In the Woods of Memory tells of the rape of a teenage girl during the American occupation after the Battle of Okinawa and the subsequent attack on an American soldier by a young Japanese fisherman. Though the novel begins in 1945, most of it takes place sixty years later as Medoruma places us in the perspectives of nine Japanese and American characters, bridging the events across time. The novel’s real power unfolds as readers merge its events together on their own, pinnacling in the stream-of-consciousness Seiji chapter (originally written using Okinawan dialect) that evokes the most powerful modernist fiction.
In the Woods of Memory at Stone Bridge Press
Another children’s classic I never actually read as a kid, the original Peter Pan holds up solidly in its story, characters, and playful writing style, but not in its cringeworthy turn-of-the-century descriptions of Native Americans. Barrie also inserts some distinct undertones for careful readers, such as the rivalry between Wendy and Tinkerbell for the clueless pre-pubescent Peter, the Darling parents’ obsession with doing everything society expects of them, and Hook’s being a former prep school kid, along with an epilogue (left out of the Disney version) that explores what it really means to outgrow the carefree adventures of youth.
Four lonely people in a Southern town search for meaning outside of life’s banalities, brought together by a deaf-mute who’s mourning the loss of his closest friend. Parts of this book resonated with me strongly as the characters express their inability to fit into the world around them, especially Mick’s analogy of the outside room where she performs for society versus the inside room where she enjoys her secret love of music. The rest of it, however, moves painfully slowly, with long chapters and dialogue that hasn’t aged well, leaving its raw power to be deciphered rather than enjoyed.
An aging butler in 1950s Britain goes on a road trip and reflects on the glory days of the British aristocracy that turn out to be not so glorious. This novel works so incredibly because of its narrator, who speaks in a voice that’s both dignified and easy to read, reeking of unreliability and dry humor as he encounters the common folk. Greater stakes, however, lie in its backstory of what democracy really means and how an entire working class could trade their independence for service to the upper classes—who are prone to more than a few shortcomings.
In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime. While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals. Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical fiction, child narrator, loaded politics) but it does, which speaks to McEwan’s skill as a storyteller. Though the prose is often slow, there are enough hard-hitting dramatic moments to make this an intense read.
Where I Got It
From a friend who was getting rid of books in the summer of 2015. I have mixed feelings about movie cover tie-ins, but this one pulls it off quite well.
A century before anyone would associate terrorism with Islam, Conrad both mocks and captures the gravity of the London anarchist movement and their fictitious plot to blow up Greenwich Observatory. Mr. Verloc and his team of overweight, bumbling radicals spend a lot of time talking big about the evils of capitalism but prove disastrously incompetent when it comes time to plant the bomb. Though the prose has its moments of humor and pathos, Conrad’s stuff hasn’t aged well and can make for long slogs through dense paragraphs. Worth it, however, for its cynical twists on both capitalism and anarchy.
Where I Got It
The longest-standing book in my pile (nearly 4 and a half years), I bought this hardcover copy at a town festival book sale along with The Epic of Gilgamesh and some others. Part of a 1960s collection of Conrad’s works, it still had the dust jacket, with a monocle print of Conrad himself on the back cover.
Despite Conrad’s being Polish, this pic is the most British thing I’ve ever seen.
I found Mrs. Dalloway more accessible than other Virginia Woolf novels I’ve read, possibly because it’s also shorter. The stream-of-consciousness novel shows a day in the life of a fiftysomething socialite reflecting on the mundanity of her married life, the passionate love of her youth, and her deeply hidden feelings for a female friend. My favorite scenes, though, were the surreal and hard-hitting takes on WWI shell shock in the hallucinatory ramblings of ex-soldier Septimus Warren Smith.
There’s a lot to like here, but it’s still high modernism and can get…dense.
Where I Got It
From a grad school friend who had two copies, Summer 2015.
Virginia Woolf on Wikipedia
Virginia Woolf Was More Than Just a Women’s Writer (essay)