Monthly Archives: April 2015

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

First published in 1930, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie was Jean Rhys’ second novel. Set in Paris in the late 1920s, it features a woman in her thirties, Julia Martin. For the past six months, Julia has been surviving on an allowance of 300 francs per week which she receives from her ex-lover, Mr Mackenzie.

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When we first meet Julia, she is living in a room in a tawdry hotel in Paris – the sort of place where the staircase smells of the landlady’s cats. She is down on her luck, tired of life, and her looks have started to fade. Here’s a brief but telling description of Julia:

Her eyes gave her away. By her eyes and the deep circles under them you saw that she was a dreamer, that she was vulnerable – too vulnerable ever to make a success of a career of chance.

She made herself up elaborately and carefully; yet it was clear that what she was doing had long ceased to be a labour of love and had become partly a mechanical process, partly a substitute for the mask she would have liked to wear. (pg 11)

As the story unfolds, we gather that Julia’s affair with Mr Mackenzie ended rather unpleasantly. He has distanced himself from Julia, and all transactions take place by way of his solicitor, Henri Legros. One Tuesday, Julia receives a letter from Legros informing her that the weekly allowance will be discontinued – enclosed is a final payment of 1,500 francs. Even though she had always expected this would happen one day, Julia feels bruised and discarded. There is no place for her in their world:

When she thought of the combination of Mr Mackenzie and Maître Legros, all sense of reality deserted her and it seemed to her that there were no limits at all to their joint powers of defeating and hurting her. Together the two perfectly represented organized society, in which she had no place and against which she had not a dog’s chance. (pg. 17)

Consequently, Julia decides to confront Mr Mackenzie, and she follows him to a restaurant with the aim of having it out. At this point in the novel, Rhys does something very interesting – the point of view switches from Julia to Mr Mackenzie, and we get a sense of his perspective. Mackenzie is in his late forties, comfortably off, and rather lacking in compassion or honourable moral values:

He had more than once allowed himself to be drawn into affairs which he had regretted bitterly afterwards, though when it came to getting out of these affairs his business instinct came to his help, and he got out undamaged. (pg. 19)

As Mackenzie waits for his order at the restaurant, a place he had visited with Julia when they were together, his thoughts turn to their affair:

He had lied; he had made her promises which he never intended to keep; and so on, and so on. All part of the insanity, for which he was not responsible.

Not that many lies had been necessary. After seeing him two or three times she had spent the night with him at a tawdry hotel. Perhaps that was the reason why, when he came to think of it, he had never really liked her. (pg. 19)

Julia’s arrival at the restaurant heralds one of the pivotal scenes in the novel. It’s too intricate, too subtle to describe here, but it’s a great piece of writing. Julia refuses her ex-lover’s payoff and leaves with her dignity reasonably intact; Mackenzie hopes that no one has witnessed their exchange. Luckily for Julia, the encounter is noted by an Englishman named George Horsfield, who is sitting at the next table. When Julia leaves the restaurant, Horsfield follows. Julia has had a difficult life, and it shows – she appears tired and depressed. Horsfield befriends Julia, gives her 1,500 francs and advises her to return to London for a while.

On her arrival in London, Julia takes a room at a shabby hotel in Bloomsbury. What follows is a series of bruising encounters as Julia re-establishes contact with her family, most notably her sister, Norah and her Uncle Griffiths. In direct contrast to Julia, Norah has done the ‘right thing’ by staying at home to care for their invalid mother. Norah and Uncle Griffiths clearly disapprove of Julia’s decision to go her own way in Paris. (Julia had been married but subsequently left her husband. Uncle Griffiths is of the opinion that she ought to have extracted some kind of financial settlement from this man). Griffiths dismisses Julia with a one-pound note – he simply doesn’t care and wants little more to do with her.

Julia’s attempts to gain support from an ex-lover, Neil James, prove equally disheartening. James promises that he will send Julia some money so that she can have a little rest. In the end, he sends £20 and makes it clear that there will be no more handouts. Even Horsfield, now back in London, seems to be withdrawing his support. He seems to find her attractive one minute, unappealing the next. (Rhys also gives us access to Horsfield’s viewpoint from time to time.)

This is my second reading of Mr Mackenzie. It’s quite a difficult novel to describe, but I wanted to try to write about it before going on to read more of Rhys’ work. The writing is superb, the characters are complex and nuanced. Rhys appears to have mined her own past, her own experiences of the harsh reality of life as a lone woman in the city. Julia seems trapped; she is weary of life and drinks as a means of blunting the pain of her situation. Her life reads like a series of fragmented episodes, and there is little hope of a bright outlook. Rhys exposes the hypocrisy and cruelty of society at the time: no one seems to care about Julia; she is shunned by her family and acquaintances. Her predicament reminded me a little of the final stages of Lily Bart’s situation in The House of Mirth, another bruising and unforgettable story.

I have another couple of novels by Rhys: Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight. I’d also like to read her first novel, Quartet.

I’m finding it difficult to describe the impact of reading After Leaving Mr Mackenzie – it’s a brilliant piece of work. I’ll finish with a quote that seems to capture something of Julia’s life, the constant swings from depression to glimmers of hope and back to despair once more:

She was crying now because she remembered that her life had been a long succession of humiliations and mistakes and pains and ridiculous efforts. Everybody’s life was like that. At the same time, in a miraculous manner, some essence of her was shooting upwards like a flame. She was great. She was a defiant flame shooting upwards not to plead but to threaten. Then the flame sank down again, useless, having reached nothing. (pg. 94-95)

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is published in the UK by Penguin Modern Classics. Source: personal copy. Book 18/20 in my #TBR20.

The Long Good-bye by Raymond Chandler (book review)

‘…Organized crime is just the dirty side of the sharp dollar.’ (pg. 416) 

First published in 1953, The Long Good-bye is the sixth novel in Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series. I read most of them when I was a teenager, so they’re rereads now (my review of Farewell, My Lovely is here). I’d always considered The Big Sleep my favourite Chandler – after all, it was my first encounter with Marlowe and the hard-boiled crime novel in general.  The Long Good-bye , however, is giving Sleep a serious run for its money, certainly on the evidence of this reread.

As the novel opens, Marlowe stumbles upon and befriends a drunk by the name of Terry Lennox. Lennox has been abandoned by his ex-wife, Sylvia, who dumps him in the parking lot of a club. Over the course of the next few months, Marlowe runs into Lennox again, and the two men share the occasional drink together – gimlets at Victor’s bar. Lennox has remarried Sylvia, but their relationship remains rocky to say the least.

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Late one night, Lennox turns up at Marlowe’s home and asks if his friend will drive him to Tijuana where he plans to hop on a plane to Mexico. Marlowe agrees even though he suspects Lennox is fleeing the country because the cops are after him. Marlowe doesn’t want any details – he can tell it’s something serious, that’s enough.

On his return from Tijuana, Marlowe receives a visit from the cops who haul him in for questioning on suspicion of accessory after the fact. Sylvia has been found dead, apparently beaten to death with a bronze statue, and Lennox is the prime suspect. When Lennox’s body is found in Mexico along with a suicide note and confession to Sylvia’s murder, Marlowe is released without charge. But Marlowe doesn’t buy the confession – Lennox didn’t seem the type to murder his wife, certainly not in such a brutal manner. Marlowe continues to harbour suspicions about the case, a situation only exacerbated when he receives a warning from Harlan Potter’s lawyer, Sewell Endicott. Potter, a powerful media mogul and father to Sylvia Lennox, wants Marlowe to keep away from the case. Why stir up any unpleasant publicity now that the murderer has taken his own life?

As the novel progresses, Marlowe gets drawn into a web of corruption and conspiracy, a network that covers the District Attorney’s office, the coroner, various members of the police force and Harlan Potter’s media empire:

‘Newspapers are owned and published by rich men. Rich men all belong to the same club. Sure, there’s competition – hard, tough competition for circulation, for newsbeats, for exclusive stories. Just so long as it doesn’t damage the prestige and privilege and position of the owners. If it does, down comes the lid. The lid, my friend, is down on the Lennox case…’ (pg.78)

The novel contains a second plot strand, one involving an alcoholic writer, Roger Wade, and his wife, Eileen. Marlowe is approached by Wade’s publisher, Howard Spencer, who asks him if he will keep an eye on Wade until he finishes writing his latest novel. Wade has a habit of getting drunk and disappearing for a few days here and there. Marlowe doesn’t want to take the job but gets involved when Eileen Wade appeals to him personally.

Eileen Wade is a classic Chandler creation, a femme-fatale right up there with the best of them. No one writes a blonde walking into a bar quite like Chandler. Here’s Marlowe as he see Eileen for the first time:

She was slim and quite tall in a white linen tailor-made with a black and white polka-dotted scarf around her throat. Her hair was the pale gold of a fairy princess. There was a small hat on it into which the pale gold hair nestled like a bird in its nest. Her eyes were cornflower blue, a rare colour, and the lashes were long and almost too pale. She reached the table across the way and was pulling off a white gauntleted glove and the old waiter had the table pulled out in a way no waiter will ever pull a table out for me. She sat down and slipped the gloves under the strap of her bag and thanked him with a smile so gentle, so exquisitely pure, that he was damn near paralysed by it. She said something to him in a very low voice. He hurried away, bending forward. There was a guy who really had a mission in life. (pgs. 103-104)

I make no apologies for the length of that quote. I love Chandler’s style – it’s all about attitude and mood. Speaking of which, here’s a scene from the Lennox plotline – the cops are waiting for Marlowe as he arrives home from his trip to Tijuana. (I could have quoted it earlier, but it seems to fit better here):

It was two o’clock when I got back and they were waiting for me in a dark sedan with no police tags, no red light, only the double antenna, and not only police cars have those. I was half-way up the steps before they came out of it and yelled at me, the usual couple in the usual suits, with the usual stony leisure of movement, as if the world was waiting hushed and silent for them to tell it what to do.

‘Your name Marlowe? We want to talk to you.’

He let me see the glint of a badge. For all I caught of it he might have been Pest Control. (pgs. 41-42)

At first, the two plot strands seem separate from one another, but as the story develops it becomes clear that they are connected. Good-bye contains a plenty of twists and turns, but the storyline feels very satisfying.

The Long Good-bye, is reported to be Chandler’s most personal book. I can’t comment on that, but it certainly feels like his most ambitious work. This is a first-class hardboiled novel, but there’s more to it than that. Chandler uses The Long Good-bye as a means of raising questions about the society of the time – the rich and powerful are his key targets.

This novel, like the others, is set in Los Angeles. At times it feels like a lament for the loss of decency and justice in the city (if these things ever existed in the first place). Towards the end of the story we can sense that Marlowe is growing more than a little tired of this town.

I’ll finish with a final quote, one that captures this feeling. Marlowe mixes himself a stiff drink, stands by the open window and looks out over the city:

Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy car tyres. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped and murdered. People were hungry, sick, bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.

It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care.

I finished the drink and went to bed. (pg. 322)

Jose at The Game’s Afoot has reviewed this novel. I haven’t reviewed The Big Sleep, but there’s a great selection of quotes from the novel in this post by Tomcat in the red room.

The Long Good-bye is published by Penguin Books. Source: personal copy. Book 16/20 in my #TBR20.

A Corsican rosé – a wine match for Transit by Anna Seghers

Last October I read Transit by Anna Seghers, a haunting novel of shifting identities, questions of destiny and the quest to secure safe passage from France during the German occupation in WW2. It’s a remarkable story inspired by Seghers’ own experience as a refugee as she fled from Europe in the early 1940s. (If you’re not familiar with this novel, I’d encourage you to take a peek at my review – it made my end-of-year highlights.)

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A sizeable chunk of the novel is set in Marseille where the narrator Siedler (or is it Weidel?) and his companions dine on slices of pizza, all washed down with copious quantities of rosé wine. I had intended to write about rosé at the time, but winter was fast approaching and to my mind this style of wine is best enjoyed in the sunshine. We’ve had some decent weather in the UK over the last week, so I opened my first rosé of the year, a wine from Corsica.

I get a bit annoyed when people dismiss rosé as “girly” or “not a serious wine”. (Even terms like “pink drink” set my teeth on edge a little.) There are some very sleek rosés around these days. My favourites include the pale and delicate rosés from Provence, wines from producers like Domaine Houchart and Domaine Rimauresq.

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Earlier this week I tried a different rosé, the latest vintage of a favourite wine from Corsica: The Society’s Corsican Rosé, 2014. This is a delicate and elegant wine, a crushed-berries-and-cream rosé made from Nielluccio (Sangiovese) – there may be a touch of Sciaccarello and Grenache in the blend, too.  It’s dry and refreshing, with a slightly creamy note that balances the acidity of the fruit. A delightful wine, possibly the best vintage yet.

It’s produced by Clos Culombu, and I’ve enjoyed their wines for several years (they also make a delicious, slightly herby white from the Vermentino grape).

Transit gives few details about the wine Siedler/Weidel and his companions drink in the Marseille pizzeria, but I’d like to think that any of the rosés mentioned here would make a fitting match.

Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of The Society’s Corsican Rosé, 2014 from The Wine Society, priced at £8.95 per bottle.

Transit by Anna Seghers (tr. Margot Bettauer Dembo) is published by NYRB Classics. Source: personal copy.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Darcy O’Brien (review)

Darcy O’Brien was the son of actor George O’Brien (star of several silent films and 1930s Westerns), and stage and screen actress Marguerite Churchill, a frequent co-star of John Wayne. A Way of Life, Like Any Other, is Darcy’s semi-autobiographical novel inspired by his experiences of growing up in Los Angeles in the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s a terrific novel: part compassionate satire, part touching coming-of-age story, and another absolute gem from NYRB Classics. Guy and Max have already written such great reviews of A Way of Life that I doubt whether my thoughts will add much to the discussion. But if nothing else, I hope this post might encourage one or two other readers to take a look at this noteworthy book.

As the novel opens, the unnamed narrator recalls the idyllic days of his early childhood years living with his mother and father at the Casa Fiesta ranch in Malibu. His father is a famous actor, in demand for films and personal appearances, and the family are living the high life enjoying all the benefits that success can bring.

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All too soon though, this dream world crumbles around them. As the father’s career fades away, life strips the family of many of their glamorous possessions and pleasures, and a divorce is inevitable. By the time the narrator is twelve, he is living with his melodramatic, alcoholic mother acting as her confidante and helping her through the bad times. In this passage, the narrator remembers life as a twelve-year-old:

The dinner parties were amusing unless Mother allowed herself to get too drunk before they were well under way. I would act as bartender and I would know it as a sign of trouble if she took little drink from me, because that meant she was swilling in the kitchen. Guests praised my highballs and martinis and wondered that a twelve-year-old could attain such skills.

“He’s the man of the house,” my mother would say. “Children should be treated as adults. Make Maggie another bourbon.” (pg. 15)

Mother embarks on a search for the perfect man, the love of her life, a man who can finally make her happy. Men come and go, some stay longer than others, but none of them seem terribly suitable. Guy’s review contains a wonderful quote on a couple of the contenders: the father’s handball partner (a short-term player) and the guy who invented the Hawaiian shirt (he lasts almost a year).

Then Mother meets Anatol, a Russian sculptor who finances his art by making mock-ups of animals for Disney. Anatol looks to be a strong bet; he’s rumoured to be the best lay in Hollywood, and his status as an artist puts him at the top of Mother’s pecking order:

I had only an approximate idea of what being the best lay involved, or of what it might involve to Maggie or to Mother, but I knew that Mother considered artists a superior class, on a scale that ran down toward men of independent wealth, Marine colonels, corporation executives, journalists and retail businessmen, with actors at the bottom. Athletes and manual laborers never entered her mind. (pg. 21)

Mother marries Anatol, but the relationship is a stormy one. She is self-centred and demanding; nothing he (or any other man) can do is ever good enough, and a trip to Europe ends in disaster. As an example of her behaviour, here’s Mother when she asks the narrator’s father to pay the boy’s fare to Paris so he can meet her there:

“What do you mean you won’t pay for it? For Christ’s sake what kind of a father are you? I suppose you want him to sit around this crummy town for the rest of his life with all the bums. Don’t you want him to see what culture is? Do you want him to grow up uneducated not knowing anything better than how to shovel horse manure? You’re broke, what a laugh that is. I know you’ve got money stashed away I never knew anything about. You called that a settlement! I don’t care if you are broke, you haven’t worked in fifteen years, what do you expect? It’s not like the old days getting thousands for sitting on your ass on a horse…” (pgs 41-42)

O’Brien has a great ear for speech and dialogue, and that’s just one of many quotable passages in this novel.

Following his divorce, the father ends up moving in with his ex-mother-in-law, ‘a tough, unsentimental plainswoman’ who considers him worthless and contemptible. When his mother decides to stay in Europe on a permanent basis, the narrator goes to live with his father and grandmother. With his movie days apparently behind him, the father is lost and diminished. Searching for meaning in life, he gets swept up by a religious craze, attending Mass and participating in every Church function that moves. His faded glamour still retains some currency here:

The Ladies’ Altar Society, which arranged flowers, kept the sacramental bread and wine in stock, and laundered the costumes of the infant of Prague, had made him an honorary member. He twirled the cage at bingo, he raffled automobiles and turkeys. When the parish sedan was broken down or otherwise in use, he chauffeured priests on their errands of mercy. He never missed a funeral. Because of his physique and the glamour that still trailed from him, he was in great demand as a pallbearer. (pg. 54)

The narrator’s Granny wears the trousers; she has a hard heart and resents the boy’s presence in her house. Things look up though when a high-school friend, Jerry Caliban, invites the narrator to come and live with his family in Beverley Hills. Not since his Casa Fiesta days has the boy experienced such a warm and loving family living together in joy and harmony.

The Caliban era is one of my favourite sections in the novel; it’s full of sketches of the Caliban’s house, their lives and habits. Mr Caliban is a movie director, a friendly guy with the common touch. (He started small and worked his way up.) When the narrator arrives at the Caliban’s house in Beverley Hills, he can tell they have money. Mrs. Caliban has an allowance of $25,000 a year just to go to the horse races.

Mrs. Caliban’s bedroom knocked your eyes out. It was entirely chartreuse, the walls, the rug, the bedspread, everything. The bed was a four-poster job and the chartreuse hangings had been made to order by some nuns in France. In each of the corners of the room stood a stuffed bear, Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear. Papa Bear was as tall as the ceiling, Mama Bear about eight feet, and Baby Bear about the size of an average American male human being. These, I learned, were symbolic of Caliban family members, and Mr. and Mrs. Caliban called each other “Bear” or sometimes “Big Bear” and “Little Bear” out of affection. “Why we’ll just have to get another Baby Bear now you’re here, won’t we sweetie?” Mrs. Caliban said to me. Sometimes she slept with one of the Bear family. (pg.61)

O’Brien’s description of a Thanksgiving trip to Las Vegas is another highlight from this section. Mr. Caliban sweats it out in a thirty-hour non-stop gambling session; it’s a pivotal episode.

In the final stages of the novel, the narrator moves back in with his father. Granny has died, and father has neglected the house allowing it to go to rack and ruin. There are some touching scenes as the teenager helps his father get to get back on his feet, and a sense of camaraderie develops between the two. The old movie star still holds out some faint hope of going places.

A Way of Life is a wonderful novel – it’s funny, sad, ironic and sympathetic. In many ways it reminds me of early-to-mid-period Woody Allen (you know, the good ones). At one point during the narrator’s Paris trip, there’s a terrific vignette of a married couple arguing over the task of mailing their postcards home. I could visualise it in an Allen movie.

The writing is note-perfect (Max’s review includes some great examples of the author’s playful use of language). Despite the horrors of the boy’s childhood, the early chapters are warm, compassionate and full of humour. The warmth also comes through when the narrator falls for Linda, an attractive girl he admires during English class.

As the boy matures, the novel’s style and tone develop too. The final chapters covering the boy’s teenage years are tinged with anger and bitterness. He sees his mother for what she really is, a self-interested wreck who has failed to live up to his hopes and dreams. Towards the end, the narrator feels trapped by his father’s desire to cling on to the past, a wish to relive the memories and fantasies of years gone by. I’ll leave it there as I want to avoid saying anything more about the finish.

A Way of Life is one of my favourite novels of the year so far, a near certainty for my end-of-year list.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Darcy O’Brien is published in the UK by NYRB Classics. Source: personal copy. Book 12/20 in my #TBR20.

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (review)

Miss Lonelyhearts, the anti-hero of Nathanael West’s novella, is a man who writes an agony-aunt column for an American newspaper. Most days he receives more than thirty letters all ‘stamped from the dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife’. These bleak, unpolished notes come from the downtrodden and damaged. To give you a feel for the nature of these letters, here’s a passage from one. Its author, a sixteen-year-old girl, was born without a nose:

I sit and look at myself all day and cry. I have a big hole in the middle of my face that scares people even myself so I cant blame the boys for not wanting to take me out. My mother loves me, but she crys terrible when she looks at me.

What did I do to deserve such a terrible bad fate? Even if I did do some bad things I didn’t do any before I was a year old and I was born this way. I asked Papa and he says he doesn’t know, but that maybe I did something in the other world before I was born or that maybe I was being punished for his sins. I don’t believe that because he is a very nice man. Ought I commit suicide? (pg. 173)

The advice column started out as a bit of a joke, a circulation stunt for the newspaper. But after months of answering painful letters from desperate readers, Lonelyhearts is feeling worn down by it all. He realises that his readers take the column seriously, that they genuinely believe Miss Lonelyhearts will provide guidance – a potential solution to their problems.

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What follows is a horrific descent into nightmare territory as Lonelyhearts struggles to find a sense of meaning and order amidst the pain and desperation. He is taunted by his editor, Shrike. He loses all grip on reality and begins to behave abusively to friends and strangers alike. In one particularly distressing scene, Lonelyhearts and his friend frighten an old man in a park – they grab the man and drag him to a bar. Seized by a feeling of rage, Lonelyhearts seems determined to elicit the man’s life story. It’s as if he sees the old man as the human embodiment of his faceless correspondents, the tortured souls of the city:

‘Yes, I know, your tale is a sad one. Tell it, damn you, tell it.’

When the old man still remained silent, he took his arm and twisted it. Gates tried to tear him away, but he refused to let go. He was twisting the arm of all the sick and miserable, broken and betrayed, inarticulate and impotent. He was twisting the arm of Desperate, Broken-hearted, Sick-of-it-all, Disillusioned-with-tubercular-husband.

The old man began to scream. Somebody hit Miss Lonelyhearts from behind with a chair. (pg. 193)

The figure of Christ and religious imagery feature heavily in this story. Ever since he was a child, Lonelyhearts has had a difficult relationship with Christ. As a young boy, the son of a Baptist Minister, an overwhelming force had stirred within him whenever he shouted Christ’s name. ‘He had played with this thing but had never allowed it to come in.’ As he considers his current life as a columnist, Lonelyhearts realises what this thing was – it’s an explanation that goes some way to explaining but not excusing his behaviour:

‘—hysteria, a snake whose scales are tiny mirrors in which the dead world takes on a semblance of life.’ (pg. 181)

I’ll be honest here – I struggled to connect with Miss Lonelyhearts. I think it’s fair to say that I’m probably not on the right wavelength for this novella. I found it overwhelmingly warped and twisted and fractured, too dark for my personal tastes (and I usually like ‘dark’). It’s a satire, a rather brutal one at times. The vulnerable and defenceless seem to get a raw deal, and I think that’s one of the reasons why this story didn’t sit well with me. It appears to offer little hope for redemption, perhaps a faint glimmer towards the end, but it’s still pretty bleak.

At times, West’s prose is rather oblique (and I found it difficult to connect with this aspect too). That said, he could certainly write – the story contains some wonderful lines, turns of phrase that convey clear and vivid images:

…after a third drink, just as he was settling into the warm mud of alcoholic gloom. (pg. 177)

…the gray sky looked as if it had been rubbed with a soiled eraser. (pg. 176)

Only a newspaper struggled in the air like a kite with a broken spine. (pg. 176)

Miss Lonelyhearts was first published in 1933, right in the midst of the Great Depression, and I can see how it would be possible to read it as a parable. It seems like the antithesis of the American Dream. Lonelyhearts knows this Dream is a deception, a deluded fantasy, and he’s railing against it. In this scene, he is thinking about his girlfriend, Betty:

More than two months had passed since he had sat with her on this same couch and had asked her to marry him. Then she had accepted him and they had planned their life after marriage, his job and her gingham apron, his slippers beside the fireplace and her ability to cook. He had avoided her since. He did not feel guilty; he was merely annoyed at having been fooled into thinking that such a solution was possible. (pg. 185-186)

I read Miss Lonelyhearts with Seamus at Vapour Trails – we’re posting our thoughts today, the anniversary of the novella’s publication. It’s a reread for Seamus, and I know he rates it very highly. (I wanted to love it too but couldn’t for the reasons I’ve tried to convey – it pains me to write this piece.) All this leaves me eager to read his review as I’m sure it will give me a better appreciation of Miss Lonelyhearts.

Miss Lonelyhearts is published in the UK by Vintage Books (the story starts on pg. 171 of my edition). Source: personal copy. Book 17/20 in my #TBR20.

Weekend Wine Notes: Hatzidakis Santorini

There has not been much in the way of wine writing on here in recent months so I thought I would post a short note about a favourite wine – it’s a white wine from Greek islands, perfect for the spring sunshine we’ve been enjoying the UK.

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Hatzidakis Santorini is a brilliant showcase for the assyrtiko grape, native to the Greek island of Santorini. This wine is quite full, minerally, almost tropical in style with melon and stone fruit and a slightly herby aroma, but there’s enough lemony citrus acidity to cut through the richness leaving a clean finish. This is a food wine, a great match for salmon with herb butter, and worth trying as an alternative to Chardonnay.

Wine stockist (UK): I bought my bottle of the Hatzidakis (2012 vintage) from The Wine Society. The Society has now moved on to the 2013 vintage priced at £11.50 per bottle. Also available from Waitrose £12.99 pb. Alternatively, if you are interested in finding this wine, you could use Wine-Searcher to check availability in other countries.

(Please feel free to ignore these posts if they are of absolutely no interest to you, it’s just a place for me to record a few wine notes!)