymond F. Betts is published in the Routledge series "Making of the contemporary world" but at just over a hundred pages this small book can merely give a summary. The most useful part is, therefore, perhaps the appendix on pp 99-101, the Chronology of political decolonization which lists the chronological order of decolonization of mainly Asian and African countries. While the book touches on all major issues related to decolonization, it merely provides and introduction to the topic. Readable and interesting, but very limited.

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Feb 8, 11:09am Top
008. Faith in conservation. New approaches to religions and the environment
Finished reading: 16 January 2019

Faith is for fools, and Faith in conservation. New approaches to religions and the environment is an extremely naive publication. The book consists of two parts. Part 1 consists of five chapters describing world efforts in environmental protection and the religious dimension in views on the environment. Part 2 consists of 12 short chapters, an introduction followed by 11 chapters each devoted to one of the major religions. For each of these religions, the authors point out what the basic views of each of these religions is on the world and the environment. However, this is all very theoretical. The authors suggest that almost all religions are very positive about protecting nature and the environment, but they seem to forget that this has not helped very much during the past 1000 years, or so. Besides, the overall worldwide trend is one of secularisation, which means that religious groups have less influence than before. Since the book apparently in meant to show similarities between religions, the structure of the 11 chapters in Part 2 is similar, making the book boring and repetitive. Many sections in each of these chapters are very short, half a page or less. The five chapters in Part 1 are simple, while a lot of interesting material is spread out over the introductions to each of the 11 chapters of Part 2.

Interesting but futile.

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Edited: Feb 9, 1:58am Top
009. The frozen Thames
Finished reading: 18 January 2019

Helen Humphreys book The frozen Thames, particularly the Delacorte edition, has all the qualities of a coffee table book, its shape being square, high-quality glossy paper, and multiple full-color plates, except that it is a very small book. The perfect Christmas present, perhaps.

Between the year 1142 and 1895, the river Thames froze over forty times. For each year, the book includes a short piece of writing, a vignette, to describe each occassion. No instance of winters so cold that the Thames would freeze are recorded for the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century. Only once during the Twelfth Century, and three times during the Thirteenth Century, twice during both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century. After that it picks up, and it seems the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries were the coldest, with the river freezing over several times in these two centuries.

The narrative elements of each vignette are very similar: ice, skates, the various bridges over the Thames, among which the London Bridge and the recurring event of the Frost Fair, last held during the winter of 1814. In most vignettes, a short event involving commoners is mentioned, one can hardly say they tell a story, as most vignettes are only three pages long, and very small pages at that. As a result, each successive prose fragment is very similar, almost repetitive, while not very remarkable, and nothing leaves a profound impression.

Other books I have read by Helen Humphreys:
The lost garden

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Feb 9, 6:01am Top
>11 edwinbcn: I'm far from being a critical reader, but I found Harvest fairly maddening too. How did you work out when it was supposed to be set? - as far as I could see, he was doing everything possible to avoid committing to a date.

>15 edwinbcn: I think Virginia Woolf had the last word on frost fairs.

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Feb 9, 8:53am Top
There is a Wikipedia page on "River Thames frost fairs" which I did not consult before writing my review. Interestingly, according to this page the Thames did not freeze over in 1595, a year listed in
Humphreys' book while she omitted five more winters when the Thames did freeze over, nl. 1689, 1691, 1762, 1809 and 1811 (Wikipedia has a reference for that information). Wikipedia already includes all years when the Thames "more or less frozen over". One wonders why Ms Humphreys missed those five winters.

Both the Wikipedia page and The frozen Thames give 1814 as the last year of a frost fair. The frozen Thames contains a postscript for the year 1927, although this is not one of the forty vignettes and is not a year when the Thames froze over. This short postscript is dedicated to the early chapter in Orlando, Virginia Woolf's novel was published in 1928. This chapter is set during the Great Frost Fair of 1608.
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Feb 9, 9:27am Top
My choice to suggest that Harvest is set in the late Sixteenth Century is informed conjecture. Firstly, the overall feeling of the setting is late Middle Ages, brought out by the lifestyle of the villagers, the usage of the pillory and their suspicion of witchcraft, although it is true that the Manor is described as situated in a remote area, and many tradional ways of living could have been retained. The Enclosure Acts and the Agricultural Revolution, especially the transition from cropping to sheep breeding and the production of wool and cloth suggests a dating in the late Sixteenth or early Seventeenth Century.

I disagree with your assessment that Walter Thirsk is an unlettered man, but to get any clues for closer dating we should closely follow Mr Quill. Closer dating may rely on observance of what the villagers have and not have. To make the maps, Mr Quill relies on vellum, rather than on paper, but when Thirsk looks around Quill's possessions he expects to smell nutmeg (p. 129) and find smalt (p.130) among the paints. These substances did not come into broader usage until the mid- to late Sixteenth Century. Thirsk mentions "a stylish word" he hears used, nl "subterfuge" (p. 93), which according to etymology for this words came into vogue during the late Sixteenth Century. With regard to the question as to whether the punishement given to the strangers was just or not there is reference to "sturdy vagabonds and fire setters" (cannot find the page now) which may be a reference to the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars of 1536.

While writing the review, I realized that I would have to read the novel again to get various details right, but I am not really willing to do so, especially because I think it is an intentional teaser. Crowning myself a Gleaning Queen is about the least of my ambitions.
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Feb 9, 5:50pm Top
>11 edwinbcn: Harvest looks like something I'll want to read, so thanks for reminding me of Crace, Edwin. I've read and enjoyed both Quarantine and Gift of Stones.
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Feb 9, 8:26pm Top
If you enjoyed Quarantine and Gift of Stones, you might also like Being dead which is wonderful, or The Pesthouse. But Harvest is definitely a good choice.
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Feb 10, 9:52am Top
010. William Golding. The man who wrote Lord of the Flies
Finished reading: 22 January 2019

William Golding. The man who wrote Lord of the Flies is the first biography written about William Golding, the Nobel Prize Laureate who died in 1993. No biography was written or started on while Golding was still alive; he was strongly opposed to the idea. "Golding was a shy, private man, scornful of publicity (...) and strongly averse to the idea of a biography written in his lifetime" (p. ix). The Golding archive, still in hands of the family, contained two unpublished autobiographies and a journal, which Golding kept for 22 years. The biographer, John Carey is an academic, mainly specialized in English Renaissance literature. He first met Golding in 1985, when he was asked to edit a Birthday Book (as Golding would like to have it) or Festschrift as Carey would like to call it: a collection of essays by various authors about Golding's work, to be published on the occasion of Golding's 75th birthday. This was later published as William Golding: The Man and His Books - A Tribute on His 75th Birthday. The similarity of the two titles is striking. Having met Golding for the first time in 1985, Carey only knew Golding during the final seven years of his life, a period during which only three books were published.

In William Golding. The man who wrote Lord of the Flies Carey does not tell us that much about the man that Golding was, telling us much more about his books. In fact, William Golding: The Man and His Books would have been much more apt as a title for the biography. Although Carey states that the Golding archive is remarkably rich, the impression we get from the biography is that the archive mainly consists of drafts, annotated manuscripts, notes, project plans and journal entries about writing his books. The other main source that Carey used to write this biography is the correspondence archive of Golding's publisher, Faber & Faber, particularly his correspondence with Charles Monteith, who was Golding's editor at Faber & Faber for forty years.

Golding's breakthrough as a writer came relatively late in his life, at the age of 40. It was Monteith who recognized the merit of the manusrcript of the book that was subsequently published as Lord of the Flies. For years the manuscript had been rejected by various publishers, and before publication is was extensively revised under the supervision of Monteith. The first forty years of Golding are described in 150 pages. The following chapters mainly deal with the writing, revision and publication of Golding's books. The chapters of the biography often simply consist of the title of Golding's books: in fact, those chapters are not about Golding, the man, they are about the books. Many of Golding's books are difficult to understand, and besides describing their publication history, Carey often takes it upon himself to explain the books, describing their structure, plot and meaning.

True, some biographies tend to focus more on the author's life, and some biographies focus more on the author's work(s). William Golding. The man who wrote Lord of the Flies clearly belongs to the latter category. In this respect, this first Golding biography is rather disappointing, but since there are no other biographies of William Golding, there is no other choice.

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Feb 10, 11:11am Top
>20 edwinbcn: Thanks, I'll put them on my list.
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Feb 11, 6:15pm Top
Fascinating information about The Frozen Thames
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Feb 19, 3:41pm Top
>17 edwinbcn: One wonders why Ms Humphreys missed those five winters.

This confused me too when I later read of other frozen winters on the Thames, but then I wondered "Were there no lovely 'corresponding colour plates' to go with those winters?"


It's good to see you back here.
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Today, 7:55am Top
001. American dream, American nightmare. Fiction since 1960
Finished reading: 24 Januari 2019

Literary criticism and theory investigate "the moral, political, and experiential dimensions of literary traditions, linking form to content, literature to history, (and) the sensuous love of literature to analytic understanding (general preface). It's mission is to describe and provide insight into a literary heritage, helping readers and educators to see literary works in a broader context. Besides canonized authors and literary works, minor authors and works of lesser renown are discussed to convey a broad sense of a cultural development.

Published in the year 2000, American dream, American nightmare. Fiction since 1960 covers the period from 1960 to about 1995. The book aims to be neither a wide-spectrum description of American fiction, nor being too specialized by for instance focusing on race or gender. Instead, this work discusses about one hundred novels which bear on the main theme of disappointment with America, specifically spiritual recoil from America, the failure of the American Dream. In the introduction, the author defines the American Dream as "prosperity for anyone willing to work" (p. 3) and certain liberties. The introduction mentions a number of canonized authors.

The book is divided into nine chapters. Surely, the first seven chapters discuss authors and literary works which are quite well known, Chapter One with some works by Chinese American authors, Chapter Ttwo some African American writers, followed by several chapters which include some of the most well-known American authors, such asd Updike, Bellow, Pynchon, DeLillo, Vonnegut, and Easton Ellis, etc.

But the works selected for Chapters Seven and Eight are almost all new names to me, and rather bewildering. There is hardly a moment of recognition or familiar titles. In Chapter Seven, the main focus is on the following novels: Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel, Dhalgren, Always Coming Home, The Dispossessed, Woman on the Edge of Time, He, She and It, The Fifth Sacred Thing, and in Chapter Eight, Hiding Place, Damballah, Sent for you Yesterday, Tracks, Love Medicine, Ceremony, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Letourneau's Used Auto Parts, Merry Men, Slapstick or, Lonesome No More!, and Islands in the Net.

The unfamiliarity with so many authors and works is staggering, but perhaps to American readers these authors and works are well-known.

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Today, 9:16am Top
001. Swimming home
Finished reading: 28 January 2019

Deborah Levy was (already) a published author, with no less than five novels, two collections of short stories, 18 plays and a volume of poetry to her name. However, in an interview with Bookslut she complained that most of her books were out of print and that she was working on getting them in print again.Did she experience difficulty getting Swimming home published with her publisher or any other main publishing house? The novel surprisingly came out with And Other Stories an then new publisher that finances book publications by subscription. Was the jury of the Man Booker Prize perhaps positively biased to niche publishers, or did her work stand out in that area of publishing? Would her novel be noticed and equally well received had it been published by her regural publisher Jonathan Cape? If it had been a strategic move by Deborah Levy to publish the novel in this way, she was rewarded beyond measure: the novel was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and thus the author was catapulted into the limelight. Soon after, her early novels were reissued by Penguin Books.

But is Swimming home really such a good book? Far from it! A muddled story, vague characters and no action. Of course, these are characteristics of many postmodern novels. It is obvious that the author is no newby. She knows something about writing, but she knows very little about telling a story, let alone an interesting story. The jury of the Man Booker Prize should be ashamed to have long listed, and then even short listed the book. ( )
  edwinbcn | Mar 4, 2019 |
I didn't really like this book. Found it rather depressing and a bit pretentious. Although I agree with most reviewer's content (printed on the cover pages) I don't agree with their kudos. Studies of dark, troubled individuals are not my thing, nor is a cast of thoroughly unlikable characters. By the way hasn't anyone noticed that in the contemporary world Poets are neither rich nor famous -- at least the living ones. ( )
  amaraki | Aug 8, 2018 |
This book is rather wonderful - cryptic, elusive, allusive and dreamlike, and very difficult to encapsulate or describe in a meaningful review.

My only previous exposure to Levy was reading her most recent book Hot Milk, and this book occupies similar territory, at least superficially. Both are full of symbolism and striking imagery, and share similar southern European settings, but ultimately depend more on what is not said than what is.

Levy toys with her characters and appears to understand them better than they do themselves. I won't even attempt to describe the plot, which seems almost irrelevant. ( )
1 vote bodachliath | Feb 23, 2018 |

…She was not ready to go home and start imitating someone she used to be…

All these suspects on holiday together sharing a villa, a pool, and the rambling grounds of the estate surrounding them are not who they appear to be. The posing of every faker on the premises is not so much remarkable as it is expected. It is the way life goes. Rarely is there authentic intimacy in this type of gathering, but rather infidelities of the most obscene kind. Levy is adept at making it all seem and feel normal. And the threat and portent of doom hovers around the intimates similar to a dark and pregnant cloud.

The story progresses and this doom feels imminent. Trouble is coming for somebody and the victims perhaps will number more than a few. The cast of characters involve two vacationing couples, a daughter, caretaker, restauranteur, neighbor, and an adrift and traveling young girl who generally prefers her public nudity to convention. This somewhat likable woman named Kitty Finch is obviously unstable and provides the impetus for the impending disaster. The focus centers on the accomplished poet Joe, his historical infidelities, and the starving and disturbed young nudist invited to share a room in their villa. Nobody, including the reader, knows why Joe’s partner Isabel invited her to stay except for her facilitating another adultery she has become accustomed to enduring. Manipulation seems to be at the heart of every action. By book’e end I am no nearer a resolution to this seeming madness than when I was at the opening scene as passenger in a car bent on crashing. But end it does.

Secrets, yes. And teeming with them. For me, a rather hollow work devoid of feeling. And though my first foray into her writing, I expected more from Deborah Levy. Especially with all the hype announcing it. ( )
  MSarki | Jan 7, 2018 |
This audio was presented in 5, 15-minute segments. I don't know whether there were only 5 segments instead of 10 because the book is short, or because there wasn't enough substance. I suppose it could be an interesting study in mental illness, but I was put off from the start by the unlikely scenario. Apparently Kitty's nudity was an issue; since the dwelling by rights was in the possession of the family, why didn't they tell her to cover up? And being unnerved by this odd woman, why did they invite her to stay? No hotel? Then leave town. Go somewhere where there was a hotel room. Letting her stay with them was so unbelievable that the whole story immediately went into the fantasy realm, which made me unable to appreciate any serious statement about mental health or personal relationships. ( )
  Lit_Cat | Dec 9, 2017 |
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Levy manipulates light and shadow with artfulness. She transfixes the reader: we recognise the centipede as the thing of darkness in us all. This is an intelligent, pulsating literary beast.
added by geocroc | editThe Telegraph, Philip Womack (Aug 7, 2012)
Swimming Home reminded me of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Although a short work, it has an epic quality. This is a prizewinner.
added by geocroc | editThe Independent, Julia Pascal (Oct 21, 2011)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Deborah Levyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gustafsson, Kerstin ParadisTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barth, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Higuera Glynne-Jones, Susana de laTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jongeling, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kunová, JanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCarthy, TomIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCarthy, TomAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vesanto, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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‘Each morning in every family, men, women and children, if they have nothing better to do, tell each other their dreams. We are all at the mercy of the dream and we owe it to ourselves to submit its power to the waking state.’
– La Révolution surréaliste, No. 1, December 1924
To Sadie and Leila, so dear, always
First words
When Kitty Finch took her hand off the steering wheel and told him she loved him, he no longer knew if she was threatening him or having a conversation.
Her gaze, the adrenalin of it, was a stain, the etcs in her poem a bright light, a high noise. And if all this wasn't terrifying enough, her attention to the detail of every day was even more so, to pollen and struggling trees and the instincts of animals, to the difficulties of pretending to be relentlessly sane, to the way he walked (he had kept the rheumatism that aged him a secret from his family), to the nuance of mood and feeling in them all. Yesterday he had watched her free some bees trapped in the glass of a lantern as if it were she who was held captive. She was as receptive as it was possible to be, an explorer, an adventurer, a nightmare. Every moment with her was a kind of emergency, her words always too direct, too raw, too truthful.
The days were hard and smelt of money.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.

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Book description
As he arrives with his family at the villa in the hills above Nice, Joe sees a body in the swimming pool. But the girl is very much alive. She is Kitty Finch: a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails, walking naked out of the water and into the heart of their holiday. Why is she there? What does she want from them all? And why does Joe’s wife allow her to remain?
Haiku summary
Obsessed Kitt swims nude ~ Isable invites her in ~ Villa is altered. (catted)

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