Book choice for May 2010

Contempt [suggested by Richard Layfield]

front cover

After a second reading of Contempt, I feel compelled to call the short, tautly written novel a masterpiece.  Told from the perspective of a neurotic egotist, the narrator accounts how he "sacrificed" his literary writing career to debase himself in the tawdry task of writing screenplays so that he can afford to lavish his wife with more opulent living quarters.  The narrator convinces himself that not only does his wife not appreciate his "sacrifice," but that she no longer loves him.  It's horrifying to read this narcissist's account of his marital disintegration.  Close reading reveals that the narrator never sacrificed his writing career for his wife's opulent tastes, but rather is debasing his writing talents for his own greedy materialistic acquistion.
[Abridged from a review on Amazon by M Jeffrey McMahon]

About the Author

Alberto Moravia (November 28, 1907 - September 26, 1990), born Alberto Pincherle - the pen-name "Moravia" is the surname of his maternal grandfather - was born in Rome to a wealthy middle-class family.  His Jewish father, Carlo, was an architect and a painter.  His Catholic mother, Teresa Iginia de Marsanich, was from Ancona but of Dalmatian origin.

Moravia contracted tuberculosis at the age of nine which prevented him finishing conventional schooling.  Confined to bed for five years, he devoted himself to reading books: some of his favourite authors included Dostoevsky, Joyce, Ariosto, Goldoni, Shakespeare, Molière, Mallarmé.  He learned French and German, and wrote poems in both languages.

In 1925 he moved to Brixen, where he wrote his first novel, Gli Indifferenti (Time of Indifference), published in 1929.  The novel is a realistic analysis of the moral decadence of a middle-class mother and two of her children.  In 1927 he started his career as a journalist with the magazine 900, which published his first short stories.  He eventually became one of the leading Italian novelists of the twentieth century whose novels explore matters of modern sexuality, social alienation, and existentialism, and is best known for his anti-fascist novel Il Conformista (The Conformist), the basis for the film The Conformist (1970) by Bernardo Bertolucci.  Several more of his novels translated to film, including Contempt, filmed by Jean-Luc Godard as Le Mépris (Contempt) (1963). [biog abridged from his Wikipedia entry]


Shortlisted for this month

In an interesting exercise in the illusion of choice, Richard offered two of the three books he previously selected the last time he made a choice (in January 2009), replacing in the list only the one we had already read. So this month, his other suggestions were:

The Plague

The Plague

Not only have large numbers of people (165 at the time of writing) been moved to write a review of this work on Amazon, but many of them have almost written novels themselves in attempting the feat. Hence it has proven harder than usual to find a short review, or precis one of the most popular for inclusion here. Here's a flavour of the top three:

The Plague is easily one of the best ten novels ever written, far surpassing even the erstwhile classic The Stranger.

The plague is an allegory, for fascism and totalitarianism. The novel deals largely with individuals' varying reactions to the plague as it emerges and settles in on the city of Oran.

The very first chapter of The Plague is short but filled with immense foreshadowing and extensive descriptive passages... The greatest piece of foreshadowing, however, and the one that sets the book's theme is the sense of alienation and entrapment. Both the living and the dead remain trapped behind the walls of Oran. Freedom, truth and beauty all lie within a stone's throw, but, until the plague forces them to look, the Oranians remain blind to the beauties of the world outside.

Much more available, for those with time to spare, on the Amazon Pages or Wikipedia.

About the Author

Born November 7th, 1913 in Algeria son of French 'pied-noir' settlers Camus grew up in poverty in the proletarian neighbourhood of Belcourt in Algiers.  His natural talent was spotted by teacher Louis Germain who helped the young Camus win a high school scholarship.  Camus would later dedicate his 1957 Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Germain.  While at school Camus developed a love of football and played well in goal.  He wanted to play professionally but tuberculosis, a disease that would plague him for life, ended these dreams.

The above is the first section of an extensive biography that may be found on the pages of the Albert Camus Society.  Naturally he also has his own Wikipedia page.

The Trial

The Trial

A terrifying psychological trip into the life of one Joseph K., an ordinary man who wakes up one day to find himself accused of a crime he did not commit, a crime whose nature is never revealed to him.  Once arrested, he is released, but must report to court on a regular basis - an event that proves maddening, as nothing is ever resolved.  As he grows more uncertain of his fate, his personal life - including work at a bank and his relations with his landlady and a young woman who lives next door - becomes increasingly unpredictable.  As K. tries to gain control, he succeeds only in accelerating his own excruciating downward spiral.

Wikipedia entry.

About the Author

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 - 3 June 1924) was one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century.  He was born to a middle-class German-speaking Jewish family in Prague.  His unique body of writing - much of which is incomplete and which was mainly published posthumously - is considered by some people to be among the most influential in Western literature.

His stories, such as The Metamorphosis (1915), and novels, including The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926), concern troubled individuals in a nightmarishly impersonal and bureaucratic world.

Further extensive biography notes are available from his Wikipedia entry.


Previous Months' Book Choices

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