May 24, 2006


denise hamilton

The People's Act of Love was a fantastic book, and it's amazing it ever got published, since the bleak themes, timeframe and place - 1919 Siberia - don't exactly seem like bestseller material in these DavVinci-saturated times. I do believe it hit Brit shores first, so hurray to the UK for taking a chance on this novel and starting the well-deserved hype and to FSG for publishing it here. (gosh hope that's right!)
I'm a sucker for anything set east of the Danube so it drew me in right away, though I have to say that the beginning is slow in the best, old-fashioned, even Russian kind of way and you just have to go with it, even though you're plunged in midstream and it takes awhile before everything starts to make sense. But the writing and scenarios are so fascinating that it's not hard.
Secondly, what struck me is that despite the incredibly bleak themes - gulags, freezing weather, sadists, castrations, freaky religious cults, terrorism - the book really is all about love. I had initially girded myself for a horrifying act of betrayal, thinking that with such a title Meek was setting us up for something MORE

denise hamilton

horrible, and the plot sure hovers at the edge of that, which amps up the tension excruciatingly, but this is not a novel about political betrayal, or an Orwellian plot twist where LOVE = HATE and you have to destroy a loved one in order to save them and a greater political cause. PAOL is about the extreme violence of love. Meek pulls off an incredible high-wire lit balancing act, and his luminescent writing and intense plotting (which I think too many literary novels lack these days) made me deliriously happy. Meek is absolutely fearless and visionary in the best literary tradition.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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