It didn’t happen one night Saturday, Sep 22 2007 

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

Early in Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, there is a scene where a pair of newly-weds sit glumly working their way through an unappetizing English supper, keen to get on with their evening but feeling that certain proprieties must be met. It’s a feeling of being trapped by an unacknowledged rule that readers of McEwan’s new novel will find familiar, as they ask themselves why they’re bothering to go on reading this thing when they could be out enjoying the last of the Fall sunlight.

To put it mildly, On Chesil Beach is not McEwan’s most successful novel. In fact, it’s barely a novel at all, more like an insecure short story blustering its way into novel status by adding a lot of padding and pretending to be a lot more grown up and serious than it really is. (more…)


Pip Squeak Wednesday, Sep 12 2007 

Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip

There is a scene in Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip where Matilda, the novel’s (then) 13-year old protagonist, is caught writing the name of Pip (from Dickens’ Great Expectations) next to the names of her ancestors, which she’s been asked to memorize. Scolded by her mother for sticking the name of a make-believe person next to those of her kin, Matilda replies that though Pip isn’t a relative, she still feels closer to him than to all the strangers whose names she’s been made to write in the sand.

I know exactly how she feels. Pip, or rather the specter of Pip that hangs over Jones’ novel, is about the only warm or believable character in the whole book – the only one I can bring myself to feel anything for, and that mostly for Dickens’ sake. Everyone else in this book is so two-dimensional, so much a stock character, that it’s a wonder that they manage to stay upright when a wind blows across the island.

Jones’ Mister Pip is a feather-weight of a book whose chief merit is that it’s really, really short. In fact, even calling it a novel feels like an exaggeration – it’s more like a collection of crumbs and odd tit-bits left behind from the great feast of the Dickensian novel.

Animal’s Spirit Monday, Sep 10 2007 

Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People

Serre, fourmillant, comme un million d’helminthes,
Dans nos cervaux ribote un pueple de Demons,
Et, quand nous respirons, la Mort dans nos poumons
Descend, fleuve invisible, avec de sourdes plaintes. [1]

– Baudelaire

[plot spoilers]

In the opening poem of Les Fleurs du Mal, from which the quote above is taken, Baudelaire gives us a litany of nightmarish images, then concludes by speaking of one “more damned than all” – l’Ennui. Yet boredom is the one monster you’re unlikely to encounter in Indra Sinha’s magnificent if somewhat overwrought novel Animal’s People, a book that more than makes up in ambition what it lacks in finesse.