Monday Night Ramblings: Novels and Journals

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I finally started Sofi Oksanen’s Quand les colombres disparurent, her fourth novel and the third one translated in French. Similarly to the other two, it is in part set in Estonia and chronicles the lives of ordinary people dealing with extraordinarily difficult life circumstances.

I have also started Hess by Per Olov Enquist which is so far rather a difficult read. It is based on the life of the Nazi Rudolf Hess. So both novels are somewhat political.

I am finally at the half-way mark in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, after over 15 hours of reading. That is quite a large book… The heroine, Emilie St. Aubert, is still in the clutches of her uncle, Mr. Montoni, a virtual prisoner at Castle Udolpho in the Appenines. The mystery is quite thick at this point. We don’t know what Montoni is up to, besides trying to scare his wife, Emily’s aunt, into letting all her wealth come into his possession. We have seen earlier that he squandered his whole fortune gambling, but at Castle Udolpho, he seems to be up to something rather more sinister, given the company he keeps. Emily also feels threatened by his behavior and fears for her life. The castle also scares her: mysterious passageways, strange guests, unexplainable noises in the night… Many things are causing to freeze in place or collapse  completely. The author describes Emilie’s state of mind and its many variations in quite a lot of detail.

One of the most fascinating reads I got into lately is the special summer issue of the French magazine Books about journals (http://www.books.fr/archives/numero-45/). It features reviews of a number of journals by people who were not necessarily famous yet no less interesting observers of life around them. The journals reviewed vary in terms of historical period (Antiquity to our times) and locations (England, Germany, Japan, China, Russia, United States, etc.). Some people only wrote a journal at critical times in their lives, while for others it was a life-long endeavour. I was surprised by the extent to which some people tried to ensure the privacy of their writings by encoding some of it. Why would someone feel compelled to write down details of their lives and opinions only to conceal them? Given that the act of writing can very well assist in clarifying one’s thoughts, it may be how these people made sense of their own actions and of the events in their lives and may still not have wanted to have others read them. Certainly some have had journals discovered and seized and were punished for their contents.

Many novels feature fictional journal extracts or are themselves journal. This is the case with the Sofi Oksanen novel. A journal was a significant part of Lars Gustafson’s Death of the Beekeeper. What other novels do you know of where that is the case?

 

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