Friday, January 30, 2009

Death of Virgil

It would be remiss not to devote an entire post to a book that took nearly a year to finish.

The work in question is Herman Broch's The Death of Virgil, which is much less a novel than it is a weapon of last resort developed in concentration camps for use against the Nazis.

The book is written in stream of consciousness fashion -- think Finnegan's Wake with half the cleverness and twice the pretension. Bosch attempts to capture the complexity of a classical symphony in language: recurring themes, exaggeration of tempo, and so forth. What this boils down to are highly repetitive sentences of amazing length -- some so many pages long that they have to be broken up arbitrarily into paragraphs, probably due to some publisher's equivalent of the Geneva Conventions.

It is this grandiose goal which proves the downfall of the novel, for it has quite good things to say about the nature of art, the duty of the artist, and the philosophy of death, as it were. Barring the exceedingly distracting hallucinatory episodes, there is a compelling portrait of Virgil and his times. With some restraint, either limiting the too-clever-by-half use of language, or leaving it to another (hopefully shorter) work, this could have been quite a powerful novel.

In the end, it is a prime candidate for the Emersonian technique: skim the book lightly and quickly, letting your eyes discover for themselves what they may, rather than attempting any deep or thorough immersion in the text.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy, Honan. Good, but a bit too academic for the casual reader.

Nothing Like The Sun, Burgess. Shakespeare considered as a protagonist. Enjoyable, especially in tandem with the above.

Electric Church, Somers. Truly painfully-written first novel in the cyberpunk vein; I damn near developed a tic in the first chapter, I was wincing so often. Good idea-fiction, though, and by the end of the novel I was enjoying myself immensely.

Tin House #37

On Writing, King. A short biography and a short reminisce on the trade of writing by the only man who can be said to truly understand it. Highly, highly recommended, and not just for aspiring writers.

Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, Home. I generally like Stewart Home and his de Sade style of porno-philosophic writing: Red London, Slow Death, and 69 Things To Do With a Dead Princess were all excellent. Down and Out, with its Orwell-inspired title (but not theme, unfortunately), was quite a disappointment.

In Praise of Folly, Erasmus. I can't recall what made me read this again, but it was mostly as bad as the first time. There are 10 or 20 good pages about 50 pages in, but for the most part it is only of historical (read: academic) interest.

The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham. One of the best books there is about a misanthrope.

The Productive Programmer, Ford. Tips on being a more productive programmer. If you need to read it, then you definitely should.