Modern literature and I have always been at odds. It continues to be extraordinary (so I hear), and I continue to be unable to commit to it. I’ve tried Faulkner, Pynchon, Oates, and others and just haven’t been able to get into the sort of headspace where I can fall into the storyline the way I can with most other books.
So I read Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea over the weekend. I’d heard great things about it. It’s well reviewed in literary circles, and brought Rhys a lot of acclaim when it was published, but I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out a) from which character’s point of view I was seeing events unfold, and b) where I was in the time scale of the story. And I’ll admit it: I only finished the book because it was relatively short. It reminded me of those times when I was sick last winter and fell asleep on the couch with a movie still playing on the TV. I would go in and out of sleep, and my dreams would merge with the events of the movie until I couldn’t figure out if I was awake or dreaming. It was stressful, confusing, and served to make me that much more miserable.
Maybe that was the point of the whole thing- to keep the reader confused about the events and experience what it’s like to go mad. It’s supposed to be about Mr. Rochester’s insane first wife- the woman in the attic from Jane Eyre. But for me, it was a frustrating adventure in literature.
I’ll keep dipping my toe into the pool of modern literature, but I have a feeling that I’ll never be able to come to an accord with it. Sometimes there’s a branch of work that a person will never warm to, and I have a feeling that mid- to late Twentieth century lit and I will never see eye to eye.
In other news, I decided not to read Bradford’s Lucrezia Borgia. I got a few pages in, and my brain went “Nope. We’re done with this family for now”. So I took it back to the library. While I was there I found Thomas F. Madden’s Venice: A New History and Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. I’m about halfway through Venice, and so far it’s been pretty interesting. I’ve always been curious about Venice, but never delved into its history. This is sort of a survey from the city’s earliest roots in the 400s into the beginning of the 20th century. I’ve reached the late 1200s, and have learned a lot about the power struggle between the Western Roman Empire (or its remnants) and the Byzantine empire, and the role Venice played in the fates of both.