July 30, 2012

three-bullet book review

The Time In Between by David Bergen (2006)

  • emphasizes that visiting a place does not mean you know that place
  • beautifully explores the unmappable spaces of grief and loss
  • combines intellectual inquiry (memory, trauma, mourning) with lush, tactile description (a typhoon, fresh bread, thin wrists)

Yes. Despite dealing with painful subjects (war and death), The Time in Between is a smooth, fluid read. It hits all the notes: family, love, sex, travel, war, politics. It's a solid summer holiday book, if you want something lovely but not fluffy, though be forewarned that this book is full of moisture and will make you crave Vietnamese food. Best read in a dry climate or with help from an air conditioner, somewhere with easy striking distance of pho, bun and strong coffee.

May 14, 2012

three-bullet book review

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst (2011)

  • Follows fictional First World War poet Cecil Valance through juvenilia, initial fame, early death, canonization, standardization, neglect and revival.
  • Casts aspersions on the intent, utility and reliability of literary history, especially biographical criticism and literary memoir.
  • Hollinghurst's fictional reconstructions of English queer history neatly maps the closet's shifting borders, though I find I still prefer Sarah Waters. 


Yes, if the basic premise intrigues you. I liked it much better than his previous books which, though well written, failed to make me care about affluent white gay young men in Thatcherite England. In addition to being more up my alley -- war literature! memory! cameos by poets and critics I've studied! -- this has a richer cast of characters, more complex structure, broader scope than his previous books. Even if you don't read it, please enjoy this rather perfect bit: "after quite a lot of drinks you didn't care so much about good manners" (165). True enough.