Beautiful Sentences: The TLS

If book reviews are a guilty pleasure of yours, as they are for me, The Times Literary Supplement is a high quality, high value supplier. Beautiful sentences, bracing opinions.

To wit a couple of nice bits from recent issues:

1) a (likely very just) takedown of Tom Wolfe’s latest doorstop:

Back to Blood is certainly vast, and full of generous description of social existence in the “Immigration City” of Miami. Yet it also is largely lacking in artistic merit, empathy and any vestige of beautiful writing.

In the beautiful writing category: check out this lead paragraph from a review of a new novel by Ronald Frame. It’s the reviewer, rather than the novelist, I want to hear more from…

Miss Havisham’s story is well known and briefly told: well known since briefly told by Herbert Pocket to the teenaged Pip in Chapter 22 of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Over their first meal together, between tactful hints to the low-born Pip not to put his knife in his mouth or to use his spoon “over-hand”, Herbert recounts Miss Havisham’s back-story. Resented by her wastrel stepbrother, betrayed and jilted by her con-artist lover before either Herbert or Pip were born, the proud heiress of a brewing empire stalks their imaginations as she does ours: the ageing recluse, shunning daylight, in her rotting wedding gown amid her rotting bridal feast. Miss Havisham has become a byword for trauma: the psychological wounding that compels its victims to tour painfully round and round the scene of the psychic crime, never able to move on, never coming to terms with what Derrida called the “unexperienced experience”. In Dickens, she is a vivid grotesque whose intensity and hypnotic power are in no small measure a function of her absolute pulsating stuckness in a single moment, a single sunless setting. The same is true of the innumerable versions and revisions of the Havisham story, from David Lean’s film Great Expectations (1946) and Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), to Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Havisham” (1998) and, most recently, screen performances by Gillian Anderson and Helena Bonham Carter. Few figures in literature or film are so singular, so completely identified with one location, one set of props and costumes, one palette of lighting, one repertoire of gestures, one vengeful desire (“Beggar him”, she tells her ward, Estella). She is a living, livid scar.

Brought to mind a theatrical presentation of GE I was in at my Montessori-lite middle school. All the kids in my year were boys, so a boy played an eye-rolling, somewhat campy, and yet  ever-so-creepy Miss Havisham.

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