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100 Greatest Novels: The Sheltering Sky, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Ginger Man & The Magnificent Amberson

Here it is! The final 100 Greatest Novels post! Can you believe it? I can’t. These last four novels bring us to the final. I posted the blog introducing this idea almost 4 years ago. We completed the first novel, Ulysses, and posted the blog in August 2012. We finished the first 50 books with Tropic of Cancer, the blog being posted on April 2014. So that brings us to today with the last four books. Let’s get to it.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

ShelteringSkyThis novel shows that the idea of American tourist not knowing what the hell they’re doing in foreign countries isn’t new. The story follows an American couple from New York who travel to North Africa with a friend. The story starts off delving into the marital issues of the couple. They both want to get the spark in their relationship back but both are waiting for the other to make the move. They’re both desiring more while being complacent with how things are. But as the story progresses, their story somewhat takes the back-burner to the events around them. They’re interactions with the world around them become more and more dangerous as they get farther and farther from “civilization.” Interspersed throughout the story is incredibly moving descriptions of the Sahara Desert and the villages they come across.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cain_The_Postman_Always_Rings_TwiceIf you like quick reads and/or crime novels, this is the book for you. Around 100 pages, you can knock this one out in an afternoon. I never figured out what the longish title meant but I did really enjoy this short book. The story follows Frank Chambers, a man who roams around California. He stops at a diner and ends up working for the Greek man that owns it. Soon Chambers strikes up a relationship with the owner’s wife. It’s a tumultuous, passionate affair. Soon they come up with an idea to get rid of the husband and have a life together. When that fails, they try another plan. And then things start getting unnecessarily complex. Let’s just say the story ends with one of them on death row…

The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

220px-GingerManThis fun novel was one of those stories where you almost hate the main character the whole time but love reading about him. Sebastian Dangerfield is an American student of law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He’s lazy, usually drunk and is horrible to his English wife and child. He spends all their rent money, he tries (and sometimes succeeds) to sleep with every woman that catches his eye. Him and all his friends are struggling to make their way in life, running out of money and wanting wives and wealth to just fall in their lap. The story was a crazy ride through pubs and cities and bedrooms and fights and screaming landlords. I heard a rumor that they’re making this into a movie starring Johnny Depp. I could get into that. It would be a lot of fun too watch. The only problem, he’s not ginger.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

TheMagnificentAmbersonsThis was a great book to end the list on. Not life changing, but a really solid read. The story follows the Amberson family through their rise and fall leading into the Industrial age of the American midwest. Focusing on the grandson of the patriarch, George Amberson Minafar, we see what happens when somebody grows up with wealth and position and no understanding of why. George’s arrogance and position blinds him to what’s going on around him. And through him falling in love with a young lady, and his mother falling in love with her father, we see the Amberson fortune be swept away by the rising tide of industrialism. The book does a great job of portraying this idea in so many ways. They actual health and wellbeing of the family, the quality of the houses they live in, the importance of the neighborhood they reside in and the modes of transportation they choose to use. All these aspects of the Ambersons show how they miss the oncoming transformation of the world and what happens because of this. And it’s all masterly done by Booth Tarkington.

I finished this book on the train to work last Friday morning. Tears came to my eyes when I read the last words. I’m not sure if it was because of the beautiful ending to the book or because of me finishing the last novel in this large task of reading the 100 greatest novels.

Either way, I did it. We did it. Thanks for being with me these past four years. Onto the next project…

 

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Rainbow, Women in Love, & Tropic of Cancer

These next three novels have much in common. The first two were written by D. H. Lawrence with Women in Love being somewhat of a sequel to The Rainbow. The first Lawrence novel and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were both banned and put on trial for obscenity. The Rainbow was prosecuted in 1915 which led to all copies being seized and burnt and the novel not being available in England for 11 years! Tropic of Cancer was originally published in France in 1934. The U.S. immediately banned the novel from being imported into the country. After numerous smuggling cases, the novel was declared obscene by multiple courts in the 50s. Finally being legally published in 1961, the novel was the subject of obscenity trials in 21 states. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Supreme Court overruled all the state court findings of the novel being obscene. What an impressive amount of censorship these three novels led to. But let’s get to what I thought of the content, not the controversy.

200px-RainbowcoverThe Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

This novel is a large book spanning multiple generations of the Brangwen family starting in the mid 1800s. The story starts with the farming family that has little knowledge of the world beyond their city. As the generations go by and England becomes more modern and industrialized, the members of the family become more worldly and experienced. The first few sections of the novel deals with the relationships between husband and wife and parent and children through the generations. Most of the Brangwen family are simple speakers so as readers we follow the struggles through the characters’ thoughts. Depending on the chapter and the section, we get different points of view from different characters. The last and longest section follows Ursula, the third generation of the family the novel deals with. We see her deal with growing up in a small town on the cusp of modernization because of the coalmines. She struggles with finding her passion, her understanding of love, and her position in life. While the novel can seem somewhat longwinded in places, all the characters and struggles are very interesting and makes you want to keep reading. Even with it’s controversial history, the novel deals with sex and sensuality incredibly tamely (at least to our modern senses) but does a beautiful job of describing the emotional war that can be waged inside a relationship: sexual, familial, or professional.

WomenInLoveWomen in Love by D. H. Lawrence

This novel is considered a sequel to The Rainbow but holds its own as a standalone novel. Following Ursula and her younger sister Gundrun, the story deals with a completely new set of characters (except for a few short appearances of the sisters’ parents). There are two main differences between this and the previous novel. First, unlike the internal dialogues of The Rainbow, the characters in this story spend a lot of time philosophizing and arguing with each other. Conversation plays a larger role so we see the struggles and emotions of the first novel actually played out in the events. Which brings us to the second difference, a plot. Women in Love actually has one. Numerous events happen in the coalmine-driven cities while we watch the relationship between the two sisters and their respective attractions, Birkin and Gerald. While the reader should enjoy the growth and conflicts of their relationship, what makes this novel great is the ever-changing backdrop of industrialized England. Gerald is a coalmine heir who controls a vast industry. There is one section that follows the history of Gerald’s family, their ownership of the coalmine, and their struggles with the coalminers themselves. This passage is beautiful and depressing and is a great depiction of labor issues from the viewpoints of the laborers and the owners. While I enjoyed the whole novel and would recommend it to many, this passage is what will keep with me.

220px-TropicOfCancerTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

After reading this novel, it’s pretty laughable that the previous two novels were ever banned. Some of the events described among the pages make The Rainbow seem like a Disney movie. Here’s an example. Warning, very graphic language. But what made this novel such an enjoyable read is that Miller can go from minutely describing the anatomy of a prostitute to writing poetic passages that are “an immersive meditation on the human condition.” Here’s how Miller describes the book in the first few pages:

This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse. …

How can you argue with a description like that? Some believe that this novel’s challenge to censorship and free speech in art is why we have the freedom of artistic license in today’s literature. I don’t know how true this is but I can believe this novel push enough buttons to force a change, or a reflection in the art world.

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And now we are officially at the halfway mark!! 50 novels down, 50 to go. Can you believe it?

 

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