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Penguin Moderns 15 and 16 – Luscious prose and evocative journalism

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I haven’t left it too long between pairs of Penguins this time, possibly because I was particularly keen on reading one of them, and possibly because I felt the need of something brief after a fascinating but dense doorstop of a Russian book. So without further ado:

Penguin Modern 15 – Daydream and Drunkenness of a Young Lady by Clarice Lispector

Lispector needs no introduction, I’m sure, to readers of the Ramblings. I’ve written about her before here, and although I’ve only read the one work by this celebrated Brazilian author, it was memorable and stunning and I’ve always meant to read more. So this Penguin Modern, with three short pieces, was an ideal way to ease back into Lispector’s work.

Rio de Janeiro – Estátua da escritora Clarice Lispector e seu cão Ulisses no Leme. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil) via Wikimedia Commons

The book contains three stories – the title one, “Love” and “Family Ties“. All concern women’s lives, all are beautifully written, and all are utterly memorable. The first story is that of a young lady who indeed daydreams and gets drunk. Her husband and children almost seem incidental; instead she lives in a haze, detached and somewhat alienated from her family, only really moved by a glamorous rival when she’s out drinking with her husband and a business client. “Love” tells of Ana, another married woman with children; stuck in a passive, content routine, an unusual chance encounter on a tram shakes her out of her complacency and threatens her everyday existence.

She had pacified life so well, taken such care for it not to explode. She had kept it all in serene comprehension, separated each person from the rest, clothes were clearly made to be worn and you could choose the evening movie from the newspaper – everything wrought in such a way that one day followed another. And a blind man chewing gum was shattering it all to pieces. And through this compassion there appeared to Ana a life full of sweet nausea, rising to her mouth.

Family Ties” in particular is a triumph; the central female character, Catarina, is seen in relation to her mother, her husband and her son, all of whom have different views of her and depend on her in different ways. Once again a seemingly happy existence is not what it seems, and Lispector dissects human relationships with frightening precision, laying bare in a few sentences the tenuous nature of love and life.

There was no escape… And there was no way not to look at it. What was she ashamed of? That it was no longer compassion, it wasn’t just compassion: her heart had filled with the worst desire to live.

This was a stunning addition to the Penguin Moderns series; Lispector is such a wonderful writer, and each hypnotic story lingered in the mind after. The language is often gorgeous, and I’m left wondering why I’ve left it so long to go back to Lispector’s work. After all, I think I might well have her complete stories lurking somewhere… 🙂

Penguin Modern 16 – An Advertisement for Toothpaste by Ryszard Kapuscinski

In complete contrast to book 15, Penguin Modern 16 is a collection of short journalistic pieces by Polish author Ryszard Kapuscinski, who was known also for poetry and photography. The four pieces collected in this book are all set in post-War Poland, a country that seems as far away and exotic as any distant regime.

By Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The title story sees the author visiting a small village dance, where future marriages will be decided; “Danka” tells of temptation and a clash between modernity and old-style religion; “The Taking of Ezbieta” is a striking piece which relates the effect on the parents when their only daughter is seduced into taking the veil; and in the final story, “The Stiff“, Kapuscinski joins a group taking the coffin of a miner back to his family.

That woman and that man did not have much of a life, although they gave it their lungs and their heart. After that, they tried to fight. But when solitary people try to fight for their cause, it is only at that moment when they naively forget that right must yield to might. In the end, that moment always passes. And what’s left is what’s left.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this particular PM, but I don’t think I anticipated such striking, evocative and memorable pieces. The post-War Poland which Kapuscinski captures is indeed a strange place, struggling to move into modernity but hampered by the superstitions and beliefs of the past. Some of the conditions seem incredibly primitive for the 20th century, as if the little villages and towns had been missed by progress and lost in time. Kapuscinski’s writing is clever and at times sharp; his anger, for example, at the grievous hurt done to her parents by Elzbieta and the nuns is not far below the surface. Another excellent addition to this collection and another author I want to explore more of!

*****

I was really impressed with this pair of PMs and made an interesting discovery when I was looking up Kapuscinski online; one of the titles of his books sounded familiar, and when I went and had a dig in the stacks, I did indeed own it – a gift from youngest child some Christmases ago!

It sounds absolutely fascinating, and chimes in a little with my mindset at the moment. So hopefully that one will be coming off the stacks soon too! 🙂

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Penguin Moderns 13 and 14 – A woman’s life and a dog’s eye view

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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! 🙂

*****

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… 😀

Penguin Moderns 11 and 12 – Myths, injustice and unexpected beauty

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And onwards I go, into the second fifth of the Penguin Modern boxed set! I thought I’d leave things a little while so as not to get jaded with just reading short works, but after the bulk of “The Aviator” these (and the recent Maigret) were a pleasant contrast. Again, two books with not much in common, but nevertheless powerful works despite their slim size.

Penguin Modern 11 – The Legend of the Sleepers by Danilo Kis

Kis is another author I’ve read before, and in fact I reviewed the collection from which the two stories featured here are drawn “The Encyclopedia of the Dead“) back on 2016. Kis was a Serbian writer and “Dead” was his final work, initially published in 1983. It’s a varied collection, taking in myths and legends, fantasies, realism and stories which deal with the art of words. The two texts chosen for this Penguin Modern are the title story and “Simon Magus”, both of which have a common theme of re-telling ancient legends.

By Marina Kalezić [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

As I commented when reading the full collection, the stories are full of allusion and references, multi-layered and beautifully written; in fact, the language in “Sleepers” is particularly striking with its flowing repetitions creating memorable images. I had intended back in 2016 that I’d go on to read more of the Kis I have on Mount TBR; that never happened, but this is a reminder that I really should…

Penguin Modern 12 – The Black Ball by Ralph Ellison

And now an author new to me. Ralph Ellison is an American author best know for his book “Invisible Man” (which I’m sure I have a copy of *somewhere* in the house). Like so many writers, he’s one I’ve always meant to read but never got round to, so I was happy to be poked with the Penguin Modern stick into making his acquaintance.

By United States Information Agency staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

PM12 contains four of Ellison’s shorter works – the title story, “Boy on a Train”, “Hymie’s Bull” and “In a Strange Country”, and they’re all absolutely stunning. I suspect I may possibly have come across “Hymie’s Bull” at some point in my reading life, as it was vaguely familiar, telling as it does the tale of some men hopping freight trains across America and the violent men they meet along the way who are out to stop them. “Boy on a Train”, an ostensibly simple tale of a widow and her two boys travelling home in a segregated train was desperately poignant (and I suspect, from a quick look at Ellison’s Wikipedia entry, may draw on his own life.) “The Black Ball” is a fascinating story, highlighting a complex distrust of the white man, as a black worker struggles to accept that a white union man has any interest in helping him.

The sun was a big globe in the west that seemed to drop away like a basketball toward a basket, and the freight seemed to be trying to catch it before it got there. You could see large swarms of flies following the freight cars like gulls over a boat; only the noise they made was lost in the roar of the train. In the field you could see a flock of birds flying away into the sunset, shooting off at an angle to rise and dip, rise and dip, sail and pivot in the wind like kites cut loose from their strings.

However, I think it’s “In a Strange Country” that will stay with me the most. Parker, an African American sailor, comes ashore in Wales and encounters white fellow countrymen who attack him. Yet he finds tolerance and acceptance amongst the Welsh, who take him into their world, sharing their love of music with him. It’s a stunning, powerful story of how humanity can transcend differences, and how a love of something deeper than stupid national boundaries can bring people together. It had me in tears, to be honest, and felt terrifyingly relevant in this day and age.

Ellison writes beautifully; his prose is lyrical, readable, evocative and he’s obviously the master of telling a bigger tale in the short story form. You find yourself raging at the injustices but celebrating the fact that there must be hope, demonstrated by unlikely bedfellows finding a kind of common ground. A really excellent addition to the Penguin Moderns, and I’m particularly glad to have read this one.

*****

So Penguin Moderns 11 and 12 were a particularly stunning pair, featuring two very disparate yet individual voices. Kis is a writer deserving wider reading, and Ellison obviously justifies the high regard in which he’s held. What a treat these unassuming little pastel coloured books are turning out to be!

Shuffling the shelves – again….. #books #MountTBR

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I had a minor bookish crisis at the weekend when I took a look at the piles of books all over my workroom (which holds most of Mount TBR) and realised that I had really lost track of what was in there. A quick rummage revealed not only several titles I had actually read, but also a great number I’m not planning to read immediately. I realised it was time for a shuffle (and those of you on social media might have seen this picture appearing…)

The main problem (which is the problem with *all* of the books in my house) is the randomness – the different types and authors and genres were all muddled together and that annoyed me on Sunday… So I resolved to have a bit of a sort and try to bring some order to the piles. Which took a little time…

The first thing I wanted to get organised was the poetry books and unfortunately they’ve had to be double shelved. This is the back row:

(You can see the general state of disarray on the other shelves while I sort things out).

And this is the front row when I’d done more shuffling:

This is, of course, not all the poetry I own. For example, all my Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes books are upstairs in the spare room that houses much of my collection. But I wanted to gather all of these together so they’re handy for dipping into – reasonable, no?

The next thing to do was to try to group the remaining books loosely together (and my sorting of books is always a little eclectic). This involved Books All Over The Floor, which always makes me a bit nervous – here are some of them:

The Russians, of course, took up a huge space of their own – I think they might be trying to take over….

Finally, after much shuffling and stress, things began to look more organised (if a little precarious at points):

And the main shelves have come together nicely:

The bottom shelf is Russians (and believe me, this is only a fraction of the Russian books I own). The next up is the poetry books. The third shelf up is slightly heavier tomes (not physically, but in content) including Penguin Little Black Classics, Penguin Great Ideas and lots of things from Verso and the like. And the top shelf has my Penguin Modern box, a number of books vaguely related to art and the French revolution, as well as my Iconoclasm books.

It seems that the Iconoclasm books have been quietly reproducing when I wasn’t looking…. 😀

Any road up, this group of books is now a little more orderly. I sent some images to the Offspring while I was mid-shuffle, and Middle Child commented that I had a book problem. I did remind her that I’ve never denied that (and if she knew how many books have spread into her old room, she’d probably have a fit…)

But never mind – I feel a bit clearer-headed about what’s on the immediate TBR and things are notionally together, which was the point of the exercise. Success! :)))))

Penguin Moderns 9 and 10 – Parables and poetry

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Well – time for another slightly odd pairing… Sci fi fables written under a Communist regime and Irish poetry really *don’t* have much in common – apart from the fact that I enjoyed both, I suppose!

Penguin Modern 9 – The Three Electro-Knights by Stanislaw Lem

Polish author Stanislaw Lem is someone whose books I’ve read and loved before (as a quick search on the blog will show!) And in fact I’ve read all of the four stories featured in PM9, as they come from the collection Mortal Engines which I read and reviewed for Shiny New Books back in 2016. At the time, I commented on the collection had been put together by translator Michael Kandel to showcase Lem’s stories of robots, and the four tales featured here certainly do that.

Stanisław Lem in 1966, courtesy of his secretary, Wojciech Zemek.

What’s intriguing about Lem’s robot tales is how they take human emotions and events, then twist them with the robotic perspective. The stories are the title one,The White Death, King Globares and the Sages, and The Tale of King Gnuff. All could be tales of derring-do with knights in armour, but they’re robots on far-flung planets and worlds – just goes to show that not much changes the universe over…

Science explains the world, but only Art can reconcile us to it. What do we really know about the origin of the Universe? A blank so wide can be filled with myths and legends. I wished, in my mythologizing, to reach the limits of improbability, and I believe that I came close. You know this already, therefore what you really wanted to ask was if the Universe is indeed ludicrous. But that question each much answer for himself.

Underlying these witty and entertaining tales is of course a serious point; for example, The White Death could be an allegory of any kind of colonial invasion humans have undertaken. And King Globares… parodies the trope of a king wanting to be entertained by his wise men which turns up in no end of ancient literature. King Gnuff is a little more surreal, with the monarch mutating into his actual realm and losing grip of reality as he sinks deeper into layer upon layer of dreams.

As I said in my original review, the stories present a chance to explore “the possibility of relations between humans and robots that speaks about our ability to reconcile ourselves to living in the world alongside other species and races, and learning to get along with them.” Lem was a great writer, and this Penguin Modern is an excellent introduction to his witty, clever, almost Steampunk stories.

Penguin Modern 10 – The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh

Book 10 is the second poetic entry into the list of Penguin Moderns, an a poet new to me! Irish author Kavanagh wrote both verse and novel, and is recognised for his realistic portrayal of Irish rural life. This selection is drawn from his Collected Poems, and spans his life’s work.

Joseph Mischyshyn / Dublin – Grand Canal – Poet Patrick Kavanagh

It’s obvious from the poems featured here that Kavanagh was very much rooted in his landscape. The poems are powerful and lyrical, and central to the book is his long work The Great Hunger, from which the collection takes its title. It’s a gritty and realistic work, taking a long hard look at the truth of life in rural communities against the background of famine, and is moving and memorable.

I do not know what age I am,
I am not mortal age;
I know nothing of women,
Nothing of cities,
I cannot die
Unless I walk outside these whitethorn hedges.

(from Innocence)

The rest of the poems are equally striking – often full of beautiful imagery, they have a streak of harshness and a refusal to lapse into saccharine descriptions of nature. In many ways, Kavanagh reminds me of that other great poet of the country, R.S. Thomas, and I can imagine them stalking their relative landscapes, glaring at the sky and composing as they went.

So an introduction into a new and excellent poet who I probably wouldn’t have read without the Penguin Modern box set – and whose work I’m now keen to read more of!

*****

Strangely, I now find myself one fifth (or 20%…) of the way through the Penguin Moderns box set, having created a series of posts on the books – something I was a bit reluctant to start as I don’t do well with challenges or commitments. But I’m enjoying this whole reading process so much, I think I might just carry on…. 🙂

Penguin Moderns 7 and 8 – Distinctive voices, polar opposites

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Well – this must be the least likely pairing so far in my choices of two Penguin Moderns to read at a time! I’ve been picking them out in pairs in numerical order, but George Orwell and Gertrude Stein?? Not obvious bedfellows…

Stylistically, I don’t think you could two more dissimilar authors: Orwell is prized in these parts for his wonderful clarity, immense reasonableness, and his clear-sightedness about humans, their foibles and the way the world was going; Stein, however, can be a murky writer, spinning webs of words that often appear to make little sense. Yet both have been acclaimed as geniuses in their own way which just goes to show that there is plenty of appetite out there for different kinds of writing. So – what did I make of these two little books?

Penguin Modern 7 – Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell

It’ll be no surprise to anyone that this was a great joy – Orwell is much loved on the Ramblings. And Penguin are remarkably clever at choosing very apposite Orwell essays to reprint which chime in remarkably well with the times. Penguin Modern 7 contains three essays first published in 1945: the title one, Antisemitism in Britain and The Sporting Spirit.

The nationalism Orwell refers to is not just an extreme love of country, but a violent partisanship for country, creed or group. It’s a dangerous state of mind, breeding intolerance and causing conflict and as always Orwell is spot-on at identifying problems which are still relevant today.

To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income.

The anti-Semitism essay is of course remarkably topical and GO is clear about how it is impossible to look at the subject objectively as so many emotions get in the way – as we can see from hysterical modern media reactions. As for sport – well, that one had me laughing all the way through!

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

There speaks a fellow sport-hater! :)))

As always, and as I (and many others) have said before, what strikes you is Orwell’s basic decency and reasonableness. I read this little book while the Royal shenanigans were going on, distracting us all from the real issues and hiding everything up in fake news. As GO says so presciently:

The calamities that are constantly being reported – battles, massacres, famines, revolutions – tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not really fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources.

As with all of Orwell’s writings, I ended up with a sheaf of post-its marking relevant and quotable parts, places where I shouted “Yes!” as I was reading (not literally of course, as that would have alarmed OH – though I did feel obliged to read him the above quote, and send messages to the Offspring reminding them how much I love Orwell and what a genius he was. Youngest Child was moved to reply that she lived for receiving such messages from me… But I digress!) The world is in many ways no better or no different from how it was in Orwell’s day; the rich are getting richer (and greedier) while the poor suffer lack of services, lack of basic living standards, lack of respect. Oh, how we need Orwell now…

Penguin Modern 8 – Food by Gertrude Stein

Aaaaand, in complete contrast – Gertrude Stein. Where Orwell is all clarity, Stein’s work comes in varying degrees of comprehensibility. I’ve read a number of her works (mostly pre-blog) and have enjoyed some more than others. These pieces come from her book “Tender Buttons” which I have vague memories of struggling with – and I can understand why…

… it is so easy to change meaning, it is so easy to see the difference.

The short extracts are given titles like Roastbeef, Breakfast and Single Fish. Do they describe food? Or the art of cooking? Or shopping? Or dining? Or indeed sex, as the blurb claims. The answer is, I don’t know! I’ve found when reading Stein in the past that if you treat the prose as musical, going for sound rather than obvious meaning, you get further. But I didn’t, if I’m truly honest, get very far trying that here.

It may be that because the text actually had a strong subject I was looking *too* hard for meaning and wasn’t able to get past that into the sound. Or it may just have been the wrong timing. Or it may just be that this was one of Stein more incomprehensible works. Which was a little frustrating, because occasionally lovely and silly phrases did jump out at me!

This is no authority for the abuse of cheese.

If you’re looking to read some Gertrude Stein, I have to honestly say this is probably not the best place to start. “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” (which I read decades ago) I remember as definitely being more approachable – “Tender Buttons” and its extracts I would class as for Advanced Stein Readers only!

***

So a mixed bag of Penguin Moderns this time. I obviously loved the Orwell (but then when do I *not* love reading Orwell?) Stein was difficult, and I think I will go for something less lexically complex next time I want to read her. Any road up – the next two titles in the box look rather intriguing. Watch this space! 🙂

Penguin Moderns 5 and 6 – Erotica and the Orient

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My third pair of Penguin Moderns is perhaps a less obvious duo of books; the subject matter and country of origin don’t fall naturally together, but I seem to have got into a routine of reading two PMs together – so let’s see what I make of these…

Penguin Modern 5 – Three Japanese Short Stories

This particular Penguin Modern is one I was very much looking forward to; I read a lot of Japanese fiction back in the day (particularly Mishima), but not many short stories and none of the authors featured here, as far as I’m aware. And the three stories really couldn’t be more varied!

The first, Behind the Prison by Nagai Kafu, is narrated in the form of a letter from a renegade son; having spent time in the West, he’s returned to his homeland and family but struggles with ennui and dislocation. Critical of Japanese society, he is unable to find a place in the world; and the house behind the prisoner, in which he lives, confines him as much as that building does its inmates.

Closet LLB by Uno Koji, the second story in the collection, is a lighter, more humorous work; the title character is a lawyer (signified by the LLB!) although he keeps his qualification in the closet – as well as himself at points! He must be one of the laziest and most languid characters in literature; as unable as the narrator of the first story to find his place, but this is because he simply can’t be bothered…

Finally we have General Kim by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, which conforms very much to what I would call the ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ kind of Japanese storytelling; full of supernatural elements and dramatic fights and leaping in the air.

Of the three, the latter was my least favourite; I appreciated the second’s humorous twists; and I loved the first story a lot. It was beautifully written, with some atmospheric descriptions and one of those last lines that kicks you in the feels a bit. All of the stories are translated by Jay Rubin and are rather excitingly taken from the forthcoming Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories – which I may feel the need to read…

Penguin Modern 6 – The Veiled Woman by Anais Nin

And now we go off somewhere *very* different, with Anais Nin and her erotica! Three of the stories (The Veiled Woman, Linda and Marianne) are drawn from Delta of Venus, possibly her best known collection, and I *have* owned a copy of this at some point. The other (Mandra) I had read before, so possibly I had more than one book. And I think I have a copy of one of her Virago books, Collages, somewhere – possibly… (you’ll notice that I’m never quite sure what I own in the way of books, which is vaguely disturbing). Any road up, what of these stories?

Well, if I’m honest, I had a bit of a “meh” response and found myself not really that interested. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in the subject of writings about sex, but as erotica the stories seem pretty well written, avoiding the cringe-worthy cliché that these things often fall into. There’s dominance, subjection, masks, anonymity, orgies, lesbianism and all that, which seems reasonable if you want to read that kind of thing. But I found myself querying why you would want to (apart from the obvious reasons…) As *literature*, as short stories, they’re not that great; when I think of the perfection of one of Chekhov’s short stories, that’s certainly not here. Nin famously began writing erotica as a kind of joke for a private collector, and apparently never expected the stories to be taken seriously.

However, it’s worth acknowledging that she *was* breaking new ground in that she was a woman writing in this field; and also noting that her female characters, though very clichéd, are active sexual beings who are often in control, rather than the passive cardboard cut-outs or dolls that might be portrayed by a male writer.

As I said, I’m no expert in this field; but I think I might have a dig in the stacks and see what else I have by Nin – it would be interesting to see what her other fictions are like!

*****

No – as hard as I try, I can’t find much connection between these two Penguin Moderns! Both, however, had points of interest; and in particular I’m very keen to see what the Penguin Japanese collection is like when it comes out. One thing is for sure, though – this Penguin Modern box is going to be full of plenty of variety! 🙂

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