Sunday, 13 December 2020

Re-reading Lord of the Flies


This will be the last book in my 2020 re-reading challenge, and I believe it was the greatest positive surprise. I first read it when I was 20-ish and had never re-read it. A fellow student lent me her paperback that someone else had probably lent her. Remember that in Russia of my youth all foreign books that crossed the Iron Curtain were random. We didn’t know anything about the book or its author. By that time I had heard of, if not read The Lord of the Rings and was struck by the similarity of titles.

For inexplicable reasons this novel has been on school syllabi in many countries for years and years. Inexplicable because although the existential message is transparent, it is, I would claim, of little relevance for young readers, now as much as then. The adventurous plot is slow, and a significant portion of the book is exquisite nature descriptions that, as research shows, young readers skip. I am sure I did, even if at that time I regarded myself a sophisticated reader. If the novel had been subjected to the same kind of adaptation as Robinson Crusoe there wouldn’t be much left. (What most people remember or know by hearsay in Robinson is his encounter with Friday which is a minor episode toward the very end of the book).

I remembered most of the plot, although misremembered some details. For instance in my memory (spoiler!) Piggy was brutally murdered, while it was in fact Simon. I had forgotten the paratrooper. Knowing the plot, what I enjoyed most was the language, these beautiful, poetic, vivid descriptions of the island, the sea, the sky. For their sake, I will probably re-read the book again. And if you decide to re-read it (or read it for the first time – it’s one of those so called classics that people have heard of but never actually read unless they were forced to in school), take your time. You know what happens, but make sure you notice how it happens, how the tiny change in tone is rendered, and of course the elaborate setting that brings you right in the middle of this terrifying paradise.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Re-reading The Pickwick Papers


I chose The Pickwick Papers because I had re-read most other Dickens’s novels in the past fifty years, some quite recently, and Dickens was an important author back then, one that everybody read, even my snobbish mother. Bleak House was my favourite when I was twelve. The Pickwick Papers was supposed to be funny, and as I re-read it now, which was painful, I kept asking myself what we possibly could consider funny. Was it simply exotic and incomprehensibly British? I am thinking about Three Men in a Boat, that is very British and hilarious, then as now (I re-read it just a few years ago with great pleasure). Pickwick has a vague plot, mostly sketches of upper-class life full of ways and habits totally alien to me – I wonder how today’s British readers view it. There are no characters to like or dislike, and their concerns don’t engage me. A few phrases were witty, but mostly the language was flat. Perhaps when the book was first published, in instalments as was the practice, readers were kept in suspense about some minor quirks of the plot. Definitely there was more for them to recognise, and yes, I understand that it is all satire. But it was lost on me. I won’t bore you, dear reader, with more details.