December 26, 2012
The great books Spectator writers and others hate (The Spectator, 21 December 2012)
Susan HillIt could easily have been War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov but I plan to have another bash at those so I'm keeping them in reserve. Since I was 18 I have been told I should read Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu by people who knew all seven volumes by heart and loved every line. You cannot, it seems, be lukewarm about Proust. Knowing that love of it is a badge of honour, and mark of a finely attuned and appreciative literary mind, I have tried eversomany times to get beyond Book One. Indeed, I have probably read Book One more often than I have read Great Expectations, which is saying something. I have even plucked Volume Three or Seven, off the shelf and tried to start there, so please don't judge me, or tell me I haven't given it a chance. It's no good. I find the endless sentences distancing, the people without interest. I cannot care about upper-class French people of the 19th century. Mea culpa, of course. My loss too. But if I have not managed to find the key by the age of 70, I guess I never will. I am denied any enjoyment of Proust's great novel and there it is. I tried to find one word to sum up how it seems to me. The word is 'anaemic'. [...]If you can't get beyond half a dozen pages of On The Road at the age of 18 it's unlikely that you will later in life. I have, however, on a couple of occasions punished myself by pressing on and coming to the benevolent conclusion that it must possess some sort of sociological importance that is extra-literary. 'It defines a generation' -- that sort of tosh. Of course it doesn't. Like all of the beats, with the exception of Burroughs, Jack Kerouac was an artless, undisciplined, unfunny solipsist wrapped in a mantle of cosy outsiderness, comforting self-pity and snug alienation.
Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2012 8:33 AM