Monday, January 20, 2003
Last night I finished reading The Little Girls. Bas Bleu says that the author, Elizabeth Bowen, is "on every famous literary person's list of favorite authors", so I'm hoping that I just read the book she wished she'd never written. She seems to have a fascination with commas, and, in particular, their use combined with the peculiarities of British slang, so that I found myself reading conversations over and over again in an attempt to decipher what the characters were saying (or not saying) to each other. 'You were unfair, rather, a bit, to me, don't you think, Dicey?' gives an idea of my struggles. I will admit that it is difficult to write dialogue that sounds genuine, but reading literal quotes in a newspaper article makes it clear that dialogue can be either realistic or readable. I have read my own words as transcribed by a journalist, and recoiled in horror at the blithering idiot there implied. Ms Bowen's inability to write dialogue aside, her character development is nearly non-existent, which is unfortunate because the direction of the novel depends on the ways in which the characters have changed (or not changed) over the course of time. I actually found the storyline interesting (three little girls become friends during the summer that they are 11 years old, and bury a treasure which for various unexplained reasons they decide to dig up 50 years later), but I was dismayed to find that Ms Bowen's fancy lay elsewhere. While I wanted to know what treasures were buried, and the meaning of certain little secrets and odd half-confessions that kept appearing, she was more interested in abstract communication, and ended up saying very little indeed. The book was arranged in three (or four?) parts, with the second part as a flashback to the long-ago summer, and it perhaps says something about my reading habits that I was much more intrigued by the lives and actions of the little girls (simpler and more direct than those of grown-ups, and therefore more exciting to read about) than the wandering interactions of the adults they became. This is the sort of book that starts to make me lost my faith in novels. I recently re-read The Borrowers series, which are just as capable of presenting a moral or commenting on life as a more "advanced" novel, but do so in a compelling way without the annoyances of vague philosophy. This is not to say that I am unable to enjoy the complexities of delving into the development and interactions of characters, but I don't appreciate being left in the dark as to what is happening to them tangibly at the same time; such a device is merely frustrating. I haven't given up on Elizabeth Bowen entirely, and I will read the book recommended by Bas Bleu in their latest catalog (The Heat of the Day), but so far I am keeping her well away from my list of favorite authors (to be posted at a later time!).