Reading Diary: Feb. 5-Feb. 11

cover159135-mediumThe Warlow Experiment, by Alix Nathan: Nathan’s novel is based on a true story: in 1793, a Mr. Powyss offered £50 a year for life to any man who would undertake to live in solitary confinement underground for seven years, without cutting his nails, hair, or beard, keeping a journal of his thoughts. The advertisement was answered by one man, a labourer with a wife and a large number of children. Nathan skillfully integrates the class upheaval occurring in England at the time, and the voice of John Warlow, the semi-literate ploughman who takes up the offer, is poignantly and viscerally rendered. Out in July and not to be missed.

61aijqs-bml._sx323_bo1204203200_In the Full Light of the Sun, by Clare Clark: Clark’s enormous but addictive new novel fictionalizes an art-world scandal that rocked 1930s Berlin regarding the authenticity (or not) of several dozen recently discovered Van Gogh paintings. Clark’s three point-of-view characters are Emmeline, an aspiring young artist; Julius, an art historian whose reputation is on the line; and Frank, a Jewish defense lawyer. The plot is over-complicated–there are too many names to remember and not enough clarity regarding the details of the fraud–but Clark’s most memorable character, the charismatic and manipulative art dealer Matthias Rachmann, is a real success.

Currently reading: A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, by Siri Hustvedt (a brilliant collection of essays on the mind-body problem, art, and gender relations; she’s one of the most intelligent writers I know), and Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett (which makes an interesting counter-read to the Hustvedt, given that it’s a Clarke Award-winning science fiction planetary romance/exploration drama which also partakes of alarming gender essentialism).

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14 thoughts on “Reading Diary: Feb. 5-Feb. 11

  1. The Warlow Experiment sounds intriguing! Dark Eden is a rare sci-fi book I have loved, probably because of its engagement with theology (like The Sparrow). When I volunteered with Greenbelt, a progressive Christian arts festival, we chose Dark Eden as one of our festival Big Reads. The first sequel, Mother of Eden, does more with the gender dynamic; the second sequel is more about mythmaking and isn’t particularly worth reading.

    • I’m reading Dark Eden very slowly (on my phone), and am only a little way into it, but already the theological stuff is starting to crop up. I think the gender essentialism feels particularly pointed because I read Abigail Nussbaum’s excellent review of it, which is unsparingly observant, but she finds good things in the book as well and so far it’s proving thought-provoking.

      The Warlow Experiment is brilliant. Serpent’s Tail are clearly hoping for another Essex Serpent-type phenomenon, and although the two books are quite different, I also think that The Warlow Experiment is at least as good.

    • It was totally addictive while I was reading; the problem is that the fraud case was a fairly complex legal situation, and Clark is already trying to write about so many other issues that the details get lost. It probably depends on what you want to get out of it – if you’re more interested in the artistic milieu of inter-war Berlin then you’ll probably enjoy it more.

  2. I’ve wanted to read a good plotty literary book about art since Michael Frayn’s Headlong severely disappointed me, so I might try the Clark. I might not read Dark Eden itself, but will certainly check out Abigail’s review!

    • It is really good – the narrative voice switches between Powyss and Warlow, which creates some amazing/tragic dramatic irony as they misunderstand each other almost constantly…

  3. You read such interesting fiction! I’ll have to also add A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women to my list, as it sounds really fascinating — always keen to read books that bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities.

    • Hustvedt is incredibly clever and well-read; I’m having to read it very slowly because the allusions are so dense, but it’s the sort of thing I think you’d really enjoy.

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