The next two books in my reading of the Penguin Modern boxed set are from very disparate writers; but the books are both intriguing and in some places moving. Both are authors I’m very familiar with and yet it was a delight to spend time with them again – that’s one of the joys of reading my way through the set sequentially!

Penguin Modern 13 – Till September Petronella by Jean Rhys

By G88keeper [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Rhys should need no introduction here; best known for “Wide Sargasso Sea”, her prequel to “Jane Eyre”, she was a fine writer with a focus on the lives, loves and loneliness of women. This Modern contains four pieces: “The Day They Burned the Books” (be still, my beating heart!!!), the title story, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel” and “I Used To Live Here Once”. The stories have been very cleverly chosen (and the more I think about it, the more clever it is) to span the range of a woman’s life, from childhood in the Caribbean in the first story, to the inevitability of the finality of life at the end. All are beautifully written, often with an aching sense of melancholy, and Rhys is just brilliant at capturing atmosphere.

Once I went there with Eddie to borrow The Arabian Nights. That was on a Saturday afternoon, one of those hot, still afternoons when you felt that everything had gone to sleep, even the water in the gutters. But Mrs. Sawyer was not asleep. She put her head in at the door and looked at us, and I knew that she hated the room and hated the books.

The title story is the longest, telling of what might be regarded as a typical Rhys heroine; drifting, unfocused, almost passive most of the time and reacting to the men around her rather than taking control of her life. Petronella is out of place in most settings, as it seems was Rhys herself, and it’s hard not to worry about her and be cross with her in the same breath! “Burned” is an episode from childhood and Rhys conjures the setting and the milieu in which she grew up beautifully. Of course, the subject matter is one guaranteed to reduce me to a quivering jelly; at least one books survives, and the title is significant. “Rapunzel…” is heartbreaking, and the last story, only two pages long, has an incredible emotional punch.

I think I’ve only read Rhys’s novels so far, but on the evidence here her shorter works are just as good. Must dig in the stacks and see if any of the books of hers I have are short stories…

Penguin Modern 14 – Investigations of a Dog by Franz Kafka

By Atelier Jacobi: Sigismund Jacobi (1860–1935) (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2008_july_02) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kafka is again an author requiring no introduction, and I read “The Castle”, “The Trial” and “Metamorphosis” back in the day (well, the 1980s…); I’ve also written about some more recent Kafka reads here on the blog, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seriously read a lot of his shorter works (though I do have a big book somewhere!) “Investigations of a Dog” was written in 1922 and published posthumously (as was the bulk of his work) and it’s an intriguing little tale.

The story is narrated by the titular canine, and we see the world entirely from his perspective – and it’s a very different one from ours indeed. The dog’s investigations try to make sense of his world, in particular attempting to work out just where the food comes from. And as you read on, you realise that the dog doesn’t actually seem to have any real awareness of what the humans around him are and that they’re feeding him… So the poor creature attempts to apply rational and pseudo-scientific methods to his investigations but fails to get to grips with anything. It’s an interesting premise and could almost be read as allegorical; I’ve often heard it postulated that human understanding is limited by the range of our perceptions and there could be any number of ‘higher’ beings around us that we just can’t see.

So an intriguing story, although perhaps a little long for the subject matter; the point was made about halfway through so Kafka could maybe have been a bit more concise and still conveyed his meaning. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that I have plenty of Kafka on the shelves which could do with dusting off! πŸ™‚

*****

Penguin Moderns 13 and 14 were an enjoyable pair, and both have had the effect of sending me back to books I already own and haven’t read (of which there are far too many). Maybe I should schedule a regular shelf shuffling exercise just to remind myself of all those volumes waiting to be opened… πŸ˜€

Advertisements