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Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts (original 1933; edition 2011)

by Nathanael West

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4122125,790 (3.49)44
Title:Miss Lonelyhearts
Authors:Nathanael West (Author)
Collections:Your library
Tags:english, lingua inglese, ebook, narrativa, narrativa nordamericana

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Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1933)


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Such finely-wrought internal thought; clumsiness, sometimes brutality in the external world. (Plenty of reviewers seem to disagree with the former: many give this short novella either 2-3 stars for having an awful, unrelatable protagonist - I've read plenty nastier - or 5 for all-round brilliance.) It's a close-third person narrative, which, during pauses, I recalled as a first-person, such was its access to one character's inner life whilst the rest remained as if behind a pane of frosted glass. Miss Lonelyhearts is a young American 1930s newspaperman, straight, reluctantly assigned to write an advice column. He is referred to throughout only by this name, the queerness/dragginess of which charmed me so much that it was always an effort to remember how different (emasculating, demeaning) it was intended to sound, and would have to most readers at the time and for decades afterwards. The name probably made me more kindly-disposed towards the character than if he'd just been called plain old Fred or Joe.

The paper's policy to fill the column with religious hokum rather than genuine responses means that he's powerless to help the people who write in. Not only does Miss L lack vocation and aptitude, he's more helpless than people in most helping professions, where funding at least allows for sticking a band-aid over a compund-fracture of a life. Street scenes sound like Breughels; these are Great-Depression families in desperate need of decent health care, jobs, social security, social workers, therapists, better domestic violence laws and better housing. “You are plunging into a world of misery and suffering , peopled by creatures who are strangers to everything but disease and policemen. Harried by one, they are hurried by the other . . . “Pain, pain, pain, the dull, sordid, gnawing, chronic pain of heart and brain. There's not a lot you could merely *say* that would make a difference.

He too considers the job a joke, but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, that they are inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. For the first time in his life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator. Lurching between moments of Zen-like serene empathy and a raging chaos, he applies some traditionally American means of attempting to cope, including Evangelical Christianity, booze and violence - as well as fever-dreams, a nice little trip to the country, three shambolic affairs* (this is a milieu between westerns and Mad Men in which the men are brutal, the women ill-educated, sex often bartered or coerced, and there seems no hope these people could could live companionably in the way many modern couples expect). And most of all he makes a complete mess of what we'd now call professional boundaries.

If you've ever worked with deprived communities the letters are horribly recognisable - not enough has changed. (Other than policing and perhaps medicine and teaching, this encompasses lots of jobs which rarely find their way into fiction, despite huge potential for interesting stories.) You may even once have had a colleague with rather unsympathetic attitudes whose presence in the work was baffling, and who made more realistic versions of the mess Miss L does.

The prose is well honed; a great deal of meaning and feeling is mysteriously enshrined in few words, not necessarily unusual ones. However, the editor's, Shrike's (the shrike, the butcher bird which impales its prey on thorns) rants can be hyperbolic and surreally hilarious: God alone is our escape. The church is our only hope, the First Church of Christ Dentist , where He is worshiped as Preventer of Decay. The church whose symbol is the trinity new-style: Father, Son and Wirehaired Fox Terrier . .

I'd seen the title 'Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West' plenty of times before, and had thought it stood for something twee-er and wryer, about letters from society ladies, not the poor and desperate. (For some reason I had also associated West's name with Herman Melville, and I only just noticed that he wrote The Day of the Locust which must be the basis for the John Schlesinger film.) Stylistically this turned out to be something of a hidden gem, though in subject a very rough one.

* A review of a different volume of West's works suggests that the chapters parody pulp novels; the structure makes more sense seen that way. ( )
1 vote antonomasia | Jun 9, 2014 |
I'd read this book in my 20's and decided to try it again at age 40. While I may have gotten more out of it this time around, I suspect my reaction was the same as it was the first time. This is one bleak book. Worth reading, though. Or re-reading. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jul 6, 2013 |
Breve nota sull'edizione kindle (pagata ben 0.89€): una porcheria. Le spaziature tra le lettere sono totalmente a caso, tutte le parole a fine riga sono spezzate (non sillabate però).

Miss Lonelyhearts, in realtà un uomo, cura una rubrica su un giornale a New York; è un punto di riferimento per tutte le donne vessate e maltrattate che le scrivono continuamente.
Miss Lonelyhearts però non ce la fa più a sentirsi raccontare di tutto il male intorno a sè, inoltre il suo ruolo è deriso dai colleghi di ufficio che non prendono sul serio come lei la gravità delle lettere.
Il romanzo ci dà all'inizio un assaggio di quello che Miss Lonelyhearts deve sopportare ogni giorno, poi segue i vari tentativi che il protagonista fa per allontanare e superare il problema: la fuga in campagna, la ricerca di una donna, l'alcol e la religione.
Ironicamente la situazione precipiterà quando Miss Lonelyhearts incontrerà l'unica donna non vessata, non maltrattata (che però crede di esserlo) e il suo vessato e maltrattato marito (ovvero l'unico uomo dotato di una qualche qualità positiva nel romanzo). ( )
  Saretta.L | Apr 10, 2013 |
i like the premise - that someone gets so overwhelmed by the tragedy in other's lives (that he courts knowledge of because of his work) that it starts to ruin his life. (this is very realistic to me as it mirrors my own life a year ago.) but the writing, the dialogue, the stereotyping, the other characters, the storytelling - very disappointing all around. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Apr 3, 2013 |
I would say this novella is more like a 3 1/2 but Goodreads won't allow it. This is one of those works that tells about a place in time and a certain sense of loneliness that seems timeless that never seemed to get its due recognition.

Miss Lonelyhearts ia actually a man who must answer the advice letters that come into the paper...and these letters enlist is help in every topic that seems imaginable. Meanwhile, Miss Lonelyhearts himself is ensnared in his own problems, namely the adulterous situation he finds himself in. There is a great deal in here about society and religion. The writing is also a sign of the times as well and can get quite sexist against female writers, for instance, but it does indeed make me hopeful to see how far we've come as a country and a society from the 1930s anyways.

Passages I liked:

pg 9 "He knew now what this thing was-hysteria, a snake whose scales are tiny mirrors i which the dead world takes on a semblance of life. And how dead the world is...a world of doorknobs. He wondered if hysteria were really too steep a price to pay for bringing it to life."

pg 17 Miss Lonelyhearts put his arm around the old man. Tell us the story of your life," he sad, loading his voice with sympathy.

"I have no story."

"You must have. Every one has a life story."

pg. 31 The physical world had a tropism for disorder, entropy. Man against Nature...the battle of the centuries. Keys yearn to mix with change. Mandolins strive to get out of tune. Every order has within it the germ of destruction. All order is doomed, yet the battle is worth while."

( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
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The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?-Do-you-need-advice?-Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.
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Wildly funny, desperately sad, brutal and kind, furious and patient, there was no other like Nathanael West.' - Dorothy Parker 'In dark times, Miss Lonelyhearts shines the brightest light in the blackest places. For this reason West's novel has never felt more alive than today' - The Daily Beast 'A masterpiece...' - Jonathan Lethem. Day after day, 'Miss Lonelyhearts' sits in his office responding to letters from 'Broken-hearted, Sick-of-it-all, and Desperate', dispensing words of hope, inspiration, and other platitudes to get his readers through their tormented days. But it's all getting to be too much for Miss Lonelyhearts. Under the weight of his colleagues' mockery and the endless gloom of his correspondence, Miss Lonelyheart finds himself crippled with cynicism and dysfunction. Set in New York City at the height of the Great Depression, Miss Lonelyhearts stands as one of the most intelligent and hilarious works of the 20th Century. Laced with dark humour, irony, and razor-sharp insight, this novel is as hauntingly relevant today as it was nearly a hundred years ago.… (more)

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