The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Thursday, February 02, 2006


I've had to stop reading Broken April by Ismail Kadare, about 50 pages before the end - just under a quarter of its total length. It got to the point where I really couldn't manage more than a couple of pages before wanting to put it down. Reading a novel hasn't been this much of an effort since Iain Banks' A Song of Stone (a terrible book, which doesn't detract from the quality of The Wasp Factory, The Bridge, Complicity or The Crow Road). Not that it's badly written (or rather, that the translation is badly written) but I don't think it's stopped raining since I began, very little has happened, no character has made a decision which reveals something about themselves or challenges the situation they're in - essentially, there's been no real variation in terms of plot, theme, setting or personality, and worst of all, I don't care enough to find out what happens in the end. There have been about three or four good, interesting paragraphs dotted about, and that's it. I accept I may be missing something - is the whole thing designed as an allegory of life under communism, which must certainly have been this dreary and seemingly interminable? An associate is having comparable difficulties with The General of the Dead Army.

I have begun The Leopard instead, having put it off for long enough, and am enjoying it hugely, though relief is probably part of it. Useful that I read the Giovanni Verga stories collected in Life in the Country in January, which provide something by way of context, though I didn't think much of J.G. Nichols' translation. From what I remember sampling, the ones by D. H. Lawrence in Sparrow, Temptation and Cavalleria Rusticana are far better.

If this isn't a niche recommendation, I don't know what is.


At 8 February 2006 at 14:46 , Blogger Yvonne said...

I'm impressed that you made it as far as 50 pages before the end if it was that bad!

I got rid of all my Iain Banks books as I find the episodes of gratuitous and graphic violence and torture really hard to take (especially the first chapter of The Algebraist.

At 10 February 2006 at 19:24 , Blogger The Silver Eel said...

Yeah, I was determined not to give up, but found that my progress was comparable to that of Achilles' against the tortoise, with the same amount of energy required to cover an ever-shorter distance, and in the end I just had to accept that I wasn't going to make it, and didn't really want to.

I've been to three or four events with Iain Banks over the years, and I think at every one there's been someone who said, I really like your books, but there was this one passage that made my hair stand on end, and he asks with an air of genuine curiosity oh? which one? when by now he must know they're going to say, it was the baby in the hospital in The Wasp Factory. It certainly frightened the bejesus out of me at 19.

Though I haven't read a Banks novel in ages, things that I took more or less in my stride when I was younger disturb me more now. I think it's an age and experience thing: one is more disturbed because one has a better idea of what's at stake.


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