KDS (decemberthirty) wrote,

Old book, new book

Tommy napping
Tommy did so much reading that he had to take a nap.

Yesterday I finally, finally finished Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. I got so bogged down in it, and it took forever. I wanted to like it, I tried to like it, I am sympathetic to some of Hesse's themes, but I just could not stand Hesse's pedantic and preachy approach to those themes. Hesse seems to believe that his readers are incapable of handling subtlety, so he hectors us with repetitions and lectures and heavy-handed prose. Bah! It didn't help that I found the narrator, Harry Haller, to be insufferably self-absorbed.

Perhaps I should have just put it down, but I didn't. I forced myself to struggle through, and now that it's done, it feels like a relief. Perhaps this is the tail-end of last year's mediocre reading, and I just needed to get it out of the way so I can usher in an era of exciting new books.

After my unpleasant experience with Steppenwolf, I am taking a break from my German literature reading project, at least for as long as it takes me to read Toby's Room by Pat Barker. I love Pat Barker; her Regeneration trilogy has for years been the thing I would choose if I could put my name on the work of any other writer. But of course that makes trouble for her other books--none of them quite live up to Regeneration. Toby's Room is a sequel of sorts to Life Class (although it begins at a point that falls chronologically earlier than any of the action in Life Class), and I'm excited about it because I thought Life Class was a bit thin, full of interesting ideas and characters that needed further development.

I've only read the first 70 pages of Toby's Room, but oh, is it off to a good start! I stayed up later than I meant to last night because I just kept wanting to read a few more pages and then a few more pages... That hasn't happened to me in ages, and it's a fantastic contrast to scarcely being able to keep my eyes open through Steppenwolf. Barker focuses this time on Elinor Brooke, a character I didn't find particularly interesting in Life Class, but this time Barker has given me some very important and intriguing glimpses into her family life, and I am finding Elinor immensely compelling so far. And, as always, I love reading Barker for her brilliant way with detail. So subtle, so nimble--the way each tiny, meticulously chosen observation lights up a scene.
Tags: hermann hesse, pat barker
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