Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (novel #178)

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

(translated from the French by Ralph Manheim)


I had tried to lose myself, I hadn’t wanted to be face to face with my own life anymore, but everywhere I kept finding it. ~ Ferdinand Bardamu


The “journey” is that of Ferdinand Bardamu, and courses through the First World War, colonial Africa, the United States, and concluding in the suburbs of Paris, where Bardamu is a doctor. It is semi-autobiographical.


And utterly depressing. Bardamu is a cynic and pessimist, and holds humanity, including himself in contempt. Everything is stupid, worthless, pointless. 


The only person in the book worse than Bardamu is Robinson, a fellow soldier he meets during the war – the two of them trying, and failing to surrender, to avoid further mindlessness of war. Bardamu and Robinson’s paths are fated to cross time and time again – in Africa, in the U.S., and back in Paris. 


My analysis of Céline’s point, though one I admittedly don’t care to waste much time on, I already wasted too much time reading this book, seems to be that life is a journey – a journey of night and darkness, the end of the night is death. The main character, and Céline I presume, consider death a relief from the misery of life. 


Point made – and rejected. Moving on. The first I’ve read by Céline, undoubtedly the last. And the cover's weird.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This novel satisfies “a classic in translation”, in the Back to the Classics 2021 Challenge.




Most people don’t die until the last moment; others start twenty years in advance, sometimes more. Those are the unfortunates.


While the war was still on, the seeds of our hateful peace were being sown.


The plain truth, I may as well admit it, is that I’ve never been really right in the head.


There ought to be some mark by which to distinguish good people from bad.


I’d always worried about being practically empty, about having no serious reason for living. And now, confronted with the facts, I was sure of my individual nullity.


We kid ourselves, people have nothing to say to one another, they all talk about their own troubles and nothing else.


I had cast off all self-respect long ago. That sentiment had always struck me as far above my station, much too costly for my resources. I’d made that sacrifice once and for all and had no regrets whatever. 



Saturday, May 1, 2021

Run for the Roses 2021

I hate to pick the favorite, because it’s too easy, doesn’t pay, and the favorite usually does not win the Kentucky Derby – but in this instance, I have to pick undefeated favorite Essential Quality.



But in defense of my handicapping skill, I’ve been on this horse since he was a 2-year-old, middle-odds runner.


Perfect 6-0 record, including 5 graded stakes wins; versatile – he can stay off the pace, trail the field and close in the stretch, or lead wire-to-wire. Bloodlines – great-great-grandson of Secretariat, and cousin of an ill-fated favorite of mine Qaulity Road.


Esoteric qualities: A beautiful gray – I love the grays, an appealing, lyrical name, and maybe, hopefully, that something unknown. I hope trainer Chad Cox, and jockey Luis Saez get their first Kentucky Derby win in the most exciting 2 minutes in Sport. 


Horses who could beat him: Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, or Highly Motivated

Run for the Roses by Dan Fogelberg


Tuesday, April 13, 2021


It is time for the 26th edition of the Classics Club Spin – List 20 books from my Classics Club TBR, the moderators will pick a random number between 1 - 20, and I have until May 31, 2021 to read the corresponding book. 


I usually have one or two I’m hoping for, but not this time. I’ll be happy with whatever I get. I did something different this time. I came up with my list before looking at anyone else’s but where I found some titles in common, I tied mine to the same number – sort of luck of the draw read-along. (Someone else has done this before – Either Brona or Cleo?)


Also – I’m getting lazy. I didn’t even put the authors, but you know most of these.




1. At Play in the Fields of the Lord

2. The Wonderful Adventure of Nils

3. Rebeca

4. The Loved One

5. Martin Chuzzlewit

6. Our Mutual Friend

7. Dombey and Son

8. Barnaby Rudge

9. Little Dorrit

10. Oliver Twist

11. Hard Times

12. The Collector

13. Murder on the Orient Express

14. The Recognitions

15. The Death of the Heart

16. The Worm Ourboros

17. The Magus

18. Nightmare Abbey

19. Loving

20. Lord Jim

Monday, April 12, 2021

Sybil, or the Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli (novel #177)

There is a whisper rising in this country that Loyalty is not a phrase. Faith not a delusion, and Popular Liberty something more diffusive and substantial than the profane exercise of the sacred rights of sovereignty by political classes.


Sybil, or The Two Nations is a roman à these – a novel with a thesis. I have read that it is an exposé on the deplorable conditions of England’s working class, mid 19thCentury. In my opinion, that is only half-right. I believe the point is more precisely: the unconscionable condition – a condition the ruling elite is culpable for – of the working class and a call to change.


It is also, a Victorian Era romance.


At the time of writing, Benjamin Disraeli was a member of Parliament, who would later become Prime Minister.


Sybil – is the beautiful, intelligent, and virtuous daughter of a labor organizer. She is an ideal.


The Two Nations of the title is best described by one of the novels characters.


“Yes,” resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”




I may be pressing my rights as a reviewer to once more differ from conventional, and more qualified opinion, but I think The Two Nations is neither subtitle, nor alternate title, but rather the single title is: Sybil, or The Two Nations.


I called Sybil the daughter of a labor organizer, but that isn’t quite correct. Walter Gerard is a leader in the Chartist movement. Chartist demands were not merely for labor reform, but also voter and Parliamentary reform. Growing up under his reasoned and eloquent discourse, Sybil has formed a very precise world view.


The quick intelligence and the ardent imagination of Sybil had made her comprehend with fervor the two ideas that had been impressed on her young mind; the oppression of her church and degradation of her people.


In her own words...


The dove and the eagle will not mate; the lion and the lamb will not lie down together; and the conquerors will never rescue the conquered. ~ Sybil


But Sybil’s world view will be challenged by circumstance and the person of Charles Egremont, the younger brother of Lord Marney – hence not the heir – but still from a life of privilege.


Enjoyment, not ambition seemed the principle of his existence.


Charles becomes a member of Parliament, and becomes conscious of the great divide in glorious England.


There are seasons in life when solitude is a necessity; and such a one had now descended on the spirit of the brother of Lord Marney.


One thing I liked about this novel, was that although Disraeli clearly portrays “the people” as the wronged, and more virtuous party, they are not without their own foibles and prejudices. This is most poignant in Sybil herself.


She had seen enough to suspect that the world was a more complicated system than she had preconceived.


Disraeli paints a miserable picture of England’s working class. It is disturbing and heartbreaking. He describes the denizens of one particularly squalid labor town…


Ask them the name of their sovereign, and they will give you an unmeaning stare; ask them the name of their religion, and they will laugh: who rules them on earth, or who can save them in heaven, are alike mysteries to them.


Overall, I enjoyed this novel, and learned a great deal about a historic setting of which I was largely ignorant. Disraeli asserts that this history is indeed somewhat hard to discover.


Generally speaking, all the great events have been distorted, most of the important causes concealed, some of the principal characters never appear, and all who figure are so misunderstood and misrepresented, that the result is a complete mystification, and the perusal of the narrative about as profitable to an Englishman as reading the Republic of Plato or the Utopia of More, The pages of Gaudentio di Lucca or the adventures of Peter Wilkins.


And while his passion and purpose are commendable, the politics were a bit difficult to comprehend. I’m certain it was more accessible at the time. But still the human elements, and the love story were very entertaining. 


My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars


This novel satisfies “a classic by a new to me author” in the Back to the Classics 2021 Challenge.



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (novel #176)

It was those two days more than any other that made me a detective. ~ Easy Rawlins


I didn’t enjoy my last two reads; one was DNF, the other 2 Stars


So, I modified my planned schedule, for something fun and “easy” (pun intended), The main character is Easy Rawlins, the hard-boiled detective in Walter Mosley’s mystery-noir series.


This novel introduces Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, and the caper that accidentally made him a P.I. Easy is an African-American, WWII veteran, living in Los Angeles county late 1940s. Out of work and desperate to make his mortgage, he takes work from a shady character – a not too many questions type of job, to simply find a girl and report her whereabouts. Easy has no training as a private detective, but he is street-wise, tough, and unattached, so he takes the job. The girl, as you might infer from the title, is a femme-fatale, whose association doesn’t seem to do anyone, including Easy, any good.


Easy's character, and this series is considered barrier breaking, with the African American lead – but honestly, it doesn’t read like Mosely is trying to make that point, or force that issue. It’s just good clean fun – well, R-rated at a few points, but quite entertaining.


I ready mostly classics, and this probably cannot be considered classic (maybe someday), mostly because it is fairly recent. In spite of the 1940s setting, it was published in 1990. The setting for the Easy Rawlins series, Mosley’s most popular, continues into the late 1960s. I’ll probably read more in the series, especially when I’m in need of something fun and easy.


My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies a book with an article of clothing in the title, for the What’s in a Name? 2021 challenge. I had to come up with an alternate title, after I threw The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists onto the DNF pile.




By the time the sun went down I was at peace with myself. I had a name, and address, a hundred dollars, and the next day I’d go ask for my old job back. I had a house and an empty bottle of vodka that had made me feel good.




Saturday, March 20, 2021

Journey to the West by Wu Cheng‘en (novel #175)

Journey to the West: The Monkey King’s Amazing Adventures

by Wu Cheng'en

          (translated by Timothy Richard)

Journey to the West is one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels, along with Dream of the Red Chamber, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Water Margin.


It is a highly-fictionalized story of Xuanzang, a 7th Century Buddhist monk, who made a journey from Chang’an China to India, in search of the highest and truest tenets of Buddhism, that he felt had been lost in Chinese Buddhism. It was written in the 16thCentury during the Ming Dynasty by Wu Cheng’en. My version was translated by Timothy Richard, a Welsh Baptist missionary to China in the late 18th, early 20thCentury.


It can be taken as a simple adventure story, but can also be interpreted as an allegory for a pilgrim seeking enlightenment. And while it is primarily about Buddhism, it also asserts “the three religions [Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism] are really one.” 


As I said, it is highly fictionalized. In this story, Xuanzang is accompanied by a monkey, a pig, another monk, and a horse.


As the subtitle suggests, this tale is more about the monkey than Xuanzang. The monkey, Sun Wukon is half-monkey, half-man. He is boastful and powerful in magical combative arts. He can change into just about any form of man or beast, can create hundreds of copies of himself, can grow to 100,000 feet tall, and can travel to Hell or Heaven, or leap across continents. He was imprisoned under a mountain for 500 years, for causing trouble in Heaven. After he is released by Xuanzang, Sun Wukon serves him on his quest.


The pig, Zhu Bajie, was also cast out of Heaven and reborn as half-pig. He is magical, but not nearly so powerful as Sun Wukon. He is a hedonist, and serves Xuanzang for penance. The monk Sha is a disciple of Xuanzang, and the horse is actually a dragon turned into a horse to bear the pilgrims burdens.


They encounter numerous deities and demons on the 14 year journey of nearly 6,000 miles. The demons try to eat Xuanzang to gain immorality. Sun Wukon fights and subdues them, and in the next chapter, the same thing happens again.


You can probably tell I didn’t like it, but I’m glad to have read it for its historical significance. I don’t think I’m qualified to critique though, as I believe much is lost in translation – both literal and cultural translation. Chinese storytelling sometimes employs a technique that doesn’t appeal to my western senses. The narrative of events is often quite abrupt, while the descriptions of persons or objects is excessively ornate.


My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This novel satisfies – classic by a black, indigenous, person-of-color author in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert (novel #174)

You’ve probably never heard of this book, but if I told you it was the basis for the 1971 film Willard, does that ring a bell? Unlike the movie, named for the main character, the novel’s main character is unnamed, though he is later given, and assumes the sobriquet Ratman.


As the title suggests, the story is Ratman’s first person narrative, taken from his own journal, or notebook.


Ratman is a social misfit, living with his mother somewhere in England. His boss, a pompous and condescending jerk, keeps Ratman on, it seems almost for the joy of tormenting him with the knowledge that the company was founded by Ratman’s father, and sold off after his decease. 


Ratman has no friends, until he befriends – wait for it – a colony of rats. One rat in particular, Socrates, is highly intelligent and Ratman finds he is easily trained. Socrates then takes care of training the others. A bit later, Ben, another highly intelligent rat emerges. 


And things just get creepy, and awful, and desperate, and…don’t expect Disney to take up the franchise.


It’s a riveting read though. Gilbert does a wonderful job of causing the reader to empathize, before Ratman starts making creepy, awful, desperate use of his army of trained rats. 


Of course they that live by the….???...rat???…well, that would be a spoiler. 


Overall, I liked it…or more precisely found it riveting. It’s a pretty far-fetched tale. I have no problem suspending disbelief for a good story, but there was one thing I found ridiculous. There is plausible explanation for how Ratman discovered the rat’s intelligence and how he trained them. But somehow Ben…learns to READ…on his own. That was a major weakness in the plot for me. 


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This novel satisfies a classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title, for the Back to the Classics 2021 Challenge, and a title with a possessive noun, for the What’s in a Name? 2021 Challenge.


I vaguely remember the movie, which was pretty creepy, and awful, and desperate. But, as far as I can remember, it omitted the reading rat, which may explain why the movie did better than the book. There is a sequel to the movie, titled Ben, but it wasn’t such a great flick. However, Michael Jackson performed and recorded the title song: Ben. Only Michael Jackson could make a hit song about a rat.