So as we continue onwards we’re starting in the second half of the 100 greatest novels. It’s been a long and exciting adventure through some great literature and I’m looking forward to seeing what the back 50 has for us. Anyways, let’s get to it.
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
It’s been a while since we’ve come across a war novel and this was a great one to get back into them. I have yet to read anything by Norman Mailer and I really enjoyed this novel. Based on his experiences in World War II, the novel follows a regiment during a campaign to control an island from the Japanese. The story jumps between a group of men making up the reconnaissance team and the high command on the island. This lets us see the events as they unfold from the men doing the fighting and from the men making the decisions and shows us how events affected each group of men. There’s not really any characters I really loved so none of the deaths had much emotional effect on the reader except for how the death affected the other characters. Other than that, the novel was a great war novel that had the right amount of humor, intensity, exasperation, and frustration you’d except from an event like that.
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Now this was an interesting novel. As controversial as Tropic of Cancer, it was less crass and more hilarious. The older narrator tells the story of his childhood and growing up as Jewish in the 1940s and 50s and the sexual frustration and experimentation he dealt with because of his childhood. Most of his “complaints” are directed towards his parents and how he was raised. Through the novel, we come across some hilarious scenes. The whole second chapter is about masturbation and the different devices he used to aid himself. Yes, it’s as hilarious and disgusting and inappropriate as you’d expect it to be. The novel does present to us great examples of how there were still anti-Semitic feelings in American during and after World War II, no matter what events were taking place in Europe. Also, this novel does have some autobiographical elements even though the author never readily admitted to it. So take that as you wish.
I loved this novel and was ready for something like this. It’s been a while since there was a book on this list that was written differently, broke the rules of the standard novel structure. A good story is a good story, a good character is a good character, but an interestingly written novel (especially combined with the other two) can be life-changing. And we already know that Nabokov can write. Oh, can he write. So what was so interesting about this novel? Instead of a linear story told from some narrator, the story was laid out like this: a 999-line poem by a fictional poet John Shade with a forward and a lengthy notes section (the majority of the book) written and edited by Shade’s neighbor and academic colleague, Charles Kinbote. Throughout the notes to the poem, we get little insight into the poem but more of the story of Kinbote. Although the story is worth telling, using the notes to the poem to tell his own story comes across as fairly selfish. Which I think it’s supposed to. Anyways, this is just a lovely novel written in such a creative and inventive way. After reading this and Nabokov’s Lolita, I just want to sit down and read everything of his. And English wasn’t even his first language!!!
Just keep going. Next is Light in August by William Faulkner.