Meanwhile, here's what I'm reading:
J.L. Carr, The Harpole Report.
This one's by the same guy who wrote A Month in the Country, which I loved. I liked this one almost as much. It's made up of letters, journal entries, news articles, and school log entries, interspersed with 'explanatory' notes from some unnamed locutor, and follows the main character, Harpole, through his year running a primary school somewhere in England. Set sometime in the early 1970s, it's interesting, among other things, for the picture it gives of 1970s village life in England.
It reminds me a little bit of the Miss Read books. A great deal of fun, if not much plot.
Joyce Carol Oates, The Hazards of Time Travel.
As you know, I'll read almost anything about time travel. So when I saw this one on the shelf at our library, I picked it up, even if it was by JCO. I have tried several books by Oates, and liked none of them.
This one too I cannot recommend. The set-up: We're in a future about 30 years from now, in which the forces of Fascism or whoever have removed all liberty, blah blah blah. Every moment of everyone's life is watched by cameras and so on. Everyone is an agent of the state, just waiting to rat everyone else out. Any deviation from the accepted path (laid out by the state) results in people either being Deleted or sent to a kind of prison.
The prison turns out to be time travel. Our main character is sent to Zone 9, a mediocre liberal arts university in the Midwest, in 1959.
I mean, so far, not terrible. I had hopes. The first bit, the set up, was both cliche and over the top. But now that we're in 1959, maybe something cool will happen.
Nope. Instead, our main character, an 18 year old girl who has grown up in an oppressive regime, gets a crush on one of her professors, who's about 30. The rest of the book is about their (not very interesting) love affair.
Also some stuff about Skinnerism, which probably had some sort of thematic meaning, except I was too bored to care by then.
E.K. Johnston, Exit, Pursued by a Bear
I'll admit I picked this one up mainly for the title. It's a YA novel about a cheerleader who gets date-raped at cheer camp and learns to deal with the resulting infamy and trauma. Very topical, in that everyone blames her for being raped. And nice writing. Also, I like the ending.
But not really my sort of book. I didn't like the main character or her friends very much, and I didn't much like how the narrative more or less endorsed the main characters belief in this one correct way to perform the female gender.
Esi Edugyan, Washington Black
This was interesting reading, though I don't think I'll ever read it again. It's a slave narrative, more or less, following Wash, a slave on a sugar plantation in the Barbados, from age six through young adulthood.
Wash is rescued, by a fluke, from the cane fields when the brother of his owner recruits him as a kind of page and assistant. Wash follows Titch, the brother, through a couple years of his scientific pursuits, helping his gather insects and butterflies from the forests around the cane fields, and helping him build a kind of blimp. Wash turns out to be talented at drawing and then painting, which Titch finds useful, to record his entomological finds.
When they have to flee the plantation (Titch's brother is both sadistic and insane), Titch takes Wash with him. This latter half of the book, post-escape from the cane fields, is more interesting than the first half. Wash travels the world, with and without Titch, with sojourns in the Arctic, Canada, Amsterdam, Africa, and England. The book turns into a sort of picaresque novel.
And the writing is good. But it's a very, very grim book. Don't read it if you're at all depressed, that's all I have to say.
I also read Rosemary's Baby, and a couple other books by Ira Levin. But I'ma write about those in a separate post.