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Category Archive for 'Classic Novel'

In this newly reprinted Italian classic by Natalia Ginzburg, originally published in Italy in 1961, Elsa, an unmarried young woman of twenty-seven, becomes the primary narrator/commentator on her own life, the lives of her family, and the social scene which they all share in a small, unnamed town in Italy during and after World War II. As the only first person speaker in the novel, Elsa guides the action in three chapters, giving personal insights and a sense of honest reality to the day-to-day lives of which she is part. Four other chapters, concentrating on the points of view of other characters, emerge from her parents’ generation – their prewar lives illustrating where they have started and their postwar lives revealing the effects that fascism, socialism, communism, and the partisanship of wartime have made on their domestic lives, family, and friendships. Unusual to the point of being unique, or almost unique, Voices in the Evening deals with the growth of fascism in Italy, World War II, and the postwar conditions – big, complex subjects – but these issues become almost peripheral to the everyday gossip and personal stories on which the main characters and the community depend for their daily lives. The issue of moving from their local towns and cities for parts of the war and its aftermath is treated almost casually, with more attention paid to love stories and their complications, gossip, and personal tales than to the big subject of Italy during the war. By changing the focus so dramatically, the author is able to gain some dark humor while developing a creeping horror of the way in which these people allow their personal issues to camouflage the dramatic changes taking place in their lives and throughout the country.

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In the opening sentence from the approximately three hundred words of the first episode of this 1968 classic, author Alfred Hayes, reveals his immense talents in creating characters and dramatic scenes in as few words as possible. A successful screenwriter, TV writer, novelist, and poet throughout the mid-twentieth century, Hayes establishes the current life circumstances of Asher, the as-yet-unnamed main character, going straight to the point regarding the state of the man’s marriage, his refusal to recognize that reality, his feelings of failure at work, and his fears of getting old, upon which he blames all his problems. Spying on his wife through the window of their house outside of Hollywood late at night, the man realizes, “I was finished.” The next day, when his wife is gone, he goes to the house, packs up everything he thinks he will need in New York, and leaves. There he reconnects with an aunt, who refers to him as Asher, and meets a young relative, Michael, who wants to be a writer, along with his girlfriend, Aurora, who is also attracted to Asher. He has had little experience dealing with devious people; screenwriting and filming being predictable protocols., but real life with two ambitious young people providing your “entertainment” is something else. Neither of them is who Asher thinks s/he is. Each quarrels with Asher at times and each plays games – both real and psychological. Ultimately, as Asher describes for the reader the exact nature of his breakup with his wife, the reader sees him still trying desperately to connect with Michael and Aurora. Ultimately, Asher belatedly reaches conclusions about himself – as does the reader of this dark and dramatic novel of a very late coming-of-age.

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Ten pages into this novella, which Muriel Spark claimed was her favorite among all her novels, the fate of main character Lise is not in doubt. Lise will be dead before the book ends. Since the reader will suspect who the murderer is well before the murder happens, the author has always preferred to refer to this book not as a “whodunnit,” but as a “whydunnit,” a term she uses within the book. From the outset the reader observes surreal, alarming, and clinically insane behavior from Lise, the victim. At the same time the person who seems to be her murderer appears to be a just bit wacky. Unexpected ironies throughout turn the novel on its head, creating a mood in which dark humor and bizarre surprises keep a smile on the face of the reader almost all the way through the novel – until the reader discovers the truth, that the person in “the driver’s seat” throughout the novel’s action is actually neither of the two main characters. It is Muriel Spark herself, whose ability to play with the reader’s sensibilities, control them, and then reveal the extent to which they have been manipulated turns the “whydunnit” into an unparalleled tour de force.

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Dealing simultaneously with past and present, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez appears at first to be a fairly straightforward and unpretentious murder mystery, but it is far more complex than it seems. It shifts back and forth over the course of twenty-seven years as one person who was present at the time of a murder returns to the town many years later to re-examine his memories and those of others in an effort to identify the guilty party. The murder takes place after a three-day wedding celebration, as Santiago Nasar prepares to go to the port, naively going out the back door while the two men who plan to kill him wait for him at the front. All this because the groom, Bayardo San Roman, has returned the “soiled” bride to her family on their wedding night, and Santiago is thought to be involved.

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Among the most prolific novelists and playwrights in Japanese history, Yukio Mishima wrote thirty-four novels, fifty plays, twenty-five books of short stories, and many books of essays, before he committed ritual suicide after he failed in a coup attempt in Japan in 1970, when he was forty-five. This novel, written in 1961, now translated by Andrew Clare into English for the first time, is one of his early novels, quite different from his major work, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, which traces Japanese history throughout the twentieth century. Here, in a novel which has been described as a parallel to Japanese noh drama, with its wooden masks, Mishima writes an unusual psychological novel which begins with the ending, as the three main characters see themselves as “three fish caught up in a net…a net of sin.” As they pose for a picture in the small fishing port of Iro in West Izu, on a peninsula to the west of Tokyo, the reader has already become aware of “a final wretched incident,” the appearance of “droplets of blood [on the] dazzingly reflective surface of the concrete,” the “anguish” that Yuko, the main female character, feels within, and her comment about how “marvelous it would be to erect a tomb like this – the three of us lined up together.” The novel “progresses” backward as it develops relationships and themes.

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