Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Make that cheese ravioli. As I was saying, Furst's book is a gripping good read, perhaps even on the same level as Patrick O'Brian for its combination of acute observation of human behavior and depth of historical detail (with a focus on espionage instead of O'Brian's focus on seamanship). It's certainly of higher quality in the craft department than a lot of contemporary non-genre fiction, and it may even have more to tell us about "great themes" (war, greed, betrayal, love, etc.). But it's basically what Graham Greene called an "entertainment." It's le plaisir du texte, not jouissance. I'm not sure it offers me a model for narrative; it's not likely I'd ever attempt that sort of writing myself (even if I were willing to do the enormous labor of research involved). Probably what confines it most definitively to "entertainment" status is that it's a historical novel: it's not about today and doesn't grapple with our present moment except in indirect ways. Its style is inherited as far as I can tell from masters like Conrad and Le Carre; it's certainly not modernist. And I can't figure out the politics just yet; the book is clear-eyed about the monstrous inhumanities wrought by both tribalism and inflexible state systems but I don't know its view of capitalism or liberal democracy yet. I'm learning things about the 1930s, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War. It's an extremely worthwhile read. But it doesn't lead me anywhere as a writer, I don't think. It's a cul-de-sac. I would never want to imitate it.

The other wondering will have to wait for a time when I'm less fatigued; but I want to puzzle some over what Steve Evans says about the banalization of good writing in the latest issue of The Poker.

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