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John Banville

I’d been wanting to read Banville’s The Sea for awhile and finally got the chance.  It was pretty good.  The seaside story of the narrator as a boy and his relationship with the Graces, the eccentric family summering in a big rented house, is great, but loses much because of the constant switching between the narrator’s more recent past with his now-deceased wife and his morose, unfocused present situation.  I’m a little sick of these stories that dig around in the past, ever-so-slowly getting to the point, the great tragic event or whatever happened to change the narrator’s life.  It seems that the story from the past ought to be enough to be told outright as it was in Atonement, for instance.  In this case, it ended up seeming like a rather slight thing, that maybe should have been a short story instead.  That said, Banville is a wonderfully detailed writer in that he probes deeply into a scene, until every detail (many of them unsavory it must be said) is captured.  His writing is lush and beautiful and many scenes and lines that stay in the memory (“things endure, people lapse”).  He often writes about ugly things and his realism can be jarring, given the flourish of his prose.  I started making a list of words that I needed to look up:  flocculent, scurf, gleet, strangury, plus a reference to a so-called “Bard of Hartford.”  A google of this last brought up a review of this book! I had to keep digging to determine that the reference is to the poet, Wallace Stevens.   The feeling for the quotidienne reminded me of his fellow Irish writer, and one of my favorites, Iris Murdoch.  Yet, he seems awash in melancholy, where she seemed to view life in an essentially more cheerful way.

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Audio Austen

While on a roadtrip to Virginia (11 1/2 hours with minimal stops), I listened to an audio version of Sense and Sensibility, read by Nadia May (Blackstone Audiobooks; 2000).  At first I thought her voice was too strident, but that impression evaporated almost immediately.  She does a fine job with the different voices, crucial with Austen which is very dialogue-heavy, and you always know who is speaking.  She did two favorite characters, Mrs. Jennings and Sir John Middleton, to perfection. 

While I have read all of Austen’s books many, many times and seen every film adaptation, I had never listened to them, but now that I have heard one, I must hear them all.  The exquisitely chosen language rewards the ear with every speech and phrase. It is a true delight, and one does not have to quarrel with casting or director’s choices of which scenes to leave in or take out as with a movie. 

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