Thursday, 4 September 2008

reading log

Last time I did this I was just about to proceed to Seducing Mr Darcy by Gwyn Cready - instead of describing what happens in this novel I will just show you the cover



Yeah. So, it's actually depraved, silly, and pretty darn good. It knows exactly what it's doing, which puts it well ahead of most of the other J.A. time travel stuff I read, and it does it with conviction. The heroine, Flip, has a mystical massage which puts you 'into' your favourite novel. Unfortunately just as she's drifting off she confuses P&P with the trashy thing she's been reading that involves hot bathroom benchtop sex with some sort of Venetian Fabio character. She is only in the novel for a few minutes but it's long enough for a truly orgasmic encounter with Mr Darcy and his leather boots, strong jaw etc. When she wakes up P&P is, ahem, corrupted. It's like a Mills & Boon plotted by Philip K Dick. The pompous yet sexy TopAustenScholar who the heroine turns for to help is called Magnus Knightley and he thinks P&P is the greatest socioeconomic observational novel ever written, so everyone is happy to see him made to learn a thing or two about mushy love stories. The part I liked most is where, in order to convince Magnus she's not just another madwoman with Pemberley stationery and Colin Firth on the brain, Flip lines up a series of different editions. The unauthorised 'changes' are most advanced in the oldest editions and are spreading forward to the newest. First and second editions operate in this novel the way Mary McFly's photos of himself and his siblings do in Back to the Future. So yes, I liked this book.

I also reread The Mysteries of Udolpho for teaching purposes. That was interesting. The people who kindly suggested it probably isn't smart to set a 650 page novel 3/4 full of dreamy descriptions of mountain scenery for a single optional week's reading in the middle of a term nominally devoted to six other very meaty novels were quite right - the take-up rate was about thirty percent, and so far as I know nobody got further than about half-way. It was a lot of work for me and unless I very quickly churn the material into some research writing while it's fresh, and that's unlikely to happen, it was an extravagantly inefficent use of my time. But you know what? It annoys me hearing students discuss how Novel A is responding to Novel B when it's quite apparent they don't know anything more about novel B than the potted synopsis with attached agenda they've read in some piece of criticism (and if that was written between say 1930 and 1970, the critic probably hasn't read novel B himself either.) Students (& anyone) speaking confidently about books they haven't read are just playing the game, perhaps, but it's not a game that's worthy of their time or talents. The people who did read a substantial bit of Udolpho had a wide range of very interesting, surprising things to say about it, and I'm looking forward pretty eagerly to seeing how they now factor it into their thinking about Northanger Abbey when we look at it next week.

I read and reluctantly conducted tutorials about Inside Hitler's Bunker, by Joachim Fest, a nonfiction book that is one of the sources of the film Downfall, for which I still feel much the same distaste as I did when I saw it in 2005. The book and the film are set texts in our first year adaptation unit. I didn't find a way of satisfactorily and psychologically responsibly discussing this book in terms of both its subject matter and its style or method. I avoided holding tutorials where we talk only about the nihilistic, irrational, suicidal appetite for universal destruction anatomised in Fest's book, with young students I don't really know anything about, and at the other extreme it seems deeply disrespectful to me to treat a book like this as fodder for a dry technical conversation about the different signifying properties of different narrative techniques. These things need to be talked about somehow simultaneously so they can modify and regulate each other. It's beyond me how to make this happen, especially with 25 people in the class, with widely varying abilities and levels of knowledge about twentieth century history.

I'm not needing the Agatha Christie soporific at present, happily, so I've ceased midnight readings of chapters of The Clocks - but I do have Georgia Blain's Births Death Marriages next to my bed now and am reading a chapter in the evenings before lights out. It's a beautifully and deceptively simply written book which is moving but also, so far, gratifyingly tough. I really love reading about other Australian childhoods of roughly my vintage. Blain selects the details brilliantly - they're accurate, natural, everyday ordinary stuff - but quietly she lets them do some storytelling as well - great.

2 comments:

librarygirl said...

Flip? Really?
The Mr.Darcy book sounds quite Jasper Fforde-ish (The Eyre Affair).

Tim said...

It sounds surprisingly awesome, given the cover. I won't be reading it, but I'm glad to know it exists.