Review of ‘No One is Talking About This’

Continuing series of book reviews for writers.

I have finished reading Patricia Lockwood’s ‘No One is Talking About This’. The book is a North Van City Library book club selection for January. If it wasn’t, I might not have finished it, but there is a commitment to the group to read and be able to discuss the book when we meet.
The book is divided into two parts, and I am struggling to see the bridge or link between them. First is an exploration of the Internet, with ‘The Portal’ being a stand-in for Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter or what will you. The short fragments of narrative match my experience, with short un-related bits of information coming at the reader, much as some social media does.
The author uses a device of not naming the protagonist or anyone else. Done well, as by McCarthy in ‘The Road’, it creates a dystopian distance between the reader and the main character. Done poorly, it comes across as an affectation at best, as obnoxiously gimmicky at worse. For reasons that I will add later, I lean towards the latter here.
The first ‘Portal’ section I thought rang true for much social media. It has no rhyme or reason, but pinballs between subjects for each tiny section of narrative, which grows tiresome. There is no thorough analysis here, but more a stone skipping the surface. Which is true of social media, so the effect works. But I found it shied away from the meanness and divisiveness that is so prevalent on social media. It ignored the ability of anonymous users to spout hate and kookiness. The divisive ‘us and then’ aspects of saying things that the speaker knows will offend the other side, and as the section wound down, I asked myself, ‘What is the Point?’
But not before a few distasteful episodes of sexual profanity. I had a memory of a toddler who had learned that saying ‘Fuck’ brought all kinds of attention. Shocking and funny at first, it gets old quick. Adolescent boys giggling over bathroom humor or the still adolescent men who wrote for my university’s engineering papers, shocking with their filth. Or the second tier comics working in Manhattan who thought laughs of shock were as good as laughs of insight or hilarity. They’re not. Is it an equality thing, showing that women can be as crass as men? Gold star then.

The second section is a sad story and I still can’t see what it has to do with the first section. Again, no names are used, and again it is all short sections of narrative that never go deep. But the larger issue with this book appears, in that there doesn’t seem to be any agency by the main character, or anyone else. They just go along for the ride, making no changes or taking any action. Too much time on social media, I think.
The title is ‘No One is Talking About This’, which is kind of ironic in that talk is really all they do.
There is some talk of ‘The Dictator’ but no attempt to cross or bridge the political divides.
I am working on a theory of the novel. (Although, I am not sure I would call this a novel.) My idea is that great novels are supported like a three-legged stool. There is head, heart, and groin. Physical passions, emotional engagement, and intellectual involvement. All three aspects need to be present and in something close to balance. Too many novels fail for having only two aspects and missing the third. This work is all intellectual. There is no emotion and little physicality. It is all in the head, which creates a distance between the reader and the material. An excellent novel is a chance for the reader to experience with the characters what they are going through. But being purely cerebral, this book becomes academic, almost a term paper that doesn’t engage in the other two aspects.
Even in the second half where something terrible happens, they held the reader at such a distance we become one of the doctors pronouncing on the case. ‘Oh, that is sad. Next.’
Novels are about humanity. And humanity is messy. ‘No one is Talking’ tries to make humanity clinical and so misses the mark as great fiction. It sounds like it may have gotten a ‘A’ as a term paper with a Booker nomination and a New York Times 10 Best Books award. That is success if that is what Lockwood was going for. But it is not why I read literature.
Overall, I am not sure what the point of the book is. It left me a little empty. Sad.

Review of ‘No One is talking About This’

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Jan 9, 2023

ISBN 9780593189580

Review of Julia Cameron’s ‘It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again’

I am poised to begin my retirement. My ‘Second Act’. I don’t plan to do nothing. In fact, I plan to do everything I have delayed for the last sixty years. But I am nervous. How will I schedule my time? Who will I see and interact with every day? Where and how will I spend my days? Will my finances support retirement?
I am standing on a dock getting ready to dive into a cool, clear lake. This book, Julia Cameron’s ‘It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again’, has helped me make that dive.
Years ago I read Cameron’s earlier book, ‘The Artist’s Way’ and thought it was great. This newer book is similar, but focused on people like me, ready to retire and move onto their second act.
It is organized as a twelve week course, which took me seven months. Life intervened.
I will describe the basics of the course, but I highly recommend that readers of this review buy the book and work through it themselves. It rewarded the cost and effort multiple times over.
Cameron encourages readers to journal every day. Morning pages Cameron calls them, a chance to free think and capture about 750 words each morning. I have been doing this for years, so this part was easy. So many writing coaches suggest that getting a daily flow of material happening is a huge priority. Dorothea Brande in ‘Becoming a Writer’ suggests that these morning pages, and an additional ‘Write by Appointment’, are required of anyone who wants to be a writer. I am now getting a further one thousand words in five of seven days, and I already feel more like an actual writer.
‘It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again’ then suggests a daily walk, to clear your head and focus your thoughts. This has been harder since my dog Sawyer died, but I am making it. I have found a bird sanctuary down on Maplewood flats I am enjoying. And the birds are great.
Then the harder intellectual exercise is to explore your past and write a personal memoir. Divide your age by 12 and then each week there is a set of writing prompts to explore your life for those 5 or 6 years. This stirred up a lot of ghosts for me. And I reached out to people, my mom in particular, to help me remember events and timings through my past. People I had forgotten came back in my memory, great and painful memories resurfaced. I unearthed long buried hopes and wishes, cleaned up, and considered again. I can’t tell you how vibrant some of these memories are. And at the end of the twelve weeks, I have a written history of myself that makes me proud, makes me cringe, and makes me laugh. A history that is mine alone. Everyone should do this exercise. It opens up so many positives. It maps out how you got to be here now.
It can be painful. A serious injury, a lost loved one, a cheating partner, a mistake in careers, a missed opportunity. People who have died or slipped away.
But it can also be joyful. Remembering that first kiss, that first big fish, that falling in love, that building a house, a life, a family. Accomplishments, travels, friends and family. I learned I had so much to be grateful for, so many people who had done me good, so many good times and laughs and wonderful experiences.
And from that history, it becomes easier to plot a plan for the next act.
Cameron also suggests weekly ‘Artist’s Dates’. These are fun. Once a week, alone, go do something you might enjoy. I visited the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, I had coffee on Commercial drive, I went to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural center in Whistler, I watched an old movie, I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I went to a birding store and a gardening shop. The possibilities are endless and fun and highly recommended.
The cumulative effect of the book, the exercises, the walks and dates and memoir discovery is amazing. It is revitalizing in a way no other book has been for me. It opens fresh paths to consider.
It is not a book to just read, but a set of exercises that must be engaged in. The effort is rewarded in so many ways.
I loved this book and cannot recommend it enough.

Danny Aldham

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October 26, 2022
Review of Julia Cameron’s ‘It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again’
ISBN 9780399174216

Book Review of The 5 Love Languages

Book review of The Five Love Language
By Gary Chapman
ISBN 978-0-8024-1270-6

This is an odd little book. A best seller which I respect. A simple proposition which I like. Yet I felt there was a transactional quality to the advice Chapman gives that left me cold. ‘Secrets to Love that Lasts’ it is subtitled, but I found very little in the book about love.
We live in a world of pop culture and a pursuit of quick fixes. This book delivers a quick fix. Figure out which of the 5 love languages your spouse appreciates most and you are set.
They are:
Words of Affirmation
Quality time
Receiving gifts
Acts of Service
Physical touch

My personal high score was for quality time. I already knew that.

These are attributes that could be used in any transactional relationship. Give your employees words of encouragement, or flattery. Give your target gifts. Give the business associate access to whores. And capture it on film.
I am cynical but giving your spouse what works for them should be done out of love. There is a section where Chapman gives advice to a wife in a loveless relationship that she should give her husband the sex he wants and pray to God for strength. He should give the advice to get out of such a horrible relationship.

Not my cup of tea

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Review of ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’ by Benjamin Labatut

This is a strange book. It is well written, articulate, interesting and educational. It begins as a non-fiction discussion of poisons like potassium-cyanide and arsenic, and the use of cyanide in the first world war, then in the death camps of the Nazis, and a postulation that Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning from the green dyes he seemed to adore. Facts, as far as I know. But then Labatut starts to mix in fiction, or at least things he couldn’t have known.
The book covers some famous and important episodes in physics and mathematics. Schwarzchild being one of the first to understand Einstein’s Relativity and developing the mathematics that defined the Schwarzchild Singularity which is the theoretical underpinning of understanding Black Holes. I found it interesting that originally Einstein thought there must be a mistake in Schwarzchild’s math. But more interesting I thought was Schwarzchild’s idea that the mathematics of mass bending space to create these black holes was his idea that the ideas of physics could be applied to social systems and masses of humanity. A certain critical mass of believers, supporters, enablers and amplifiers could create a similar collapse of society into a space where nothing from outside reaches and where there is no escape from the beliefs, actions and behaviours of others in the group. It becomes a closed system that draws people in and from which escape is near impossible. Schwarzchild thought the society of World War 1 Germany had succumbed to such a phenomenon, but a similar case could be made for the MAGA Republicans, the Q-Anon/Fox News/OAN/Evangelical Trump followers who are leading America to some sort of promised land.
A theme of the book is madness. A good portion is focused on mathematician Grothendieck, a Field’s Medal winner, who may have gone insane. I struggled with understanding what the point of that long section was. And as Grothendieck voyaged from sanity to madness, so this book moves from fact, to fiction, to magical realism to something unknown. It is not a novel, as there is certainly no plot or story.
It is a short book, maybe 200 pages, but a difficult read. Close to half of our book club group failed to finish it. I have some university level education in physics, math and chemistry, and there was nothing presented here I couldn’t understand. Which made me think this was really only a surface dealing with the issues.
My knock on the book would be its magnifying an old, mistaken trope that brilliant people always end up in madness. The tortured souls cliche. That artists and scientists are pigeon-holed by such mistaken beliefs does society a disservice.
Review of ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’ by Benjamin Labatut
September 18, 2022
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Review of Brene Brown’s ‘Atlas of the Heart’.

Continuing my series of book reviews for writers, this week I read Brene Brown’s ‘Atlas of the Heart’. I have read earlier books by Brown and enjoyed them. This one was a little harder to understand. The first thirteen chapters are a list of 87 emotions categorized into 13 groups. About half way through the 13, I wondered what was the point. Yes, these are all valid emotions that we all feel. Having the words laid out is good, as many people struggle to find the correct word to describe what they are feeling.
I hung in, assuming Brown was laying a foundation for how to use this Atlas. But I am not sure it rewarded me. After 250 pages of the 87 emotions in 13 categories are inventoried, we get to the final twenty pages on how to put this theory into practice. This is where I felt the book fell down. The 87 emotions are not mentioned again, and instead, 4 tables are presented on Cultivating Meaningful Connections. I read the final chapter twice, but I don’t see the connection.
I think this might be a case where people who enjoy her work are so deeply aware of what she is doing and saying, and Brown and her team are so immersed in their work, that they didn’t see that some sort of explanation, some bridge between parts of the book are needed.
‘Atlas of the Heart’ deeply impressed me and the 12th chapter struck a cord. ‘Places We Go when we feel Wronged’ is a litany of the current American body politic. Anger, Contempt, Disgust, Dehumanization, Hate, and Self-Righteousness. This is not a good place to go or to be, but I think most people agree it is where America is today.
A quote of contempt struck me by Arthur Schobenhauer ‘the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another’. Too many people in America look at each other this way. And down that road is dehumanization and rationalization of the horrible treatment of that other. We have seen it before in history.
So, how do I deal with contempt? Hate? Self-righteousness? I was expecting an answer, a map if you will. I don’t see it. We need it.
I think this is a good start, but that last 20 pages need to be expanded. A lot.

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ISBN 97803995592553

August 4, 2022

Review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘The High Sierra. A Love Story’

Books, good books, affect us. They entertain, certainly, but they also educate us, challenge us, enlighten us. Frighten us, horrify us, shame us, inflame us, move us, tickle us, transport us, elevate us. There are myriad reasons to read and hopefully we find books that hit two, three or more targets during the reading.
Stanley’s ‘High Sierra’ hits a whole slew of things for me. But also provided a personal revelation.
I have been doing these ‘book reviews for writers’ for about two years. I have learned that if you go into a review looking for something to criticize, you will find it. No writer is perfect and no piece of writing speaks to everyone.
So as I read ‘High Sierra’, I generated a list of things that bothered me. Too much of the book is lists: inventories of passes, peaks, basins, crests, divides, people, hike descriptions, names, so repetitive and who is going to remember all of these. What he called an ‘Adventure’ I thought a lack of planning and stupid. And reading a book, any book, is agreeing to spend a few hours with the author, learning how they think and see the world. Spending time with dumb people is frustrating.
The maps in my e-version were nearly useless to follow along, and near the mid-point, I nearly abandoned the book.
I stuck with it, and things went from bad to worse. I found myself getting angry and inventoried why. I live right at the bottom of a mountain, Mount Seymour, on Vancouver’s North Shore. Five kilometers up and you are into rugged, unforgiving terrain. Nearly every day we hear the telltale thump-thump-thump of search and rescue helicopters. People get lost, hurt, killed and just disappeared all the time. Stanley’s lack of care and lack of preparation and dismissal of maps and compasses pushed my buttons. Popping acid before wandering out into the wilderness I found close to criminal negligence.
Still, I persevered.
I love the mountains. I have been a hiker, camper, boy scout, skier, fly fisher, bird watcher, mountain biker, everything outdoors for fifty years. This book should be right up my alley. I love what Stanley loves. I moved to British Columbia as a twenty-two-year-old boy and fell in love with the ocean, mountains and forests of BC. What was bothering me here?
About two-thirds of the way through ‘The High Sierra’, a close friend of Stanley’s, Terry Baier, has a heart valve replaced, and then becomes distant and angry. The friendship ends. Why did he get so angry?
It dovetailed perfectly with my personal anger at this book. Why was I so angry?
Three years ago, June 3, 2019, I had a catastrophic mountain bike accident on Mount Seymour. I don’t remember it, but I regained consciousness lying on the ground and had no sensation below my chin. A spinal cord damaged in two places, a mild traumatic brain injury, and a ruined shoulder. It has been a long slow recovery. I can walk. I can ride a bike. I can ski again, sort of. I have been back to work, then off again. I don’t have the mental and physical stamina I used to have. I could never do the kind of hiking, with the mileage or vertical that Stanley does. And there I finally saw why I was so angry while reading this book. At one time, I could have done everything in this book. Not now. Salt in a wound.
I have been stalled in my recovery, and deeply into denial. Before the accident, my wife and I had a trip planned to Nepal. Recently she asked me if we might be able to do an easier trip?
While reading the book we did a trip up to Whistler with another couple. My wife and the other woman did a hike from the village to the top of Blackcomb, about four thousand feet of vertical. I didn’t even consider doing it. Three or more times a week, my wife does the ‘Grouse Grind’, a two and a half kilometer trail that rises 2,600 feet. I used to do it in just over an hour. I know I couldn’t do it now.
I sort of laughed when I realized why this book bothered me so much. And I wondered if it needs to be so. Talking it over with my wife, she reminded me what the doctors and occupational therapist had told me. On the mental or cognitive side, they told me to back off when I felt concussion symptoms. But on the physical side, they told me to push through. I have been backing off on both.
So, I put my hiking shoes on and went for a walk on Mount Seymour. I thought I would start easy, go up till I was tired, then turn back. I picked a spot I knew I could loop through that I thought would take about ten minutes to get to the top. A rise of about 75 meters. It took a half hour and I was exhausted. My legs were like rubber. But I did it. And I did it again the next day.
I am going to push through. I am going to funnel that anger back into my recovery, where it belongs, and not into pot shots at authors I admire.
My favourite section of ‘The High Sierra’ was ‘Moments of Being: A Sierra Day: Sunset and Twilight’. I felt I was there watching it, experiencing it, and that is why I read. That is what I want to do again.
Good books affect us. This one did me. Thanks.

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ISBN 978-0-316-30681-2

July 25, 2022

Review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘The High Sierra. A Love Story’

Review of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’

Continuing my series of book reviews for writers, this one feels a little meta. A book review for writers of a book on writing. Reading Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’, I thought the title is meant to be ironic. Bradbury’s mind is like a bullet ricocheting around a room, light-years from Zen! But it is fun.
It is a short book, about 200 pages, and comprises a collection of essays he wrote over decades. I like the initial energy, the call to passion, and loves and hates. He has a busy mind that pinballs between subjects and bounces around all of his early influences. Zest and gusto.
Circuses, fantasy, magicians, monsters, Buck Rogers, Quasimodo. Dickens, Pope, Mark Twain, Melville, Thomas Wolfe, Shaw, Moliere. Poets, painters, musicians. Vigour and vitality. ADHD? The best things and the worst things in life, and shouting about them. What do you love most in the world? Big and little.
I love the passion in his writing. And his defense of Science Fiction and Fantasy against the ‘Literary Fiction Snobs’. I used to read a lot of SF. Clarke, Heinlen, HG Wells. This speaks to me.
He suggests: ‘Write a short story every week. It is impossible to write 52 bad short stories.’ This made me laugh.
But I do like his suggestion to write one thousand words every day. In some ways this echoes Dorothea Brande in ‘Becoming a Writer’, in prescribing creating a habit of writing every day. I am at that point, but it is difficult. Especially writing something creative each day. Does an essay or book review count? I say yes.
It is not a book on craft, but like the Brande book, a book on lifestyle, frame of mind, encouragement and excitement. You can’t read it and not want to pickup a pen or open Scrivener and start writing. So that is a five star book for writers.

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May 22, 2022

Review of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’
ISBN 9780795350511

Review of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’.

Review of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’. Billed as Elizabeth David as done by Quentin Tarantino, but I have never read Elizabeth David. I will. This was a great read. Bourdain is honest about the macho ethic of most kitchens and the helter-skelter environment of serving hundreds of meals in a single setting. Fueled by testoterone, cocaine and booze, Bourdain pin-balls through life in Manhattan, and takes the reader along for the ride.
There is a touch of pathos reading ‘Kitchen Confidential’ in 2022, as the reader knows that Bourdain has since committed suicide. The book doesn’t dwell on his search for meaning, but at the end he admits he is not the sort of stellar chef that his friend Scott Bryan becomes, and this reader sensed a bit of regret. He did become a great TV host on CNN: Parts Unknown.
There is a nice light voice in Kitchen Confidential. Reading a book is like spending a few hours with the author, and I wish I could spend some time with him. This book and reruns of his television shows is a good second best.
Should I have something deeper to say? The book covered a lot of drug use, but in a way that seemed natural in that environment. I contrast it to the drug use in Kim Stanley’s ‘High Sierra’, which seemed to interrupt the story, and just felt out of place. But a person can’t help thinking that all of that drug use took a toll. To see it celebrated as part of the milieu feels off. Writers should be clear eyed observers, and for the most part I think Bourdain is. Highly recommended.

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ISBN 978 0 7475 5355 7

July 20, 2022

Review of John Fowles’ ‘Daniel Martin’

I just finished reading John Fowles ‘Daniel Martin’. The writing is wonderful and full of great vocabulary. There is nuance to the characters and an interesting setting of postwar England and America. Fowles is obviously intelligent and educated, the presentation of ideas is well done. But there is an off note. As they accuse the main character of using his life and relationship for material in a play, so I think Fowles uses his in this book. But there is a sophomoric tallying of the women he has bedded, which stresses the bigger flaw, a lack of heart and emotion. The characters have big brains and over-sized libidos, but a lack of emotional connections. I can put some down to that British reserve and the stiff upper lip, but there is an imbalance that affects the entire work.
The novel veers dangerously close to misogynistic, with women called sluts and ‘The British Open’ while displaying a lack of self-awareness in this behaviour by men.
We read to experience with the characters, to travel a journey with them, and to grow with them. I am not sure Daniel grows, and we don’t feel with him when he enters a relationship or when they end. His mental distance to everyone else, including his daughter, is explained, but never explored. It’s odd.

I am developing a theory for the novel. The literary novel, not the potboiler, the obviously best seller targeted work, although I believe a literary novel can be a best seller, and the literary author should aim for that. Not as a pandering or sell out effort, but because good fiction and great ideas need to reach a large audience. Our society needs that. And an author should embrace the challenge of writing for a large audience. Anyone can write a novel nobody will buy or read.
So the idea I am developing is that a successful novel sits on three pillars. Those pillars are one, intellect, two, heart, emotion or passion, and three, physicality. There is some overlap in that passion can be heartfelt and sexual.
An excellent novel sits on these three supports, as a stool sits on three legs. If any one area is too prevalent, the work becomes stilted or cheap. Too much physicality becomes porn. Too much emotion becomes a genre. And too much intellect becomes didactic, preachy, or just plain boring.
A novel must entertain first. It must allow a reader to immerse into an experience, to think, feel, see (all senses; taste, hear, touch, smell), love, learn and grow with the characters.
A full adult experience must engage the mind, the body, and the heart.
I am looking back at novels I loved, liked, disliked and hated. I am not seeing many that I feel get this balance right. Anna Karenina does, but I would suggest it is weak in the physical, but that can be attributed to the Czarist sensors. As much as I love DH Lawrence, I feel he is weak on the intellectual side. Henry Mill gets the intellect right, and the passion and physicality is good, but the work is weak for a lack of heart. I wanted to tell Miller he needs to read his lover Anais Nin’s ‘Letter to the Collector’. George Eliot is well balanced, if suffering a bit on the passionate side, but again I think this is a sign of the Victorian times she lived in. Joyce lacks passion, probably because of his church background. Dickens is weak on the intellect, and tended to caricatures.
I finished reading John Gardner’s ‘On Moral Fiction’ and developing my own ideas at the same time. I think Gardner, Fowles, Miller and others write great prose, but their novels suffer from a lack of one element or more of the holy triumvirate of fiction. There must be some balance of intellect, physicality, and heart or emotion. In parallel to reading Gardner, I read John Fowles’ ‘Daniel Martin’. It is so very English, and Oxford College intellectual, with a dash of sex thrown in as a nod to be trendy and cool. But it is too detached and missing any emotional connections. The characters think about, analyze and verbalize their relationships, but don’t immerse and experience love, hate, or any sensations on the spectrum of those emotions.
I am reminded of a man who was arrested for having sex with a corpse. ‘Dead!?’ he exclaimed. ‘I thought she was British.’
There is are missing elements of physicality and heart. It may be great literature in the cloisters of Oxford and Cambridge, but it falls flat for the masses of people with blood pumping flesh.
Readers want to experience with the characters, not chat with them over a bridge game. Great literature speaks to us, moves us, with all three elements tied together. The intellect is important in that where we are driven to by great literature must be towards the light, to goodness, and decency, and equality. Fairness.
Understanding our world, thinking about it, seeing faults, issues, and areas for improvement, these are articulated in language and the mind. Intellect is where we process. But body and heart and soul is where we experience life and literature, indeed all art. Art is never a wholly intellectual exercise, as much as some try to make it so. A great work of art must address us through all our senses, and must be interpreted through all three faculties. Intellect alone is too barren. But heart and physicality alone are dangerous things. A beating drum can lead men into war, blind rage can facilitate many atrocities, self-righteous certainty can ignore decency.
Finding a balance in the art I create is my goal. I am a moral man, and I believe my writing will reflect that morality. I believe in fairness, democracy, equality, freedom. I believe in education without indoctrination. Teaching people how to learn and evaluate, rather than teaching what to think. I think that is the standard ‘liberal’ education.
So to John Fowles’ ‘Daniel Martin’. I am back and forth on it, some sections I think are great, and others are self indulgent. I have another theory that famous writers are allowed this kind of self indulgence by editors who lose the ability to tell writers to cut. I should be so lucky to ever join this group. But I don’t think they do their clients a great favour, as they end up publishing books that few people want to read.
Some scenes are wonderful, like the opening where young Daniel is helping bring in the wheat during the war. Exquisite. And the young Daniel’s first relationship with the farm girl, Nancy. It disappointed me he made middle-aged Nancy a frump. There is a misogynist streak to Fowles that is not becoming. And the scene with Miriam and Marjory: ‘You mean—Christ, Dan, what you been doin’ all your life? Your age… and you never been to the bloody dogs? She grimaces across me at Marjory, mouths like a gossiping old backyard mum. It’s ‘is books. ‘E loves ‘is books.’ He hits a vein of pure gold, then runs and hides from it, embarrassed by his history and heritage. Sad. Lawrence loved this sort of thing.
Reading ‘Daniel Martin’ I got depressed, that I could not write like him. Although I don’t especially like the book. Too many of the chapters are lectures or essays, poorly disguised as conversations.
Half way through Daniel Martin, my interest flagged. This is dry, cerebral stuff. I expect some passion in my literature. Lust, love, anger, hate. Angst. Flesh and blood. This book is too cerebral. But I quit ‘Gone With the Wind’ halfway through, I need to finish this one. Plus, both Fowles and Gardner were such giants. I feel I should be able to speak of them. But, I had planned to read some modern novels, and Daniel Martin is not modern, having been published in 1977. I will finish it, write a review, and then find something more current.
Around page 1028 of 1474 pages, the character Dan is considering cheating on his younger girlfriend Jenny, and has just been let off the hook from being a total shit, by Jenny having sex with an actor in the movie she is shooting and his girlfriend. Contrived. Cheap. And amoral.
I am not sure that I see Daniel growing, that there is a character arc beyond a philandering middle-aged fool manipulating both characters and women to present himself in a light he thinks is flattering, but is really decrepit. I am at the point where he is about to seduce his former sister-in-law, two weeks a widow, and had just conveniently broken up with her adulterer boyfriend.
At one point the character Daniel jokes about calling down to a policeman speaking to a hobo and committing a Deus ex machina intrusion, but it feels like the author is constantly doing that with this plot. Not to make the story work, but to absolve the main character of any moral responsibility.
His work is stilted, lacking in emotion, passion or love, and espouses values I find repugnant. More than anything I think writers, and novelists especially, are supposed to see the world as it is, and have empathy for all around them. Fowles sees the world as he wants it to be, and it is not a pleasant vision, peopled with womanizers and dried up old bores who lack any moral compass.
I read Fowles was ashamed of his family and their values. I lean the other way, enjoying family, community and friends, and seeing their value to our society.
I was incredulous that Jane and Dan fell in love. I could not see what either saw in the other.
Jane was boring, and in response to her boring life embraced communism, a decrepit hateful system that has murdered tens of millions of people, enslaved even more, and has been rejected by people and history. Only China is still communist, and only in name, as they are really just totalitarian.
Dan is a snob, a sellout, a womanizer, and heading towards recluse. He has no friends, because he is a shit. He also has no emotions, which made following him through seven hundred pages painful. What Jane sees in him is beyond me.
I read ‘Daniel Martin’ because John Gardner recommended it in ‘On Moral Fiction’, and now I am doubting the advice Gardner gives.
Three stars, barely.

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July 11, 2022
Review of John Fowles’ ‘Daniel Martin’
ISBN 9780099478348

Review of ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

Continuing my series of book reviews for writers. I stayed in bed this morning and finished reading ‘Cloud Atlas’ by Douglas Mitchell. I nearly didn’t finish it. It is a long book, parts are very boring and some of the characters are not worth the time it takes to get to know them. I think Mitchell is someone who likes to hear himself talk, and talk he does. Sometimes I think editors are afraid to tell famous writers they should condense or ‘edit’ their work, and I think Mitchell falls into this class. He has written 80 books. That’s a clue. Maybe slow down, write and rewrite a bit.
This is a plot-driven novel rather than character driven, and the plot jumps all over the place. It was hard to find a single character I empathized with. And none really grew or learned anything in the story. I didn’t ‘experience’ anything with the characters, but just watched them act out the plot.
There is a section in the middle of the book where the characters speak with what is supposed to be a dialect, but it comes across as an annoying affectation, speaking for pages and pages on end about goats. God, give me strength.
This would be the major knock on the book, the long passages of ‘Reader, look at me.’ Yes, you write beautiful prose. Your point? Prose that reads like writing needs to be re-written.
I wont read another book by him.
He finally wraps the book with some concise decency, railing for a better world, and it almost redeemed the 944 pages of side show. Almost.
Tom Hanks has a movie out based on the book. It takes less than three hours to watch. That would be my recommendation. On second thought no. The movie cost $100 Million to make, and flopped, bringing in less than $10M. I assume the movie had the same issues as the book.
I am torn between two stars and three. Two I think. I hate to give ones.