Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Alrightreads: Cathedrals

Last year, I mostly read short stories that amounted to around 1,000 pages per writer. This year, I decided to read lengthy single works of around 1,000 pages each instead.

Then I realised I didn't really want to do that, outside of a couple of intriguing yet intimidating books I've been putting off. So sometimes/mostly, it'll be a few shorter but still hopefully substantial things making up that arbitrary total, hung loosely off a theme or something.

I've already read Ken Follett's heavy cathedral novel The Pillars of the Earth (a decade ago, in an attempt to impress a girl who liked it). Here are some other books about cathedrals.

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris)

1831 / Audiobook / 592 pages / France


When I studied literature at university, my choice of modules was mainly dictated by avoiding overlong and clich├ęd Romantic and Victorian novels like cholera. I've tried to read Dickens a couple of times since, but even in passive audiobook form it's been a chore. But this one – which seemed to be a Gothic quasi-horror story largely set in a cathedral – was intriguing enough to commit to. I don't mind being bored when it's atmospheric.

It's absurdly padded with digressive essays on the decline of Gothic architecture, the barbarism of medieval justice and other opinionated topics that really belong in supplementary journals where students writing essays about the novel can track them down, rather than interrupting the already dawdling story every other chapter for the rest of us, and Hugo's innovative subversion of convention is cancelled out by his reliance on fairy-tale coincidence elsewhere, but the surprisingly grim ending tipped it in my favour. I haven't seen Disney's version, but I'm going to guess they didn't close on the cradling skeletons motif.

T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

1935 / Ebook / 88 pages / USA


Eliot was presumably making a meaningful political point by dredging up this 750-year-old crime when he did. But since you can find parallels to current affairs anywhen and anywhere, the murder of Thomas Beckett was probably just something he wanted to write anyway.

Since I don't normally read or attend verse plays for fun (unless some cheapskate events site offers single press tickets to shoddy Fringe productions in exchange for befuddled reviews), I didn't get a lot out of it. The scene-setting chorus overtures are nice and poetic with memorable lines, it's a shame the dialogue and plot kept interrupting them, really.

William Golding, The Spire

1964 / Audiobook / 223 pages / UK


Style is usually enough to win me over for want of substance, but this just bored me throughout. Books that trap me in someone's deranged mind can go either way, and I found the hubristic Dean intolerable. Which is the point, but I just wanted to get it over with. It's clever, but so are a lot of things I'm not interested in reading.

Philip K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer

1969 / Ebook / 144 pages / USA


These stupid, self-imposed reading challenges pay off sometimes. Outside of an epic PKD marathon, I probably never would have encountered this obscure delight if it didn't have this fortnight's keyword in it.

We're in similar dystopian doldrums to Dick's previous, more famous novel, only with a more sarcastically satirical bent (unless Do Androids... was funny too, but that aspect went over my head at 16). A fixer of broken pottery living in a broken future follows his predestined Hero's Journey to Sirius V, summoned by a senile elemental being to help raise a sunken cathedral up from the hellish depths. What drugs was this guy on?!? All of them.

It's not one of PKD's most inspired or insightful tales, but I had fun.

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