Catching Up

First up is Tatyana Tolstaya’s White Walls and Other Stories, which is an anthology of short stories. This was one of my random finds – I was searching for Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but stumbled upon this instead. A pleasant surprise.

From Goodreads –
“Tolstaya carves indelible people who roam the imagination long after the book is put down.” –Time

Tatyana Tolstaya’s short stories—with their unpredictable fairy-tale plots, appealingly eccentric characters, and stylistic abundance and flair—established her in the 1980s as one of modern Russia’s finest writers. Since then her work has been translated throughout the world. Edna O’Brien has called Tolstaya “an enchantress.” Anita Desai has spoken of her work’s “richness and ardent life.” Mixing heartbreak and humor, dizzying flights of fantasy and plunging descents to earth, Tolstaya is the natural successor in a great Russian literary lineage that includes Gogol, Yuri Olesha, Bulgakov, and Nabokov.

White Walls is the most comprehensive collection of Tolstaya’s short fiction to be published in English so far. It presents the contents of her two previous collections, On the Golden Porch and Sleepwalker in a Fog, along with several previously uncollected stories. Tolstaya writes of lonely children and lost love, of philosophers of the absurd and poets working as janitors, of angels and halfwits. She shows how the extraordinary will suddenly erupt in the midst of ordinary life, as she explores the human condition with a matchless combination of unbound imagination and unapologetic sympathy.

It’s a wonderful collection of stories, very evocative. Can’t stand most short stories, but I enjoyed all of Tatyana’s.

Next is Between the Acts, by Virginia Woolf. Now, I’d only read one Woolf novel before this one, but that one novel happened to be a particularly good one (Mrs Dalloway), and so I’ve been a fan of hers ever since.

Between the Acts is quite an interesting novel – it’s the last one she ever wrote, and apparently was published posthumously, in its incomplete state, by Leonard Woolf. It’s certainly not one of Woolf’s more ambitious works. That is, it’s not bold in any sense – although her books rarely are. Like Mrs Dalloway, it has a nice flow; it’s quiet, and pleasant to read. She described it as the most ‘quintessential’ of her novels. See, what I liked about this book was that it quivered with fraility and with anticipation. Here are the characters sitting , and the whole of English society, I suppose, poised in a balancing act between two completely different ways of life. They were once a part of Victorian Era England, with its large, sprawling colonies and inconquerable power, and suddenly after WWI, they’re plunged into a period of uncertainty. England is no longer as powerful as it once was; another war simmers on the horizon… The whole book resonates with the sense that something – their way of life? – is drawing to an end, and I think there’s something immensely sad and beautiful and powerful about it all. In that sense, Between the Acts is the most quintessential of her works. This novel is the embodiment – the pure, concentrated essence – of the uncertainty of 1930s-40s England.

I can see why some don’t like Woolf, but thing is, I’m not really a plot girl. I’d much rather enjoy a well-crafted piece of writing than plough through a badly written book with a superb plot. In the end, I think it’s true that the plot is rather blah, and most of the characters are unremarkable/dislikeable, but I still enjoyed it because of the prose. It’s a beautifully written book.

Moving on, there’s also the diary of Virginia Woolf, which I thought was absolutely wonderful. Not only because I like Woolf, but just seeing into a writer’s mind, and reading their everyday thoughts – just wow. I’ve only flicked through it and read snippets, but sometime in the near future, I’ll definitely sit down and read through it all. I wonder whether she would have wanted people to read her diary; whether she decided she wanted them to be published before she died, or if her husband just went ahead and did it, but it’s a great read regardless. Every fan of Woolf should read it, devour it.


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