Welcome back to the Monthly Reviews series, where I chronologically list last month’s reads, along with a short reflexion and opinion regarding each book.
Here’s what I read in January:
Karl Ove Knausgård: My Struggle, 6. The End (2011)
Knausgårds My Struggle series has been an absolutely epic experience. The climax part of the book series was most definitely as good as most of the other parts, and the way part 8 (one of the parts inside this book) wraps up the biographical aspects of the story is absolutely wonderful.
However, the reasoning behind as to why it seemed appropriate to put two hundred pages of literary essays from the author in the middle of the novel is beyond me. It is uncalled for and should appear at the very end, if not be published separately. That aspect threw me off my initially positive reaction to the last novel.
Other than that, Knausgård keeps being brilliant and lets the reader see behind the scenes of the publishing process, concluding most importantly of all with the very smart solution to his legal problems pertaining his uncle who threatens to sue him over defamation because of Knausgårds portrayal of his father’s last months alive.
The whole series has been a wonderful reading process and minus the essays I very much enjoyed the conclusion of the series. I would highly recommend any of the six parts to any witty and curious reader.
Thomas Bernhard: Frost (1963)
Thomas Bernhard is somewhat of a writer whose reputation preceeds him: the evil genius, the mean critic, the honest mirror for Austria’s controversial past, the moral analytic and high judge of historical individuals and their choices, the revealer of true intellectual hopelessness inside small Austrian villages, the true misanthrope of the 20th century, and so on and so forth.
All of those things are quite true and Frost shows them off perfectly.
Frost depicts a young doctor arriving to a holiday in in a small village to spy on a painter also residing there, fulfilling a request by his colleague who happens to be the painter’s brother.
The novel takes place in a small village where every and any participant of the local guest house’s daily life is going nowhere, every individual is morally hopeless and doomed to fail, any female characters are morally bankrupt and victims of the flesh, and so on and so forth until the scandalous nature of the individuals and the aftermath of the murders that several of them are accused of begin to tear away their layers to show… even less honorable thoughts and actions.
Minds and moralities deteriote up to the point of extinction.
Frost is on the one hand a collection of Storm’esque landscape descriptions and still lives, although the nearing winter also begins to instill a rising sensation of helplessness and terror. I believe the only aspect of Austria that Bernhard has any positive feelings towards is its nature.
On the other hand, it is a very clear manifest of scepticism and cynicism regarding the small town and village indiviudals and their lack of capacity to surpass the egoism created inside them by their meaningless existence, thus leaving their personalities to deteriorate further and further.
Now it actually reminds me of The Professor by Amelie Nothomb – which was, however, a far, far better read.
Frost is a very interesting novel, but once you have read one book by Bernhard, that is most certainly enough for one lifetime.
Christa Wolf: Nachdenken über Christa T. (1968)
This short novel finds a perfect spot between overly emotional memoirs and stories from mid-century Germany, and remains gripping and interesting until the very end. At the same time, Christa T. is still a love letter and an homage to a dear friend who meant a lot to the narrator.
The novel deals with every issue related to being a female during times of war: Being a daughter, a young lady, a mother, a scholar, a piece of society, Christa T. takes on historical events and elaborates on details of events just ever so slightly because Christa Wolf had to fight more than one censoring cycle to even put out this short and grievous novel.
What seems to be a very typical life story is not really revealed as a continuous flow of events but rather a collection of the fragments and impressions the narrator is randomly remembering. She tries to follow a chronology and is apparently working based on her friend’s remaning notebooks and diaries, but on the whole this seems like a very long eulogy, to accurately describe its form. It’s almost not even a novel.
Christa T. does, however, wrap up the introspective memory scramble into a start and finish, and it also shows us quite cohesively how a young woman struggling to find her place in the world gains confidence as herself, as a strong and stubborn person, and at the same time becomes a sweet and selfless mother figure.
Somewhat of an everywoman, Christa T. is still quite extraordinary, and in that sense, Christa Wolf has found a perfect balance in her storytelling, too.
Voltaire: Zadig (1747)
French Enlightenment saw many charismatic authors and many great philosophers whose work is respected until today, and Voltaire is one of those names, which is why one should at least read a little bit of Zadig in their lifetime.
Voltaire’s way of making a point is to tell a short and sweet story about it. Zadig, Candide and other short novels do just that: enlighten us about matters of the heart, the soul, the human conditions and things way further past beyond that, by telling us short, simple, witty and interesting stories about certain individuals.
The whole point of Zadig is the role of Destiny in a man’s life, and by expanding his horizon in regards to other individuals’ woes and worries, Zadig – and, by extension, the reader – gains insight into greater matters, learns that deeds of altruism can make one happy even if they bring suffering and loss, and also sees that whatever he may think to be the worst outcome, can actually turn out to be the best possible solution.
While the final truth is revealed to Zadig by an angel of God, the events leading up to this point contain quite a bit of religious criticism, reflections on what a man should actually bow to and extend his daily prayers and humble salutations towards, what the most valuable thing in life really is – and answers to many other small and big questions of life, told by example stories about kings, robbers, concubines, slaves and merchants.
If your taste leans towards fun, light reading while reflecting on life in the same light manner, this may just be the ingredient you are missing for a relaxed but slightly brain stimulating evening.
For fans of the longer format and of complex characters inside long-developing plots, a real novel or a real philosophical essay, e.g. by John Locke, might be the better option.