Saturday, May 03, 2008

A bit of this, a bit of that

The new school term started on Monday and, as usual, that means not much time for reading or blog-writing in this part of the world. However the beautiful autumn weather (we even had dusting of snow on the surrounding hills the other day!) bodes well for cosy indoor activities ahead.

I've been slowly making my way through Tristram Shandy, a book that I am finding quite easy to read in fits and starts because that is how it is written. It is funny and playful, but at the same time I think Sterne creates some wonderful characters. Uncle Toby is my favourite so far, with his unwavering obsession with the battle that left him, well, not quite all man.

I also squeezed in a quick read for my book group which met last week- Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. This is a short novel, translated from the Norwegian, about a man, Trond, reflecting on some of the formative experiences of his youth. It is written in a very distinctive style. There are long, almost dream-like sentences, describing the idyllic Norwegian countryside of Trond's youth, and the countryside that he has now returned to as an ageing man. Petterson describes the simple physical tasks of rural life with great beauty. I could almost feel I was there.

As with all literature in translation, I sometimes wondered how much of the word choice was down to the translation process. Sometimes there is a slight awkwardness to the words and the phrasing, but it suits the character of Trond and I like to think it would be there in the original too.

Out Stealing Horses has a fairly pedestrian, coming-of-age plot, that falls into cliche at times. I won't give away too much here but when Trond's father's secrets are revealed I thought it was all a bit too predictable. In some ways the plot doesn't live up to Petterson's skillful descriptions and thoughtful insights into character. Still, this is an enjoyable read and a reminder that they do write novels that aren't crime fiction in Scandinavia.

8 comments:

Fay Sheco said...

How often does _Tristram Shandy_ come up?

Yesterday I was listening to a book podcast from the PEN American Center (the writers' organization), recorded this past December. Author Wesley Stace--a British writer who has had a successful career as singer/songwriter under the name John Wesley Harding--mentioned that _Tristram Shandy_ is his favorite book. He admired the post-modernist aspects of it, the blacked out page, etc., but faulted makers of a recent film version for focussing on the book's tricks and ignoring the great characters.

I ordered Stace's debut novel, _Misfortune_, which received favorable reviews. This historical novel, with a Victorian setting, is said to be based on Stace/Harding's ballads, and one reviewer mentioned _Tristram Shandy_ as a literary ancestor of the book.

jess said...

I saw the film version of Tristram Shandy and I can understand that criticism, although I really loved the film. It was more about making the film of Tristram Shandy so the more well-developed characters were the actors playing the characters in the book (if that makes any sense at all).

I'll have to look out for Stace's novel. It sounds interesting.

Dorothy W. said...

I loved the film of Tristram Shandy too (although it's not really an adaptation in the usual sense!) -- it seemed true to the spirit of the book. I'm glad you are enjoying the novel!

jess said...

Yes, the more I read, the more I agree that the film is true to the spirit of the book.

I am loving the book, just worried that I'm going too slowly and might lose momentum.

Table Talk said...

'Out Stealing Horses' won the Impac award last year and it's on my library shelf at the moment waiting to be read. I shall look at the translation with closer interest now. Thanks.

jess said...

Hope you enjoy it!

I have to confess my total ignorance of the Impac awards until I saw the label on the cover of this book.

Melanie said...

I keep meaning to read Tristram Shandy, but it's one of those on the TBR which keeps being superceded by more and more new books.

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