Tag Archives: literature

Idiocy

I’ve come back to Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot after more than 20 years away. It’s a total pain in the ass to read. I’ve read his other big ones more recently and found them riveting. I suppose my problem with this one is I don’t find Petersburg’s interpersonal intrigues among its 19th-century elites as intriguing as I once did. I find them frustrating, like adolescents. Still, there’s something in The Idiot that makes me keep going, and it’s the Prince, who’s at the center of it all but who’s also the book’s main observer. He’s presented as the pure-of-heart innocent, “the idiot” who’s not really an idiot at all. What’s the most interesting to me now, after all this time away, is the insight into the Prince’s mind’s workings written sometimes across several pages. This is something that influenced me, and stayed with me for a few years after the initial reading, but I guess I’d forgotten. Now, it reappears like an old friend reminding me: You can go in-depth into a character’s consciousness, and it can be more interesting than the physical action around him.

Also I’m reminded of this masterpiece, maybe not as pure of heart:

The Savage Detectives Redux

Have you read this one, yet? I’m on my third reading of it since 2016. It’s long, and this is unusual for me to re-read anything. But there’s something about it that’s so compelling. His other books are great, too, but I had a hard time with his other big one, 2666. I made it through the violence of its midsection. I enjoyed The Third Reich, especially, and most of the others. But The Savage Detectives is still my favorite Bolaño. I know many others have said the same.

Allan Gurganus: A Few Words for the Novella

I read this on The Story Prize blog after seeing it on The Outlet blog. Gurganus’ points about conciseness in fiction in these hectic times are hard to argue with. The novella may be the most perfect form of literary art in the 2010s. But I think it always has been, and he makes that point, too, that many of the greatest works of literature are actually novellas. A few of my favorites: Of Mice and Men; The Pearl; Tristessa; Bartleby, the Scrivener; Wyoming; The Ballad of the Sad Café. The list could go on and on.