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VA8072 April 9, 2013

Posted by newsthatstaysnews in Uncategorized.
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I was struck by how much older the crowd in Adelaide was, versus Chennai.  Mostly in pairs, a few small groups.  Those who were alone tended to have books or newspapers, not electronics.  They were more impassive, perhaps because they knews exactly how many minutes until boarding.  They knew how long they would need to stave off boredom.  I’d left my friend’s paperback copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest on her shelf, so I was out of luck.  I was impressed by his narrative skill; too often I’ve read books whose jumps back and forth were easily characterized as either jumps from action to filler or jumps back.  Here, they all held me, even though the cold stoicism I remember from the swedish movie version of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ had been replaced with frenetic conspiracy.  So into it that in my tiredness I at one point called out my friend, playing cribbage with her partner on the other couch, ‘Do you suppose any of this is true?’ to which she replied with patience and dignity beyond my capacity to reproduce here.

Once in the air, I learned that A N Zed charges extra for movies on subepic flights.  So, I listened to a bit of Liszt whose name I cannot now recall, and then borrowed my frequent-flying neighbor’s book.  While the stewards were busy bringing her even more offers, information and warmth, I read the first part of The Marriage Plot.

I’m underwhelmed. Eugenides is always mentioned in the same breath as Franzen (whom I’ve never read) and David Foster Wallace, who may not be the bees knees, but is certainly brilliant, persuasive, and darkly but irrepressibly funny.  I imagine that the compulsion, the desire and darkness that I have ever felt is but the shadow of what hard drugs bring, but I’ve felt them, and he makes it vivid, and funny, and sad to know them and to be human.

I expected something like that.  I got a straightforward novel about being an ivy league english major, not so much insightful as well informed.  I or my friends experienced some form of most everything he described up to the point where I put the book down.  There’s a scene where the protagonist goes to a party at a fraternity to have sex with someone.  She wants, we learn, to humiliate herself.  Yes, I agree, I believe it, and precisely for that reason, I should like to know why.  I might hope that the author would take many years’ wisdom and as many score of minutes’ concentration and care as necessary, and tell me what the feels like.  Even if the author has never personally felt that way, to explain how that occurred to the protagonist, and what made her impulses feel right, and to let me feel the experience.

The novel flirts with philosophy, with all the passion of a grown woman herding kids at a Justin Bieber concert.  Apparently abstract ideas are ruining the poor child’s life.  Zounds!  Another book that’s almost totally true is the yellow pages.  I for one, would just as soon have read more of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”.

Improbably enough, my friend’s partner proved to be reading a paperback copy of ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire.”  Sure enough, I picked up, and I read for a while, and got stuck on the the author’s efforts to convey what it’s like to be taken with mathematics.  Like a newspaper article about a subject you happen to know about, it was broadly disappointing.  It had all the passion of a wikipedia entry with its headings and sample formulas cut and pasted into plain text and thinly disguised with transitions.  So, I abridged the novel.  I cut the math, I cut the other story strands which started to creep in around page forty, and I cut the whole novel at page fifty.  I trust that the unabridged novel is a gripping crime thriller, but the one I read was a harmless if odd and slightly violent short story I’d call ‘The Girl Who Went to the Beach.’

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