Spring reading mini-review dump

I’m hopelessly behind on my reviews again, so here’s a collection of shorts in no particular order. I enjoyed all of these books, though with qualifications for some.

Brigid Brophy, The King of a Rainy Country (novel, 1956): An odd, aimless, but compelling novel about a young woman who enlists her platonic(?) roommate on a trans-European quest to locate her childhood crush, a girl who now poses for nude magazines. While questing, the lead characters enlist as guides for a group of boorish American tourists. Brophy’s portraits of them are hilariously mean. But the book’s overall mood is melancholy, perhaps because its main emotional movement is the protagonist’s dawning sense of how stifling her world is.  

Laurie Penny, Bitch Doctrine (nonfiction, 2017): A solid collection of Penny’s older writing. Penny is one of my favorite commentators, somehow managing to be simultaneously blunt and nuanced. She is also willing to apologize and reconsider her own positions, which, when done publicly on the internet, requires a lot of courage.

Patricia Smith, Incendiary Art (poems, 2017): Smith is a flawless formalist with a sensitive ear and a staggering creative range, speaking believably in many voices, writing terza rima, sonnets, free verse, and ghazals with equal ease, at once forcing you to think and punching you in the gut. If you like poetry, go read her. If you don’t like poetry, go read her.

Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt (novel, 1952): A quiet, lovely queer love story that, because it’s Patricia Highsmith, becomes a thriller ¾ of the way in.

Rachel Cusk, Outline, Transit (novels, 2014, 2017): Cusk writes beautifully, and she’s a penetrating psychologist in the Doris Lessing vein, temporally as well as stylistically: take away the cellphones and these novels could have been written in the 1950s. That’s a flaw. Neither Cusk nor her characters can think systemically, or see much further than their own tangled domestic crises. By the second novel (Transit), I could no longer suspend my disbelief that the female protagonist, a writer, never read the news, or that she felt anything more than a disaffected ennui at the several men who kiss her without her consent.

Christopher Isherwood, The Berlin Stories (novellas, 1945): Isherwood’s eye for character is as good as Cusk’s (and his prose is more refined), but he’s equally interested in documenting what a country slipping into Nazism looks like. Nor is he forgiving. These novellas are alternately chilling and heartbreaking, and they’re filled with keen, unflattering portraits of the poses self-considered intellectuals take towards fascism.

That's it for now! At some point I would like to say more about Cusk, because there's a lot to unpack there, but it will probably have to wait for a time when I don't have several pressing deadlines.