Reviews/excerpts: The Corrections, Brick Lane

Evidence of my general malaise and cultural stagnation is the fact that it took me six weeks to finish three books. (Well, there was some dabbling in Let’s Go South East Asia, Irish For Beginners and The Watchmen on the side, but it was mostly those three.)

I enjoyed Brick Lane, but at the same time, I don’t have a lot to say about it. I haven’t read any of the other Booker nominees for this year, but am frankly quite surprised it was a favourite to win. I’m quite a sucker for books about immigrant angst and cultural disconnection and the inner struggle of the Asian (in the sense that the Brits use it, meaning Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi) woman in contemporary British society feeling hamstrung by the traditional mores of her community, but the thing is I don’t see anything about this book that made it stand out from all the others I’ve read in the same vein. Meera Syal may not be considered a literary heavyweight, but Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee packed a hell of a punch. I guess I’d say that if you’ve never read any books with a similar setting, Brick Lane’s as good a place to begin as any, but if you have, it’s more of the same. Having said that, by “more of the same” I do mean more of the same high quality of writing, more of the same spot-on evocations of London, and more of the same poignance and well-captured frustrations.

Borrowing Purple America and The Corrections at the same time was probably a bad idea, because by the time I got to The Corrections I was finding it increasingly hard to view small town America with anything more than contempt and pity. Jonathan Franzen’s splendid writing only served to compound my condescension.

“In the pageantry of weddings Enid reliably experienced the paroxysmal place of place – of the Midwest in general and suburban St. Jude in particular – that for her was the only true patriotism and the only viable spirituality. Living under presidents as crooked as Nixon and stupid as Reagan and disgusting as Clinton, she’d lost interest in American flag-waving, and not one of the miracles she’d ever prayed to God for had come to pass; but at a Saturday wedding in the lilac season, from a pew of the Paradise Valley Presbyterian Church, she could look around and see two hundred nice people and not a single bad one. All her friends were nice and had nice friends, and since nice people tended to raise nice children, Enid’s world was like a lawn in which the bluegrass grew so thick that evil was simply choked out: a miracle of niceness.”

Having said that, great characterization and one of those masterful bringing-it-all-together final chapters made even me begin to feel for the characters, Enid included. Quite an authorial feat, considering their various individual warts and collective dysfunctions. To that extent, the hype is justified. Some rather weak stretches like the bit on the cruise liner and anything and everything dealing with Lithuania really needed some editorial whipping into shape though.

So on Saturday I returned those and replenished my stash.

  • A Home at the End of the World (Michael Cunningham)
  • The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
  • East Of Eden (John Steinbeck)

More books that have been on my list for absolutely ages, yay! I can’t be culturally stagnating if I can feel this happy about a new haul.

5 comments

  1. I felt the same about Brick Lane. It was a good, easy read, but it did really let me down.

    Life isn’t all ha ha hee hee was amazing.

    I just read Q, which I [to my surprise] really enjoyed. It took me a month. I couldn’t believe it.

  2. I picked up East of Eden from a friend while bored at a bar one night (caught the anti-social vibe) and went to a corner and read the first few chapters. It was stunning. I can’t wait to read the rest of it.

  3. The Grapes of Wrath is by far and away the most famous of Steinbeck’s books. I can only belive this has occured because it has such a kick ass title. Another possible reason is because it deals with those issues that win litterary prizes, namely, discimination, family bonds, the power of peaceful politics, and Mc Cartyism. But, by and large, I found this a dull read – except the ending, its got one of those endings you never, never forget.

    Far more satisfying and far less read is East of Eden. Unfortunately it tends to be sniffed at by literary reviewers. I suspect this is due to the unappologetic lauding of Christianity. But if you are to ignore books for this one reason then you’ll miss out on the likes of Quo Vadis and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrope. More fool you.

    East of Eden, better than the more famous Grapes of Wrath.

    The Brothers Karamosov, better than the more famous Crime and Punishment.

    Anyone else got opinions on less appreciated siblings?

  4. East of Eden is my favourite book. I must have read it when I was 14 or so and I began to see people in a completely different context from then on*. Steinbeck just gave me a facinating insight into how people from different generations and backgrounds thought. The book almost seems to draw upon the personalities the reader knows to lend depth to the fictitious ones, and vice-versa.

    *note: My initial assumption than Alec was a verbose twat seems to have been close to the mark.

  5. (On the search for less-appreciated siblings)

    Quite often, the constraints on my reading time mean that there are a lot of famous authors I’ve only read one book by, with that being their “famous” one. Of the authors I’ve read several books by:

    Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Don DeLillo? Nope, their most famous books are also the ones I like best.

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Tough. Love In The Time Of Cholera is exquisite. But for sheer scale and oomph 100 Years Of Solitude probably still wins.

    Haruki Murakami. Tough. I’m not sure what his most famous book is. But for what it’s worth I think Norwegian Wood is better than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

    Neil Gaiman. Too tough. I love almost everything he’s written. But if pushed I think the Sandman series still has to win over his novels.

    Douglas Coupland. Ah! Generation X coined the term, but the book itself is mediocre. Microserfs, on the other hand, is everything good and fresh and true about Douglas Coupland with none of the staleness that set in later.

    Ian McEwan. Ah! Amsterdam won the Booker Prize, but I think it’s bloody overrated and Atonement is much better.

    J.D. Salinger. Ah! I’ve only read Catcher In The Rye, but I’m willing to bet his other books couldn’t possibly be worse!

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