Today’s kind of a lazy post, but it’s relevant.
Many critics, and even A.S. Byatt herself, have acknowledged Possession is a response to John Fowles’ 1969 novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
So before we jump into Possession, I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the story that provoked A.S. Byatt to write her novel in the first place.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman currently sits at #27 in my rankings of the first 68 books I’ve read from the Time list. Before I read the novel, I thought I wouldn’t like it—thinking of it as a Victorian romance. And it is partly that, but to dismiss it that easily does a great disservice to John Fowles. The man was excellent at his craft.
So instead of me babbling on and on about a book I read nearly three years ago, I thought I’d just repost that review here today. It’s been awhile, so just reading this review again reminded me of why I enjoyed The French Lieutenant’s Woman so much.
And, hopefully, Possession will prove to be as interesting.
I’m tired of reading books about depressed, alcoholic, hopeless twenty-somethings.
I’m just tired of it, man.
I get it. I really do. Your 20s is probably the most volatile, unpredictable decade of your life. It’s a time period that’s easy to write about because it connects with so many people.
We’ve all been there trying to figure out what to do with our lives, trying to figure out what that girl we like is thinking, trying to figure out if we really hate our job enough to quit and pursue something new. For some people, trying not to be drunk all the time.
So I understand why authors like Nathanael West feel led to write about this time period. And I understand why Hemingway wrote about it in The Sun Also Rises or Malcolm Lowry in Under The Volcano or Jack Kerouac in On The Road. But when you put all these books on a list and read them relatively close to each other, the reading gets cumbersome.
Man, movie trailers in the 1970s were all kinds of horrible.
They were cheesy, too long, and with terrible music.
Take a look at this official trailer for The Day of the Locust (released in 1975):
This is one of the more interesting little tidbits I’ve discovered about an author since I’ve started this project.
Nathanael West died the day after his good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940.
Here’s how our friends at Wikipedia describe his death:
I don’t watch a lot of movies.
I don’t dislike movies. But when I have a few free hours, I like to spend it in other ways. Unless it’s a movie I really want to see, like The Great Gatsby a few months ago, I tend to get bored too easily. That’s just me.
So I’m not one of those guys who watches the Academy Awards every year. In fact, I’m not sure I could give you more than two or three films that have won the Oscars off the top of my head. I just don’t keep up with it.
So it’s not surprising that I didn’t even know A Passage To India was a movie—and it’s even less surprising that I don’t remotely pretend to know that said movie won an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director in 1984.
Sixty books down. I’m nearly two-thirds finished with 101 Books.
After every ten books, I take a look back on the project as a whole and re-evaluate some of my favorite and least favorite aspects of the books. So that’s what today’s about.
Let’s take a look back at the first 60 novels. I’ll explain my rankings more in-depth in a post next week.
Just when I thought I had read it all.
I’ve read about little kids being created and harvested as organ donors in Never Let Me Go. I’ve read about an alcoholic mom who accidentally drowns her infant in the bathtub in Rabbit, Run.
I’ve read about a farming family who loses their farm, their income, and many of their lives in The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read about a poor, young girl who gets pushed over a boat and drowned by her fiancé in An American Tragedy. I’ve read about the crappiest marriage in the history of marriages in Revolutionary Road.
I’ve read about some depressing stuff while reading through this list. But A Death In The Family takes the cake, and that’s saying something.
This feels like deja vu. But it’s not.
Just a few weeks ago, back when I was reading All The King’s Men, I wrote about the controversy over the different versions of that novel. Very similar situation here with A Death In The Family.
James Agee actually died before the novel was published. Because of that, David McDowell, who was Agee’s friend and protege, put together the novel based on how he believed Agee would’ve wanted it.
Back in 2008, Michael Lofaro, a professor at the University of Tennessee, pieced together an updated version of the novel based on his research. It was called A Death In The Family: A Restoration of the Author’s Text.
The updated version wasn’t received very well. Even Steve Earle, in his introduction to the original version of the novel, which is the one I read (Penguin Classic edition, 2009), admits he likes the original better, though he compliments Lofaro’s changes.
I’m taking my annual week-long summer hiatus this week, which means this is a “Best of 101 Books” week. I’ll return live on Monday July 8.
Today’s post originally appeared on the blog on March 23, 2012.
Later this year, I’ll cross the halfway point of this somewhat epic journey. So far, I’ve loved the experience. More than just the reading and the writing, getting to discuss great books with you guys has been awesome.
Along the way, I’ve discovered some reoccurring themes in these novels. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, you might have heard it before, but I thought I’d try and put my spin on what you need to include in the great novel you want to write some day.
So all you budding novelists out there, take heed. Make sure you include the following in your manuscript. Almost all the classics have at least a few of these: