Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

It has been lovely taking a « break » from blogging, although I must admit I miss the frenzied bookish conversation of checking all my favorite blogs each day and trying to put together my thoughts on all I’ve been reading.

Last week, my husband and I went on a short trip to visit friends in Normandy and Brittany, camping our way across France to get there and then spending a few quiet days visiting the beaches from Le Crotoy down to Ver-sur-mer. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest of the US means that I love my beaches windy, rocky and perfect for long walks. Normandy suits me wonderfully.

The night before we left I stayed up late and read Ray Robinson’s Electricity in one sitting. The style of this book is particularly suited to a furious, nonstop read. The novel follows Lily, a young woman with a turbulent past and severe epilepsy, as she deals with the aftermath of her mother’s death. The story rests on an interesting combination of hard-edged, tough reality and the promise of redemption. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I have a complicated quibble with the ending which I won’t go into here.

While we camped across France, I read Ali Smith’s The Accidental in the evenings. I started out loving this book and how it was written but something about the style began to wear a bit thin. It’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style, jumping between narrators, but the further I read, the more each narrator began to sound the same. I’m also usually quite willing to let a writer play with language, even if it takes me out and away from the central story, but in The Accidental, this technique began to feel superfluous. I wanted the language play to remain more or less connected to what was going on between the characters, and I’m not sure it did. But I’ll be looking for Smith’s other work…

Since coming home I’ve started Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome as well as Graham Swift’s Waterland. I loved Swift’s Last Orders and have been waiting for the right time to pick up Waterland. I’m quite in love with the book already and look forward to reading this novel over the next few days. Ethan Frome is also quite a good read and feels somewhat different from the other Wharton novel’s I’ve read (The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth and The Buccaneers). I hope to have time to finish it this evening or tomorrow.

14 Responses to “friday reading notes”

  1. nicole

    Interesting about The Accidental. I had been a bit disappointed in Hotel World and read others saying it was carried off better in The Accidental (which is of course sitting on my shelf unread)…I’ll have to see, whenever I get around to it. I loved Girl Meets Boy so much but I’m starting to think I prefer Smith’s short stories to her novels.

  2. deborah

    I read Ethan Frome as a young girl, and just last year enjoyed it again as an audio book. It is different from other Whartons, I agree. Is it the rural setting? or is it that the tragedy seems more personal. I often get the feeling in her more cosmopolitan offerings that the suffering is that of an “age” or at least a social set or class.

    I’m glad your vacation was so enjoyable. I too have enjoyed the Normandy coast, alas… not on foot. Can a landscape be both earthy and Sublime?

  3. Steph

    I read The Accidental a while back (it was one of the first reviews I posted on my blog!), and I really didn’t like it. I’m not really a fan of stream of consciousness, so the parts that were written like weird poetry (maybe from the father’s point of view?) were really trying and painful for me. I felt Smith had resorted to stylistic tricks to try to mask the fact that all of her characters otherwise sounded the same.

  4. Lilian Nattel

    What did you find different from Age of Innocence? That’s the only one of her books that I’ve read.

  5. Jeff

    you have to read Ethan Frome and Summer together. Edith Wharton herself called Summer her “hot Ethan”.

    I like her New England tragic novellas a lot. I haven’t been able to get into her New York society ones.

  6. Jeff

    in fact, Ethan Frome and Summer are two of my favorite books, ever. they really are so different from The Age of Innocence. it’s the same person writing them, but the concerns to which that lovely girlish redhead lilt Wharton writes with is applied are markedly different

  7. mel

    I just finished Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence”. It is beautifully written. I read some of the sentences three or four times I liked them so much. It is hard for me not to like a book that uses the word “bethroned” numerous times. I have to use my suspension of disbelief at times, just like we do with Henry James, to accept the role of American versus Europe. You have to project your self back. In Henry James Europe has kind of a fairy tale quality, it is not supposed to be real or a travel book. “Age of Innocence” to me is worth a slow read to savor the beauty of the lines. There is, of course, much more in the book than that

  8. ds

    I loved Waterland! So glad you seem to like it also; can’t wait to read your final thoughts.

  9. Colleen

    Hey, welcome back! Your trip sounds amazing.

    I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying Waterland; I’ve recommended it to a number of people over the years and the results have been at best mixed.

  10. びっくり

    My blogging break has been giving me a desperate feeling, but it is mostly enforced by having no internet connection and needing to find large chunks of time to make the fees less wasteful. Aug 3rd this should all change when I get reconnected to the umbilical.

  11. Dorothy W.

    Interesting about The Accidental — I have it, but have been slightly hesitant to read it because I was worried about precisely the things you describe — that the style might wear on me after a while. We’ll see — maybe I’ll try it anyway. Glad you enjoyed Wharton! I would like to reread Ethan Frome, as it’s been a long time since I first read it.

  12. verbivore

    Nicole – I should get myself a copy of Boy Meets Girl, especially if you enjoyed it. And I know Litlove did as well, so I suspect I’ll like it.

    Deborah – I think you are correct about the rural setting being one of the reasons Ethan Frome feels so much different from Wharton’s other works. It’s true the others I’ve read are very urban and very “high society”.

    Steph – I suspect Smith tried very hard to make the voices different but the style she chose to write their respective sections posed a bit of a problem. Everyone kept wandering – which I suppose is what we all do in our interior monologues – but the images in that wandering became quite similar after a while. I also had trouble with her Amber character – was the reader supposed to enjoy her? believe she was someone “real” as opposed to the others?

    Lillian – I think Deborah nails it with the rural setting. The Age of Innocence is about comformity and high society morals, while Ethan Frome is about a very intense personal passion and self-denial. The tone of the two books was so different. Loved both, however. I’d be interested to see what you think if you get a chance to read Ethan Frome.

    Jeff – Thanks for the tip, I have Summer sitting on my shelf and perhaps I’ll have time to get it out today and start reading.

    Mel – Good idea to compare Wharton with Henry James. It’s been so long since I’ve read any James, I should read Summer (as Jeff above suggested) and then take a few Henry James off the shelf and see what I think.

    DS – Waterland is amazing! I’m finding myself wanting this book to last and last. I love Swift’s writing.

    Colleen – That’s interesting that you’ve had people come back with mixed reactions to Waterfland. I’m curious what the ambivalence was about. I loved Last Orders, although I see it is a very very different novel. But Waterland is so far a real treat to dip into each day.

    Bikkuri – What a bummer that you’re internet-less for the moment. When it’s a forced break it’s not the same, is it?

    Dorothy – I’d be very curious to see what you think of The Accidental. There were parts I thought absolutely brilliant but on the whole it grated on me and I found myself skimming a lot of the heavy steam-of-consciousness riffs to get back to the heart of the story.

  13. Stefanie

    I am glad you have been enjoying your blogging break. Your camping trip sounds marvelous. And you’ve had some good, if somewhat flawed reading. I’ve n ot read either of the books you mention. I’ve not read Ethan Frome either but I have always meant to. I saw a really good movie version of it years ago and the story has stuck with me.

  14. verbivore

    Stefanie – Now that I’ve read Ethan Frome I’d love to see a movie version. I’ll have to look that up.

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