Archive for August, 2010

Carol Shield’s Swann

August 22, 2010

I found Swann to be a highly enjoyable, even gripping book. The plot revolves around Mary Swann, an rural Canadian poet who is discovered by the Western academy and becomes more elusive and even ephemeral the more the academics try to tighten their grip around her. The majority of the book focuses on a series of characters, mainly academics interested in Swann, and also Rose, an acquaintance of Swann from her hometown. The final fifty pages or so then take us to the Swann Symposium, a gathering of all the characters thus far introduced. Here the format of the book also changes from a straight-up novel to a screen play format. The transition is a bit abrupt at first, but it works well for the plot development in the end.

All in all, Swann could be characterized as a mystery but it it really more about how hard it is to grasp the personality and intentions of any given individual, whether that be Mary Swann or any of the other characters. Along there way, Shields offers some amusing commentary on the academy, small town life, and the difficulty of interpretation. A highly recommended read.

Slow Man by Coetzee

August 10, 2010

Simple, yet complex is how I would characterize Coetzee’s Slow Man. On the one hand, it is an easy read being both short and written in flowing, sometimes almost simplistic, prose. But Coetzee begins to throw curve balls not too far into the book by invoking multiple planes of reality. At the beginning you have a straight-up story about a guy who is attempting to cope with losing a leg in a road accident towards the end of a fairly pathetic life. But by midway through the story, an author—who appears to largely be a stand-in for Coetzee himself—is on the scene, using the main character, Rayment, in a book she’s writing. By the end even Rayment himself is wondering what type of reality he’s living in and the reader is left wondering whether this is a work about loss, trauma, and any number of other themes or if it’s a book about writing a book.

As the author hovers not really over so much as in the middle of the action, Coetzee comes up with some good nuggets of reflection on the plight of the writer. As an author himself of course, Coetzee also doesn’t neglect the story, even offering some of the better sex scenes I’ve come across in his writing. All in all, a fun and thought-provoking book.