I don’t think any of the characters emerge as really unique individuals. In the case of Rudkus, I get the feeling that he is deliberately being put into as many different situations as possible, the better to elucidate all the abuses of the system. It did not seem likely, as I was reading, that one individual would really to through all of this … and the catalogue of horrors almost slips into parody at times, things being so bleak in so many different ways.
The writing is always very competent and sometimes even better than that. Lending interest is a symbolic element in the treatment of stamps (Philip collects them, they get printed with swastikas at least in his imagination, Lindbergh is an aviator who delivered air mail). There is humor, though more in individual passages than woven into the fabric of the writing (but given the nature of the story, that is perhaps understandable).
Mathematics has a large role in this book. I’ve always had a fondness for math, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fuller treatment of how it could relate to other aspects of life. Take the concept of infinity. Törless had always thought of it as just a construct that one could use for certain calculations. But suddenly, he looks up at the sky and has the terrifying sensation that the sky goes on forever, “wild and annihilating”.
Although the characters are often interesting, and believable, it is the feeling of being exposed to the actual life of the period that was the best aspect of the book for me. We see all the parlor games that were played on a visit to neighbors. We see how people were cheated by sharp characters at the town market.
Yes, it’s a great Australian novel, full of people and places that are both inherently part of their time and true to that space. Above all though, what elevates this book from a cracking good yarn to something that is great, is the magic. The book is rife with magic, so purely woven into the story you might miss it on a first reading. It’s a magic that comes straight from a love of humanity – a generous, funny magic that picks up on all that is truly beautiful, even amidst our flaws.
This leads to what really made the book work for me: a sense of tremendous conviction and strength in back of everything. Dreiser makes me feel, in no uncertain terms, that this is a tale worth telling — even though the writing of it might not come easily to him.
While sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was immediately acclaimed, critics had little use for Emily’s book. They thought that Heathcliff and Cathy were too “pagan” to appeal to the the British reader. Well, they are pagan, and so is the book as a whole.
The Way We Live Now is drenched in considerations of money and Trollope carries it off beautifully. For once what people will do for money and how their desires can defeat, disgrace, and humiliate them escapes the boredom that money as a subject commonly invokes. The connections are intricate, admirably stage managed, and have an impetus that some of Trollope lacks.
In refusing to take Time for granted, but continually analyzing it in its different manifestations, the way it seems to pass, I think The Magic Mountain is indeed in the modern category. In this connection, I can’t help thinking of Einstein, who — also early in the 20th century — was making us look at Time in a whole new way.
Time’s Arrow is a brilliant work, in my opinion. In the first place, the time-reversal is done with great skill; and on this level, Time’s Arrow is certainly a tour de force. But I think the book is much more than that. The writing is powerful.