What with managing an injury, fending off a cold, trying to get through a pile of work at the job, and hosting a friend for the weekend, musing publicly about books has fallen by the wayside. So, too, has trying to get through the few things I’m reading, and which I’d love to complete in order to move on to something else.
One of those volumes is Amélie Nothomb’s Péplum, a sort of philosophical/sci-fi piece that, halfway in, is reading like a His Girl Friday version of a latter-day Socratic dialogue, with the wit and one-liners flying back and forth at each other while, in typically Gallic fashion, everyone seems to maintain a victoriously thick skin and to just keep the snappy exchange rolling. Probably the most interesting thing I’ve come across so far is the report of a future-man that, way back in the day, people were so unable to deal with the thought of unpleasantness that someone rewrote the Bible, excising all its sad parts and transforming hard-to-digest stories into feel-good tales that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Called “The Happy Bible,” the thing was slapped together in under a hundred pages, and its general incomprehensibility started a trend in storytelling that pretty much did away with plot and narrative altogether, and kept any given piece small, including the rewrites of classics that say, brought Zola’s L’Assommoir down from 500-plus to forty pages. Nothomb was writing this all in 1995, and although she didn’t predict anything like a Twitter Bible, I’ll have to give her credit for seeing something of how the tide was turning, in terms of people’s attention spans and rejection of things not meant to offer cheap elevations of mood.
Robert Walser’s The Assistant is another one I’m working on– and to my surprise, given his incredible short stories, I’ve begun to wonder what the purpose of this little novel is. A depiction of bourgeois emptiness, etc., etc., sure– but what Walser’s doing with this tale is nothing new, and it’s almost not even interesting. I’m waiting for some sort of modernist plot twist to throw a wrench into things, but I’ll admit my hope isn’t all that strong.
And that’s it for now; with a conference coming up and 4,000 things to get done before then, that’s about the best I can offer. More on the two tales I just mentioned if anything of note develops…