The Journals of John Cheever (edited by Robert Gottlieb). Cheever, as we meet him in these Journals is impossible to like, but equally impossible not to admire as a writer. I read on, almost against my will, but fascinated by a life with so many years of unhappiness turned into art.
Eileen Bigland, The Indomitable Mrs. Trollope. Appreciative biography of the author of Domestic Manners of the Americans and the mother of novelist Anthony Trollope. Frances Trollope led three of her children off to seek their fortune in the American wilderness of the 1820s and returned to write a best-selling book about her travels.
Rumer Godden, The Battle of The Villa Fiorita. Two children pursue their divorced mother to Italy. They “battle” to bring her back to their former family life in England. Godden’s touch with fictional children and foreign places is light and sure. As for the battle, it may be that when you win, you may lose.
Anthony Trollope, The American Senator. I love to treat myself to a new Trollope from time to time. I enjoyed this one greatly, as Anthony Trollope reverses his mother’s trip to the United States with the fictional visit of an American senator to England. Fox hunting and husband hunting dominate the action.
Natsume Soseki, Kokoro. This Japanese novel was published in 1914, and “kokoro” means “the heart of things” or “feelings.” I had trouble engaging with this story of a young man and his feelings for his contemporary friend and his somewhat-older sensei, or master. I had just come from reading Trollope, with its characters so specifically described that you know their income, the furniture in their houses, their professions, and the names of their horses. Here we have people who attend the university and have different fields of study, but we don’t know what they are. They have ambitions, but we don’t know what those are either. And they have secret pasts which, when revealed, had very little impact on me, the reader, although clearly important to the characters in the novel.
Blake Bailey, Cheever: A Life. I can’t seem to let John Cheever go. After reading The Journals of John Cheever, I moved on to Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life, a full-bore biography of the short-story writer and novelist. The two books complement each other wonderfully.
Barbara Pym, An Academic Question. This novel, by the writer of Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn, was assembled from two unfinished drafts after Pym’s death. It was a worthy effort, but the book misses the quiet assurance of her other books. The social humor seems strained and obvious. Sorry.