Category: Uncategorized

20 Books of Summer 2023

After skipping last year, I’m back at it again, joining Cathy in creating an overly-ambitious, unrealistic plan to read and review twenty books this summer. Though perhaps I shouldn’t sell myself short. Reviewing my past record, there’s a decent chance I’ll get to these, eventually… of my 20 books of summer 2019, I’ve now read 19. This year’s list is a combination of carryovers from summers past, prize winners and longlisters, review copies, and the few remaining 1001 Books that are sitting unread on my shelf (or books by authors who appear on that list.) Guess I’ll have to visit a used bookstore soon to replenish!

  1. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1001 Books, previous on a 20 Books list)
  2. Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1001 Books, previous on a 20 Books list)
  3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (1001 Books, previous on a 20 Books list)
  4. Howard’s End by E.M. Forster (1001 Books)
  5. The Ambassadors by Henry James (1001 Books)
  6. [Holding this space for another 1001 Books pick, pending a trip to Wee Book Inn]
  7. The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (1001 Books adjacent)
  8. The Ladybird by D.H. Lawrence (1001 Books adjacent)
  9. Abigail by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix (on a previous 20 Books list)
  10. Green Darkness by Anya Seton (on a previous 20 Books list)
  11. Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (on a previous 20 Books list)
  12. Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani (one of the books I bought in a Covid-induced haze last year)
  13. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwakae Emezi (another Covid book)
  14. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell (2022 International Booker Prize winner)
  15. Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches (2023 International Booker Prize shortlister)
  16. [Holding this space for the 2023 International Booker Prize winner, in case I haven’t read it]
  17. I (Athena) by Ruth DyckFehderau (a review book from this year)
  18. The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (just a plain old “been on my TBR forever”)
  19. Milkman by Anna Burns (Booker prize winner)
  20. Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon (cheating as I’m about to read this)

Join in at 746 Books and hold me accountable!

The stack (not pictured: a few on my Kobo)

Memories, modems, and martinis

This is a short piece I wrote for Hungry Zine‘s special edition “Mall Food”, a full issue dedicated to food culture in West Edmonton Mall. You can buy the issue here.

In the year 2000, West Edmonton Mall was at its peak: Phase IV was complete, the dragon in Silver City was breathing fire at regular intervals, Playdium had just opened, and Nickleback played a show at Red’s — when it was still called Red’s, and they were still a local band. These are just a few of the things that made West Ed what it was at the dawn of the new millennium, but one tenant stands above the rest as the most Y2K-coded thing the mall has ever known. Offering a heady mix of martinis, cigars, and high-speed internet access: Bytes Internet Cafe.

The “internet” or “cyber” cafe had a brief moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when home computers weren’t a given and dial-up was unreliable. It’s a food and drink concept that doesn’t really exist anymore. Now, we have our phones out, maybe face down on the table if we’re being polite, whether we’re at a humble Boston Pizza (Phase II), a trendy hand-pulled noodle place (Mogouyan, Phase III), or the swanky, Fantasyland Hotel-adjacent L2 Grill (Phase I). Every cafe is an internet cafe.

But in the Y2K era, going online was not just novel, but also a very contained experience. “Surfing the net” usually took place in a dedicated computer room or lab — not the best places to eat and drink, Mountain Dew and Doritos aside. (If you were truly online in this period, perhaps you were sipping an electric-blue Bawls soda, with its 64 mg of caffeine.) Sitting down to check your email while sipping a latte was something special.

Continue reading

How translated should a book be?

Pyre by Perumal Murugan, tr. Aniruddhan Vasudevan and The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, tr. Daniel Levin Becker

Pyre was the most accessible of the International Booker Prize longlist, availabilty-wise. My ebook hold came in almost right away. It’s quite short and sparse, and it’s a propulsive story with an inevitable conclusion that still manages to be shocking. But I’m left with questions, some specifically about the characters, and some about the accessibility of translated works in general. How much can a person reading in English understand the author’s intentions? How much hand-holding should a translator do?

In Pyre, Kumaresan, a young man from a tiny village in southern India, moves to a nearby city to work. He meets a girl, Saroja, and they elope, with plans to settle back in his home village. Saroja leaves her whole life behind, on a promise that she will be accepted by Kumaresan’s family and village, eventually. They eloped because they are from different castes, and neither family would have been in favour of the marriage, but they both seem to believe that when presented as a fait accompli, people will come around.

People do not come around. Not only are the couple not accepted, but they are instantly, continuously, relentlessly, and violently rejected, most vehemently by Kumaresan’s mother, but also by close family members, friends, and village officials, who consider cancelling a planned festival until Saroja can be cast out.

As a reader, am I to believe that Kumaresan, who grew up in this village and in this culture, had no idea this would happen? Is he very naive? Or was he blinded by love (or lust?) Or was he influenced by his time in the city, where rules around caste are more loosely observed? It was never clear to me, so I had a hard time understanding how annoyed I should be at this guy because Saroja, of course, bears the brunt of the villagers’ ire.

Apart from that (rather major) unknowable element of Pyre, much of the language was obscure to me. Names for food, clothing, and such were often presented in Tamil, and probably for good reason, but even my Kobo couldn’t help me out – no dictionary definitions, not even Wikipedia entries in many cases. Had I read a paper copy, I would have figured out sooner that there was a translator’s note and glossary in the back, but even those were pretty thin.

I’m not saying that translated books need to hold my hand. I can google as well as anyone, though after a few attempts at searching “Tamil castes”, “Nadu castes”, and so on, I was not much wiser as to how much Kumaresan should have know. This story, which is otherwise told in a very straightforward manner, remains impenetrable to me on some levels.

On the other hand, IBP longlister The Birthday Party feels a little over translated. I don’t think Three Lone Girls is a real place in France, but if it was, surely it would be Trois Filles Seules. Nor do I think that Stories of the Night, the book Marion reads to her daughter at bedtime, is real, but if it was, it would surely be called Histoires de la Nuit – and that’s the title of this book in French. “The Birthday Party” is a very literal title, since the setup is Marion’s fortieth birthday, and we first meet her husband Patrice, neighbour Christine, and daughter Ida as they prepare for her party. Histoires de la Nuit or Stories of the Night is much more suggestive.

Even the dog’s name is changed from Radjah to Rajah – Radjah seems to be a variant spelling that’s more popular in French. I promise I would have understood that the dog’s name is roughly Prince – though maybe I should just be glad it wasn’t rendered as “Prince”!

All this Anglicization annoys me. I wonder if that’s because I’m overconfident in my French reading abilities due to my Duo Lingo streak, or, if the characters just feel more familiar. I don’t think I’ve pissed off anyone enough to have my home invaded (mild spoiler, but don’t worry, I’m on page 300 and have NO idea where this is going to end up), but I am, like Marion, a working mom who met my husband on a first-generation dating website. I also understand the context of contemporary, Gilet jaunes-era France a bit better than I understand caste-related violence in 1980s India. But I wonder what cues and references I am missing?

I have a feeling I’ll be doing a little more research on both of these books – Pyre to illuminate the characters and plot points I may have missed or misinterpreted, and The Birthday Party just to see what other readers think of this complex and thrilling story. Here’s a review for Pyre that helped me understand a bit more about the author; I learned that he’s written a book from the point of view of a goat, which was given a rave review by Parul Seghal, for one thing! As for The Birthday Party, I tried to read the first chapter in French with an ebook sample, but it was not happening. Perhaps I could read a review in French though?

Felicia’s Journey from book to screen

This is not, technically, an entry in my very occasional series in which Rachel makes me watch a movie adaptation of a short story. First of all, Felicia’s Journey is a novel, not a short story, and secondly, Rachel had nothing to do with it – though I hope she takes this as a sign that she should read this book and watch this movie. 

But, much like the adaptations of Calm with Horses and Escape from Spiderhead, which Rachel did inspire me to criticize, the 1999 film “Felicia’s Journey” was flattened on its way to the screen. I continue to have the distinct feeling that filmmakers just don’t trust movie-goers to appreciate a nuanced story with characters who don’t fit neatly into “good” and “bad” categories, or to tolerate anything but a happy (or at least, hopeful) ending. 

This film fares a little better than the other two in presenting morally grey characters, and of the three adaptations, might be my favourite, for sticking to the plot (more or less), for keeping the bad guy pretty darn bad, and because it gave me some new insight into the characters. The other two mainly made me wonder what went wrong.

I came to Felicia’s Journey through Cathy and Kim’s “A Year with William Trevor” event. I wasn’t particularly drawn to this book (I’m not big on teenage-pregnancy-as-plot-point, and I talk enough about “journeys” at work) until I realized there was a Canadian movie adaptation, available for free on CBC Gem. Director Atom Egoyan is legendary here, and I’ve never seen any of his movies.

But first, the book. Based on the title and cover, I was expecting some kind of heartfelt family drama, but instead found a thriller. Or maybe a mystery. Not about Felicia – a good Irish Catholic girl getting knocked up, abandoned by the father, and rejected by her family is a tale as old as time, and the additional drama due to the father joining the British army is a tale going back to at least 1916. Joe Hilditch, though? At first, he’s presented in a very particular way – the way he wants to be seen – as a fastidious middle-aged middle manager who has a big appetite for food, but who otherwise lives quietly and correctly. He seems like the type of pleasant, older man that kids on TikTok would want to “protect at all costs,” until he meets Felicia, newly arrived in England and looking for her wayward boyfriend.

Hilditch appears helpful at first, suggesting where she could look for a young man in industrial Birmingham. But soon he’s following Felicia, and manipulating things so that he’s the only one who can help her. We learn he’s done this before, and clue in pretty quickly that he doesn’t befriend wayward teenage girls out of the goodness of his heart. But, if you had asked me why he does it, exactly, at page 50, or 100, or maybe even 150, I wouldn’t have known. The slow reveal and unravelling of Hilditch is shocking and mesmerizing.

The movie takes a more direct route to showing us what Mr. Hilditch is up to, and why. His house is full of relics, he wears outdated clothing, and drives a vintage car, all of which are pristine. He’s fussy at work and at home, a man who is forever stuck in the past, still trying to please his late mother, never quite measuring up. Bob Hoskins, who I’d only known as “the Roger Rabbit guy” up to this point, is great at portraying Hilditch as alternately smug and near cracking under the pressure. Elaine Cassidy as Felicia, who I barely recognized from The Wonder, gives a quiet and passive performance, which is as it should be. Flashbacks to her home life in Ireland are set to very generic Irish music, but the setting is beautiful, especially the ruins of Glanworth Castle, and provide a striking contrast to the bleak industrial landscape she finds in England.

I will never figure out why Felicia is wearing chunky platform sandals in the movie, though. That’s certainly not in the book, and I was exhausted just thinking about a four-months-pregnant girl clomping around in those all day. Period-appropriate for the 1990s, yes, and Felicia is pretty naive, but no real girl would do this!

But I digress. There are other, somewhat-more understandable choices we need to discuss. 

I will give the movie props for keeping a controversial part of the story, in which Hilditch coerces Felicia into getting an abortion. The film portrays this in all its ambiguity – Hilditch is probably right that this makes sense, but he does it for all the wrong reasons, and Felicia doesn’t come around after, and is suitably traumatised by what she’s done.  

But we lose a pivotal passage in the book, in which, after the abortion, Hilditch starts to see Felicia in a more sexual light (Madonna-whore complex, much?). The movie is almost entirely desexualized, actually. Hilditch is portrayed as some kind of voyeur, luring young runaway girls into his car for conversation, mostly, taping it all with a hidden video camera, meticulously labeling and cataloguing the tapes at home. This does translate very creepily on film, but in the book, Hilditch is an exhibitionist, not just driving the girls around, but flaunting them in restaurants and rest stops, taking sick pleasure in the whispers and stares (real and imagined) as passersby trying to puzzle out what relationship this middle aged man could possibly have with these teenage girls. Hilditch’s need to be seen as successful, sexually, is in constant tension with his need to keep up appearances (it’s always some out-of-the-way roadside diner, never anything remotely near his home or work). These passages are so creepy and depraved, and the videotapes have nothing on it. 

In the book, this actually comes to a head at the abortion clinic, where Hilditch simply can’t help calling himself Felicia’s “boyfriend” to the unamused clinic staff. Unable to form normal relationships, Hilditch is reduced to tricking strangers into thinking he impregnated a teenager.

And that brings us to the biggest change of Felicia’s journey from book to film. Why is Hilditch the way that he is? As you may have gathered, it is indeed because of issues with his beloved late mother, but the intensity of this revelation is dialled way, way down for the film. What becomes clear near the end of the book is so shocking and sad, it makes the reader question what they’ve read so far, and what the book is about in the first place. If you only watched the movie, or watched it first, you might not feel like something is missing, necessarily, but the book is just on another level here. I can’t quite figure out why Egoyan softened the blow for movie-goers, as he’s known for some pretty out-there stuff. 

The movie also brings things to a close too quickly. In the book, some Jehova’s Witnesses become entwined in Felicia’s, and therefore Hilditch’s life, and their constant questioning chips away at what’s left of Hilditch’s sanity, bit by bit, until he’s brought to a breaking point. It brings a psychological thriller aspect to the book. In the movie, this plot point is there, but it goes from zero to sixty in a single scene. Similarly, in the book, Felicia spends a harrowing couple of nights (at least?) on the streets, bouncing between shelters, store entryways, and squats, and making friends with all sorts of unsavoury characters. It takes her from naive to desperate. These b-plots (“journeys”, I suppose) are necessary for the end of the story to make sense, and to have emotional depth. I have to think these story elements were cut for time, which is unfortunate but (somewhat) understandable. 

The very end, and the sense of where Felicia’s journey will take her next, is not wholly changed, but it’s cast in a much more hopeful light. I can’t say a lot more, but it was the very final scene of the movie that inspired this post and my initial note to self was “they can’t keep getting away with this!”

They really can’t. “Shadow of Violence”, “Spiderhead,” and now (well- 24 years ago) “Felicia’s Journey” took dark, messy, stories and made them more palatable for film. Felicia’s Journey is still well worth the watch, for Bob Hoskins, for the sets, for the preserved line of dialog from the book in which he muses that “Mothers can be difficult”, which, indeed. But please, I beg of you, read the book too!  

Most Disappointing Books of 2022

Normally, I do a catch-all “year in review” post, and I will still do one, but, there’s been some anti-worst-books-lists discourse lately and we must push back. I haven’t even listed my worst books since 2018, so it’s high time.

Obscure for a reason

Obscure books that no one talks about and no one should read.

  • The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad. I was excited to read this near-future apocolytic novel set right here in Edmonton, and I did indeed recognize many locations, even in their dyspotian form, but the story was so thin, and the main character so wannabe edgy, and the premise was just stealing bits from every popular YA novel in the past twenty years. Having a character walk down Whyte Ave. was not nearly enough to make up for it.
  • Bitcoin Widow by Jennifer Robertson. Such an obvious cash grab, and yet I didn’t hear anyone talking about it, so was it worth it? Jennifer Robertson tells her side of the Quadriga crypto mystery, and asks the reader to believe that she is either incredibly naive or incredibly stupid when it comes to how her (late?) husband was financing their lavish lifestyle.

Crappy classics

At least I go to cross off two entries in the 1,001 Books list!

  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. Well I’m not going to tell you that a novel written in a time when “novels” weren’t really a thing is “bad,” exactly, but I was not enjoying myself. After a certain number of piss and shit jokes it all kind of blurred together.
  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. I’m pretty sure this book invented the “autofiction” genre. Ms. Stein has a lot to answer for. There are a few good one-liners in here but you have to wade through interminable pages of “this artist visited us, we visited this artist, this person was boring, this person was a genius” and it’s SO BORING.

Mainstream, Midlist, and Meh

Some recent-ish books that honestly weren’t terrible but did not live up to the hype.

  • Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au. Probably suffered from comparison to My Phantoms, which had similar themes but is just better in every way. This was totally forgettable for me.
  • Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum. I’m just really tired of horror books that use pregnancy and childbirth (or clear analogs) as their big, scary thing. Especially from male writers.
  • Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagen. This one actually had some great moments, and is great when depicting 1980s England and the burgeoning punk scene, BUT the writing was so overwrought. And the sudden pivot to the current day halfway through was… unwelcome. I can handle overwrought when it’s teenagers we’re talking about, but when it’s guys in their 50s…
  • Mouth of Mouth by Antoine Wilson. A Giller nominee, but I’ve also seen this in American best-of lists so it’s making waves… too bad I was so let down by the twist ending.

Classics Club spin #32

Forgive me bloggers, it’s been four years since my last Classics Club spin. This is the season though, I like to read a classic at the end of the year. There’s no theme for Spin #32, but the rules remain the same: pick twenty books from your Classics Club list (which of course I no longer maintain) wait till the random number is pulled (tomorrow) and read that book over the next month. Simple. You can use a theme, or do a classic “five books I’m dreading, five books I’m looking forward to” etc. but I’m short on time so how about a random number generator and the 1,001 Books list? Here we go:

  1. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
  2. The Information by Martin Amis
  3. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
  4. The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  5. American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
  6. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
  7. A Question of Power by Bessie Head
  8. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargos Llosa
  9. Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster
  10. Evelina by Frances Burney
  11. No Laughing Matter by Angus Wilson
  12. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
  13. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  14. Arcanum 17 by André Breton
  15. To The North by Elizabeth Bowen
  16. Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo
  17. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  18. The Talk of the Town by Ardal O’Hanlon
  19. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  20. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

So I’ve not even heard of twelve of these! And I may reserve the right to substitute another Frances Burney novel if I land on Evelina, just because I’ve read it somewhat recently. Though it was awfully fun. Check in tomorrow to learn my fate…

Novellas I Read in 2022 and am talking about in November #NovNov

Due to circumstances and reasons, I have not had a particularly fruitful reading or blogging year, especially since the summer, or early August to be precise. Properly participating in blogging events is too much for me right now, so please accept this lazy Novellas in November contribution. It’s my favourite blogging event and has a long and storied history. Shout out to Cathy and Rebecca for keeping the #NovNov train going!

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle, 173 pages

I liked but did not love this one. It got a bit message-y at the end. The messages were important and resonated with me (violence against women, abortion access, religion, aging, disability) but it was all very heavy-handed. I loved Elena and loved the depiction of tense moments with her daughter on their annual vacation. Their interactions were difficult to read, in a good way (think Rachel Cusk, Gwendoline Riley).

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, 144 pages

Another strained mother-daughter relationship, further strained by travel, this made almost no impression on me. Sometimes a book can be a little too sparse. I think this was also going for a Cusk or Riley kind of a thing, but didn’t quite make it.

Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum, 94 pages

This little horror book has its moments but unfortunately I pictured the uh, creature, as Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also why are so many horror books about parasites, or something growing inside you that needs to get out…it’s all just pregnancy (remembers what it was like being pregnant and giving birth)… okay actually that does make sense.

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson, 192 pages

You ever finish a book with a shocking or twisty ending, and immediately see how the whole book was building towards it, but question whether a whole book needed to be written for… that? I enjoyed reading this but was expecting it to build towards something a lot crazier. Very “so, there was a plot twist. That don’t impress-a me much.”

If I get my act together, I intend to try the buddy read for Novellas in November, Foster by Claire Keegan. It has a recent film adaptation, The Quiet Girl, perfect for my movie era, though I don’t know if I can actually view it in Canada yet.

“Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders / Spiderhead (2022)

This is the second of a very occasional series in which Rachel makes me watch a movie adaptation of a short story. In the first, I watched an adaptation of “Calm with Horses” by Colin Barrett, a morally complicated and tense masterpiece of short fiction from his collection Young Skins. The movie, Shadow of Violence, got the look and feel right, but all the moral shades of grey became black and white. That, plus the needless addition of a romantic subplot, reduced the movie to more of a standard thriller, if elevated by the acting and cinematography.

For my second assignment, I watched an adaptation of “Escape From Spiderhead” by George Saunders, a dystopian cautionary tale in the vein of Brave New World, or more recently, Margaret Atwood’s Maddadam trilogy, first published in The New Yorker and also in his collection Tenth of December. I expected that this middling short story would be adapted into a middling thriller and I wasn’t wrong. But I was surprised by how closely the film’s choices mirror those made for Shadow of Violence, starting with the needless title change to plain old “Spiderhead”. From there, just like in Shadow of Violence, we encounter morally flattened characters, an invented romantic arc, and a completely different, more palatable ending. 

Shadow of Violence was a successful adaptation because despite these annoying changes, the tone was maintained. In Spiderhead, the changes alter the whole tone of the story, from a dark but hopeful look at what it means to be human, to a straightforward thriller that verges on slapstick and schmaltz. 

I wish filmmakers would “acknowledge” that audiences can handle a little ambiguity!
Continue reading

The Superfluous Brothers Karamazov Read-Along Part 4: Making Mitya a Murderer

Defence lawyer from Making a Murderer. Dostoyevsky could’ve written this

If you find yourself in perplexity, go to the master post for the read-along schedule.

Part 4 is a little longer than the other parts, and there’s also the epilogue to deal with (if we must), so there’s a lot to unpack. But like Parts 1, 2, and 3, there’s really only one thread I enjoyed. The trial was not only the culmination of the story, but a perfect example of Dostoyevsky skewering human foibles in a way that could have been written yesterday.

Actually, the chapters about pre-teen layabout Kolya were very good at conveying the shame of trying to act mature but going a step too far, and making yourself ridiculous in front of the adults. But I could take or leave the other kids’ stuff, with Illyushka and his friends/bullies – I think this was all supposed to connect to the never-written sequel.

So let’s turn instead to Mitya and his trial, which was just as juicy as any sensational true crime documentary. It reminded me of one in particular, “Making a Murderer.”

Much as I obsessed over Making a Murder, I found Mitya’s trial even juicier, and more satisfying, since we do find out who did it and why, two pretty key pieces of info that are obviously not revealed on the Netflix show. It also has a logic and moral centre that reality tends to lacks. The murder at the heart of Making a Murderer is senseless, and the victim is a blank slate, whereas we know the hearts and minds of all the suspects and characters here, and everyone, including the victim, is flawed.

The stories aren’t totally comparable. The whole premise of Making a Murderer is a corrupt justice system coercing false (?) confessions out of a dimwitted young man, whereas in The Brothers K, false confessions are given freely and repeatedly, by men of varying wits! The overwhelming evidence against Mitya, the various, hapless attempts his brothers and lovers make to help him, the celebrated experts and lawyers and overall spectacle of the trial “make” him a murderer, but in the end, the most damning piece of evidence against him is the one he wrote himself. If Making a Murderer is about people getting duped by the system, The Brothers Karamazov is about people duping themselves. 

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.

Both the book and the show revel in the spectacle a grisly murder creates. I was late to the Making a Murder party, but searching for gifs for this post revealed some of the odd ephemera that’s still out there. Dostoyevsky writes about the spectacle of a murder trial in ways that feel so modern. I’ve said it before, but he shows me time and time again that there’s nothing new in human nature, and while social media might amplify human tendencies, it doesn’t create new ones.

Women be watching true crime:

I even think that all the ladies, every single one of them, a-thirst as they were with such impatience for the acquittal of the ‘interesting’ defendant, were at the same time quite convinced of his complete and utter guilt.

Backseat lawyer-ing:

‘Oh for pity’s sake, do you really suppose they will not acquit him?’ one of our young civil servants was shouting in another group.

‘Of course they will,’ a resolute voice was heard to say.

‘It would be shameful, disgraceful, not to acquit him!’ the civil servant continues to vociferate… ‘If I’d been in the defence counsel’s shoes I’d have just said straight out: he committed the murder, but he isn’t guilty, and the devil with you!’ 

Lawyers’ dramatic monologues, the prosecution:

“Remember that you are the defenders of our truth, the defenders of our holy Russia…These anxious voices from Europe have already reached our ears. They are already beginning to resound. Then do not tempt them, do not accumulate their ever-growing hatred by a verdict that justified the murder of a father by his own son!…”

Lawyers’ dramatic monologues, the defence:

“In your hands lies my client’s fate, and in your hands, too, the fate of our Russian justice. You shall save it, you shall uphold it, you shall prove that there are those who care for its observance, that it is in good hands!”

Modern true crime creates the same circus of obsessions, hot takes, and easy moralizing. Making a Murderer and shows like it are compelling to watch, but leave me feeling hopeless, and vaguely guilty for having been so compelled. The Brothers K, and Dostoyevsky in general, can also be pretty bleak, but not hopeless. Because he doesn’t suggest easy answers, you don’t feel disappointed when they don’t come. 

When you finish The Brothers Karamazov and realize there’s still a whole epilogue to go

The Superfluous Brothers Karamazov Read-Along Part I: Like sands through the hourglass…

If you find yourself in perplexity, go to the master post for the read-along schedule.

Part One of The Brothers Karamazov could be called an infodump. Our narrator, after telling us who the hero of the story is (bit presumptuous), introduces us to the Karamazov patriarch Fyodor Pavlovich and each of his three sons in turn. We learn about Fyodor’s wives and how each son was brought up, and where they are today. But Dostoyevsky somehow brings us to the first crucial set piece of the book – the meeting with Father Zosima at the monastery – seamlessly. And from there, we are off, with outbursts and hot takes and accusations and of course, a love triangle (or two).

One of my favourite things in the world is to start reading a big, canonical, serious classic only to realize it’s about a love triangle. Dmitri isn’t our hero (apparently) but he is the central point in two rivalries: between him and his father, over “scandalous woman” Grushenka, and between him and his brother Ivan, over “good girl” Katerina Ivanovna. This is approaching Days of Our Lives-level shenanigans (recall Brady Black and his father John Black both being with Kristin, and later Brady and his *grandfather* Victor fighting over Nicole…)

Me trying to keep track of all these love triangles
Continue reading