Book Group: Helen DeWitt's "The Last Samurai" - Discussion Thread

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Hello :-)

It's a four week schedule starting today with subsequent sections starting on consecutive Sundays.

The sections are as follows:

US Edition

week 1: 1-98
week 2: 99-189 [from chapter titled 'i. We never get off at Sloane Square for Nebraska fried chicken']
Week 3: 191-358 [from Donald richie quote, chapter starts '20 march 1993']
Week 4: 358-end [from "i decided not to apply to Oxford to read Classics at the age of 11"]

UK Edition

Week 1: 1-91
Week 2: 92-177
Week 3: 177-327
Week 4: 327- end

This seems a good schedule because we have some light weeks to start off with which will make it possible for anyone who wants to join in a little later to catch up with the rest of us.

Enjoy and start the discussion!

jed_, Sunday, 5 September 2010 14:08 (eight years ago) Permalink

Are we discussing at the beginning if the week as though we've completed the section, or are we just assuming that we all will had completed the section by the beginning of the next week and discussing as we go?

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Sunday, 5 September 2010 16:18 (eight years ago) Permalink

i think we just discuss as we read, i'm not sure actually. can't really work it out myself :/

jed_, Sunday, 5 September 2010 16:27 (eight years ago) Permalink

Reckon post as you read is the best way. If you haven't read it, it might be worth avoiding the thread to avoid spoiler plot/theme/style developments, and then you can join in as and when you feel like it? (never done anything like this before, so just guessing how it might go here)

GamalielRatsey, Sunday, 5 September 2010 17:50 (eight years ago) Permalink

sounds about right to me. i can't imagine there will be many spoilers in this really. not in the first two weeks anyway.

jed_, Sunday, 5 September 2010 18:44 (eight years ago) Permalink

That must be the way to do it - the most enthusiastic readers will be pushing up against the reasonably leisurely timescale quite soon, and we need to let them start venting lest they race away without us and we get no discussion at all.

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 5 September 2010 18:45 (eight years ago) Permalink

ok, so:


How Sibylla’s father met her mother, and how he went to a second-rate theological school (thus blowing his previous admission to Harvard) at his Methodist minister father’s behest to ‘give the other side a chance’.

Her father was an atheist and her mother was a pianist who wasn’t allowed to be a musician by her exacting Viennese father.

i —Let’s make bamboo spears! Let’s kill all the bandits!
—You can’t.
—That’s impossible.

[Summary of The Seven Samurai]

1 Do Samurai Speak Penguin Japanese?

The narrator, Sibylla, is writing the story of how she came to leave academia at the age of 23, take a data-entry job, and give birth to a son, L (Ludo, Ludoviticus), whose already evident genius seems to be her reason for writing for posterity.

While she re-types old magazine articles L learns words on flash cards, reads books while asking his mother to explain words he doesn’t know, and re-watches The Seven Samurai, which his mother hopes will supply him with a father figure, while he reads the subtitles. He is anxious to learn the syllabaries for Japanese and to learn Greek; his mother makes a deal with him to read a number of other books, including the Odyssey (in English), before she will start.

On a day in 1986 that Sibylla is nudged into going to a party as a favor to someone at her work (a publisher), she buys Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony and reads it rapturously, then talks everyone’s ear off at the party about it. Eventually the famous writer everyone had expected shows up, Liberace (no not the), and eventually Sibylla and Liberace make it back to his place and despite her contempt for him she eventually moves in on him and sleeps with him to shut him up. (She has never, as of the time of writing, told him about Ludo.)


Sibylla continues the story of her family: how her mother stood up to her grandfather and went to the Julliard to demand an audition, somewhat embarrassed herself but impressed the auditor enough to be given advice for how to practice until she was ready for a real audition, and then returned home to practice an annoying exercise for months until she eventually took up practicing in Sibylla’s father’s motel (the property he had bought under advice from the man he beat at pool in the prologue).

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 08:06 (eight years ago) Permalink

i'm not sure what i think about sibylla. she's an extremely well-observed character—i feel like i've met plenty of people (in and around academia!) like her before, and now surely read blogs by sibyllas with that same kind of combination of fascination with intellectual minutiae; wild swings in interest and attention; contempt for others (check the charge of people making 'logical fallacies', always a slightly suspect sign); and conception of the purity of her love for what populates her intellectual world.

besides translation, the proper use and development of talent is obviously a theme. it's been a long time since i've seen 'the seven samurai', so apart from the bits on it in the story i don't know, but it does seem as if apart from the expressed purpose of giving L. some male role models (ha), there's some connection between the talents of the figures in the story (sibylla's father and mother, her, L, others) and the way the samurai act about fighting and their swordsmanship. it would seem that sibylla sort of fancies herself as more noble or purely devoted to… whatever, to language or translation or marvelous things, because she chose to leave oxford and not 'contribute to human knowledge'. but in terms of the story it's not clear what that means for her own talent. it might have been developed further or used to some benefit before she had L, but the story suggests that she was just doing office work and amusing herself in her spare time. after she has L, and scraping out a living as a freelance data-entrant (after being downsized out of the secretary's job at the publisher?), it seems unlikely that she's putting much into developing or using her talent, EXCEPT in raising her little genius. obviously a lot of that comes from him, but because of her family history with talented people's wasted talents, we might suspect that she sees this as her opportunity to make what she can of hers.

she seems like a little bit of a pseud.

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 08:24 (eight years ago) Permalink

"after she has L, and scraping out a living as a freelance data-entrant (after being downsized out of the secretary's job at the publisher?"

i assumed this was a single-mother issue ... ?

thomp, Monday, 6 September 2010 15:04 (eight years ago) Permalink

(also ludo is reading the odyssey in greek, surely? he's asking about words and copying them onto index cards. also reading bits of the bible in hebrew.)

i started this properly this morning and got to the end of the first chunk without really wanting to stop, but had to go to work and do some other things. it's pretty good! compulsive! better than the last three things i read!

but also it's kind of, i don't know ... if it manages to be any larger than it already is i'll be surprised. (action of the novel so far = a woman watches a movie with her kid)

how seriously do we take sibylla's notion about how language in books ought to work? i mean - is that the plan of the novel we're reading, or is that novel a gesture towards it, or is it a passing idea which merely demonstrates some similarity with the novel we happen to be reading?

thomp, Monday, 6 September 2010 15:08 (eight years ago) Permalink

also i do not like the names - characters called sibyl and ludo make the part of my brain that knows what these words mean clam up defensively and refuse to actually deal with that sort of thing and whatever relevance it might hold

thomp, Monday, 6 September 2010 15:08 (eight years ago) Permalink

just finished the prologue, some initial observations:

struck me as interesting the way the narrator's grandfather is referenced: - in fact the first sentence makes it quite explicit, right? "my father's father," not "my grandfather." and in the first few pages the agency of the grandfather is seemingly removed - 'something' speaks through him, 'the beautiful voice' - what is the point of the metonymy? is it meant to emphasize the influence the grandfather has over the father - that he sees his father as some kind of divinity, perhaps, until the grandfather's advice strands him at the theological college with no future. at that point in the narrative, he reverts back to being a grandfather.

also find the repetition of the first few pages interesting - almost like a retelling of the three little pigs - and the progression from head -> dean -> deputy dean. and the parallelism between the narrator's father's story and buddy's. also the irony that his biggest influence during theological school is a would-be rabbi from the synagogue.

grandma: smells and textures :: 180 (dayo), Monday, 6 September 2010 15:44 (eight years ago) Permalink

also, can't help but spitball at the significance of the seven samurai review inserted before the first chapter - number crunching & some slight stretching generates a tenuous link between those who have given up their dreams (buddy & his 2 sisters/1 brother) and those who haven't (the narrator's father, mother, and presumably herself) - similar to the three samurai left after the attack - and gives the title of the book more...foreshadowing power.

well, I suppose I should read more before I spout off through the ass. quick read so far, think the 140-ish page a week schedule is actually quite quite doable.

grandma: smells and textures :: 180 (dayo), Monday, 6 September 2010 15:51 (eight years ago) Permalink

i'll be starting the thread for smartasses who have already finished it by the end of the week, probably

thomp, Monday, 6 September 2010 15:57 (eight years ago) Permalink

thom, i'm not sure about her job because i didn't notice any mention of the switch. her job with the publisher was as a secretary, but then she says they'd received word that they'd been acquired and everyone's jobs were safe, which they assumed meant most people would be let go. i assumed she was working for someone else now. but needing a different job because of L makes sense.

i sort of think that all the names are sibylla's doing, including hers and ludo's—look at how habitually she turns other people into translations of renowned people (liberace, lord leighton). so if they Mean Something they mean it mainly through the lens of her character.

i've guessed that to the extent that we're supposed to take her ideas about language seriously, she herself doesn't think they're all that choate, or that the book she's writing demonstrates the kind of thing she was imagining during the party. it seems as if maybe she could think ludo is the one who will be able to write a book fulfilling her vision.

according to the plan ludo must have been reading the odyssey in translation but he gets done with his assignment so fast, or else he breaks down sibylla's resistance to teaching him any greek before he's actually at that point, that it seems like soon he must be reading it in greek.

(speaking of which, the only greek i have comes from reading epictetus with a teacher a couple summers ago. but since i learned 'and' = 'kai', i could make out its appearance in the numeric prefixes when ludo was running through the '-syllabic' sequence, that was pretty cool.)

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 17:31 (eight years ago) Permalink

dayo, doesn't sibylla's mother sort of trail off from practicing? or would you count her opposition to her father as the main thing?

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 17:33 (eight years ago) Permalink

ah damn I didn't look at ILX again after ledge worked out his reading at 120 pgs a week. And this i what i have read today. But I'll read up to 198pp on Sunday.

A few bits and bobs:

- I thought her job was data entry because its about 7 quid an hour right? Secretaries get a much better rate. lol.

- Terrific posts so far: the development of talent as a theme is very well put. V striking how the narrator talks of Mozart's sister who got the exact same education but got nowhere with her music as 'proof' that women were no good at it. The scenes of L reading/learning on public transport remind me of a time when I was observing a father, on a Sunday, reading to his child about human biology, but the child was getting quite upset and not in the mood and making a scene on the train. V bizarre thing I would forget until a time like this!

- But in terms of using Seven Samurai as nurturing device I thought it was not only about providing a male model but also a model of how a group interact and work together on a goal, of providing a model of wider social interaction. L does not seem to have friends, and spends all his time with mother. (what his age? Love this...thought it quite er, Proustian how I couldn't work out whether he was 3 or 6 or a nearly fully formed adult until he would dialogue and it would be all choppy bits of 'I read THIS (a), then THIS (b), then THIS (c), etc. and again the scenes of the child and mother reading, talking, arguing all went back to The Way by Swann's)

- Great bits of high/low cult: Liberace (no not the...yeah right!) and Schoenberg inhabiting the same world (she thought of Schoenberg as a genius, but she slept with Liberace!).

- The audition scene was wonderful.

- A couple more things but as those might be 20 pages ahead I'll stop and start again next week.

- to the add to the way its written: the shifts from normal punctuation to no punctuation. Must go back for a 2nd look.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 6 September 2010 18:39 (eight years ago) Permalink

Not sure if Sibylla gets into this yet, but so far as I can tell this

model of how a group interact and work together on a goal

is a big part of it. Part of the concern about a lack of strong role models for Sibylla is that without a rigid code of honour or structure for L's intellect to be contained by or guided by, he could end up an amoral genius - there's a bit about throwing people out of planes in Argentina or something? Need to find time to scan over this section again. The importance of moral and aesthetic distinction is big for Sibylla, and how meaning is ascribed to actions. (There are people who think contraception is immoral because the object of copulation is procreation.) (And also, the importance of social niceties, re: how she ends up sleeping with Liberace.)

Beauty for its own sake, genius for its own sake, etc. etc. is embarrassing or gauche or whatever - "his fault was not a lack of skill: it is the faultlessness of his skill which makes the paintings embarrassing to watch). Ugh rain on my computer, more thoughts later.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 18:51 (eight years ago) Permalink

Starting the section properly from the beginning. This is more interesting than constitutional law anyhow.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 18:54 (eight years ago) Permalink

Also, keep an eye on that hypothetical game that Sibylla's father plays - the idea of chance and fate and whether your options are ever truly closed is something that weighs on Sibylla heavily over the course of the novel.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 18:59 (eight years ago) Permalink

I feel strangely inarticulate about a book I've spent so much time thinking about.

If I had not read Roemer, not dropped out, never have met Liberace, and the world would be short a -

This plays out the way her father's hotel scheme does. Ludo in some senses is the redemptive opportunity for S's supposedly squandered brilliance. Tied in some ways to her desire to (if unable to fulfill her genius due to the institutionalized structures of knowledge creation) midwife brilliance..."Rilke was the secretary of Rodin", etc.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 19:08 (eight years ago) Permalink

xyzzzz, i don't know if you caught this, but when sibylla's talking about mozart's sister she's mentioning someone's theory, which she shoots down in a way that parallels her take on the homer scholar.

the form of the prose is interesting, when it's part of sibylla's story in the process of its being written out, it seems writerly, but then when it's broken apart by her conversations with ludo, everything seems as if it's all on the same plane and we're just switching back and forth between fixed contexts. particularly in the way the writing is suspended mid-sentence and then resumed. it seems there's something very phenomenologically apt about that—fits the way book people interact with books-and-the-world.

a bit of the no-punctuation seems to my eye to be a very british suppression of commas during short lists, but it's amplified by a bit of roughness in the contours of the sentences when sibylla is at her most imaginative / rapturous about some idea.

i would like to understand better what to make of the party scene and subsequent conception scene. i think it goes well beyond social niceties. sibylla finds it all too easy to just put up a front (far more than a front), given how highly she rates her own rationality and faults the stupidity of others. ('bandits' she can't kill?)

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 19:13 (eight years ago) Permalink

Riding on the Circle Line is anoter fairly obvious metaphor, I suppose, but an apt one. Day follows day, and they go round and round, Iterations and repetition are key, perhaps. The Seven Samurai is watched again and again, S's mother plays Chopin's Revolutionary Étude for the 63rd time. Kambei and Katsushiro's repeated test with the stick and the door will crop up more than once.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 19:19 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yeah, j, it is more than social niceties. That sort of ambivalence about "what is done" or "what is expected" vs "what is rational" or "what Sibylla believes" is something central o her outlook? I feel like the certainty of her aesthetic and moral beliefs make it easy to live in her headspace early in the book. It wasn't until the second time I read it that it struck me how flawed and damaged a character she is - I'm still not sure if she's presented to us as someone to admire or not.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 19:24 (eight years ago) Permalink

Love love love the touch of her father putting the Origin of Species in every drawer of his motels.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 19:25 (eight years ago) Permalink

sibylla herself exhibits some of the repetitiveness that we see much more clearly in ludo since he's an enthusiastic genius right at the stage of his learning where most of it is rote—like when she's describing beautiful languages and expresses her affection for them by listing out the grammatical cases, as if she were in a school exercise. we're not given much evidence of it in her back-story up to oxford, but that kind of formal assiduousness about the basic facts surely was a core part of her education (self-imposed or otherwise), which should mean that her abandonment of research at oxford was in serious tension with some of her most important convictions.

alex, one nice thing about the mother story is that her practice is shown after the audition to have been completely pointless or harmful—barely enough to get her foot in the door. and the teacher responds by giving her: a different and even less satisfying form of repetitive practice.

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 19:36 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yes! And she keeps it up well into Sibylla's teenage years.

(Seriously I can't wait until we get to the back half of the book, because if y'all have already cottoned on to this stuff there are a HEAP of dysfunctional geniuses to dig your teeth into once we get there. The book is basically a perpetual search for someone not permanently crippled by their brain.)

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 19:41 (eight years ago) Permalink

My favourite line in the book is "There are people who think death a fate worse than boredom." and this is also pretty central to Sibylla, imo. Her abandonment of research at Oxford is in part grounded in a disdain that she's expected to hew to pointless structures that limit her personal exploration.

Also, the "something looked through my grandfather's eyes" is a structure used on both sides of the family. "It's only fair to give the other side a chance" and ""Being an accountant, it's not the end of the world." are the same thing. Compromising oneself or taking the easy way out intellectually are pretty much the only cardinal sins in Sibylla's world. That "something" might be the same thing as the "Alien" that taunts Sibylla with her insecurities about motherhood. "It's only fair to give the other side a chance" it says - this time referring to Liberace and letting Ludo meet him, If L is a samurai, what is he being trained for? Is he being trained to meet Liberace? To make his way in the world?

(Also, her grandfather the engineering professor is another example of the tension between bureaucracy/institutions and true knowledge. Totally forgot about him. DeWitt actually wrote a piece for the Yale review of books that expounds her thoughts on this further -

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Monday, 6 September 2010 19:56 (eight years ago) Permalink

I read the 91 pages in one go - quite unusual for me, and I could've kept going so it definitely passes the readability test. Helped possibly by there being lots of skimmable/skippable passages - nothing on earth is going to get me interested in things greek I'm afraid.

The argentine throwing-people-from-helicopters bit really jarred with me, like it was half-a-sentence thrown in a propos of nothing, just to be provocative, and I was quite annoyed. Then it reappeared a page further on and I thought 'ah, there was a point after all', but of course it hasn't been touched on since and I can't remember what on earth I thought the point might have been. It doesn't strike me as a particularly rational episode, though at least it isn't the holocaust - I do hope the book isn't heading there.

Ismael Klata, Monday, 6 September 2010 21:45 (eight years ago) Permalink

i haven't read the discussion yet but i'm not far from this week's end point. the fact that i'm annoyed by certain aspects of it but enjoying it very much overall bodes well for some interesting discussion. i don't think i've read anything like it before though - it's quite a unique book!

jed_, Monday, 6 September 2010 21:51 (eight years ago) Permalink

Enjoying a lot, & I prob will end up racing ahead - want to finish before I go away next Tuesday - if you do start a 'smart-arse early finishers' thread, Thomp, I'll be in.

Not sure what I've got to add at this point. It's very good on what the world does to talent and capacity in its various forms - what massive potential becomes when circumstance steps in; horror of making choices in a world of fluid & unlimited possibility; complementary problem of that becoming amorphous dilettantism. That 'what is all this - the prodigy's education, Sibylla's own accumulation of languages - for?' question is the killer. (I Samuel is in there. He knew what to do - God told him.) Most general form - how do people end up what they and where they are?

S knocks the Julliard guy's exercises for her mother, in favour of 'thought' (is too much thought a problem here? (see JS Mill needing Wordsworth to open him up from child prodigy dryness iirc)). How admirable is her distaste for the hard boring work - the exercises, scholarly slog of reading German monographs etc?

In terms of style, manages the breaks and jumps of the Sibylla passages faultlessly, but am almost more impressed by the drive & momentum of the two family narratives - super readable.

portrait of velleity (woof), Monday, 6 September 2010 22:42 (eight years ago) Permalink

i'm curious about sibylla's attitude toward diligence, so i thought i'd go through the books she mentions to see if they have any particular bearing on her character, or if they show some sort of pattern of omission. (that question comes up anyway because of how heterodox her reading is, and because of her character and the story and such, but i was struck by seeing mention of the philosopher michael dummett's book of collected essays, 'truth and other enigmas', and then just at the beginning of the next section we have yet to read, the philosopher alberto coffa's 'the semantic tradition from kant to carnap', a history covering much-neglected material that belongs to the prehistory of the analytic philosophy that runs from frege through russell and wittgenstein to carnap—neither of which is anything less than scrupulously diligent. there's also the interesting biographical bit connected with dummett, whose book frege: philosophy of language came with a preface apologizing for the delay in completing the book because dummett took time off to engage in anti-racist political activity.)

the first thing i went looking for was an electronic copy of sibylla's fateful aristarchs athetesen in der homerkritik. i couldn't find it but this contemporaneous review is hilarious in comparison with the way sibylla rejects what she barely makes out of the german. (i would like to see a later take on the same scholarly issue, because sibylla aside those things have their ways of being utterly reversed by diligent, sober, competent, reasonable etc. etc. decades later.)

what she says about roemer is pretty telling vis a vis the distribution of talent, anxieties and resentments over genius and such:

'Now it is patently, blatantly obvious that this is insane. If you are going to shuffle all the names around so that one person is always the genius, this means that you have decided not to believe your source whenever it says someone else said something good or the genius said something bad—but the source is your only reason for thinking the genius was a genius in the first place. Anyone who had stopped to think for two seconds would have seen the problem, but Roemer had managed to write an entire scholarly treatise without thinking for two seconds.'

one of her main beefs here: 'one person is always the genius'.

j., Tuesday, 7 September 2010 01:56 (eight years ago) Permalink

some bits and pieces:

sidis the child prodigy.

lord leighton's greek girls playing at ball and syracusan bride.

ukiyo-e prints by utamaro.

the rosetta stone, which sibylla says she believes was 'originally a rather pompous thing to erect' that was nevertheless a gift to posterity (to which she happens to be writing her story). i had never read the inscription before. it sounds very… administrative.

j., Tuesday, 7 September 2010 02:28 (eight years ago) Permalink

chopin's revolutionary etude - note questions of technique, worldly significance.

j., Tuesday, 7 September 2010 02:30 (eight years ago) Permalink

Beauty for its own sake, genius for its own sake, etc. etc. is embarrassing or gauche or whatever - "his fault was not a lack of skill: it is the faultlessness of his skill which makes the paintings embarrassing to watch)

Don't see this so much as 'beauty for its own sake' as the dominance of technique - all surface, no feeling. Exquisite prose littered with logical fallacies. This could tie in with her mother's ultimately unsuccessful practicing regime, all technique (loose wrists!), no 'thought'. But that's getting into notions of creativity, which is not the direction the book seems to be going in.

Spotted a nice pun - 'ought implies cant' - although it's somewhat thrown away, dismissed as something that Liberace believes.

ledge, Tuesday, 7 September 2010 09:04 (eight years ago) Permalink

Today I'm marvelling at how self-obsessed the narrator is. Except for the parents, who are basically proxy narrators in their sections, we get barely a description of what any character looks like or does, other than what they say and (occasionally) what their voices sound like. Roemer is as real to me as Ludo. The exceptions are the quite minor characters who act as agents of change - Buddy, the Juillard tutor, the pool-playing guy. Liberace to an extent, but I feel only because she can't avoid doing so as cause for her own reactions. It's a bit odd.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 7 September 2010 12:36 (eight years ago) Permalink

Is that self-obsession? It's more like an unhealthy reliance on pure thought - she's thinking and arguing and picking holes in what people say - all verbal/cerebral. Is she not a bit disconnected from herself? Like surely you're meant to be a bit 'o rly' at her account of how and why she sleeps with Liberace.

portrait of velleity (woof), Tuesday, 7 September 2010 12:45 (eight years ago) Permalink

That's probably a better way of putting it, yes. Ideally you'd want your kid to be a greater physical presence to you than a wailing voice who occasionally needs to be dumped upstairs.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 7 September 2010 12:49 (eight years ago) Permalink

well he's more than a wailing voice, he's a questioning, information devouring, knowledge vampire, who might well leave little time/effort left for a proper mother/son relationship.

ledge, Tuesday, 7 September 2010 13:07 (eight years ago) Permalink

"knowledge vampire"

is the best thing to come out of this thread so far.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Tuesday, 7 September 2010 13:08 (eight years ago) Permalink

just got to page 50 - so far I'm struck by how...quantitative the writing has been. it picks up on S's father's calculation of odds and runs with it - right, breaking down everything into accountable numbers and categories - from the description of the japanese language, to teaching L how to calculate sums, to the very precise portioning of her day - all of it is very calculative.

I feel that there's a subtle critique of the Age of Enlightenment and all that it brought - blind adherence to Reason, already sent up in the description of the German book that S reads at Oxford which makes her abandon her studies. perhaps she's saying that it's all a mask - rationality used to justify irrational human desires? that perhaps the pursuit of Reason is akin to picking a scab - something you can't help but do but you know will lead you to more pain in the future.

and of course I can't help but notice that L is getting a very, very classical education in learning Hebrew, Greek, reading the Odyssey.

and as touched upon upthread, the transmission of knowledge, how much of it springs a priori and how much of its helped along by the teacher - it does seem S has a lot of trouble keeping the reins on L, L is certainly outpacing her so far. a contrast to the relationship between S's father and grandfather, the dictums handed out...almost without reason...from a higher authority, backed only by the seniority of the source.

interesting to see how the samurai/Japanese part plays out - the obvious prediction is that the Eastern tradition will be set up as a counterpoint to the Western tradition of Enlightenment and Rationality, hope DeWitt will spin something more rational out of this.

grandma: smells and textures :: 180 (dayo), Tuesday, 7 September 2010 14:30 (eight years ago) Permalink

err, the very last rational should be 'interesting'

grandma: smells and textures :: 180 (dayo), Tuesday, 7 September 2010 14:31 (eight years ago) Permalink

oh, and S's occupation - a typist who transcribes articles and such - immediately brings to mind flaubert's bouvard et pecuchet, the two most famous copy clerks in the history of literature. the transmission of knowledge - whether it is received calmly and without complaint or introspection, or received critically and with an untrusting eye - is obviously a big theme here.

grandma: smells and textures :: 180 (dayo), Tuesday, 7 September 2010 14:34 (eight years ago) Permalink

Ok, I'm going to post my thoughts before reading the thread first, and then have a look through. I suppose the first thing to say is that it's very enjoyable. I'd read the first couple of chapters when I got and whizzed through them.

The first chapter reminded me a lot of Peter de Vries - the compressed humour describing an intelligent assimilation into the American middle-classes, plus of course the strong element that religion (and love) plays the process. The epigrammatic wit is also similar - 'a clever man so rarely needs to think'.

One of the things, I think, makes the structural games of the following chapters so enjoyable is that they're predicated not on aesthetic whim (not that there's anything wrong with that) but on the distractions of a child, the necessity for work, the boringness of work, all things that are kin to all of us I'd imagine (well, not necessarily the child bit - but boredom, distractions, necessity etc).

Her voice has that catholic approach to knowledge which I associate with some American writers, Douglas Hofstadter in Godel, Escher, Bach for intance. The high and the low is inseperable.

The general tone is also totally unpompous, which makes it an utter pleasure to read. Elements like fate and chance, which are often dealt with maundering seriousness are dealt with deftly and playfully. And, hey, I learnt stuff too. Great.

Ok, now I'm going to read through the thread, see what's what.

GamalielRatsey, Wednesday, 8 September 2010 08:09 (eight years ago) Permalink

the compressed humour describing an intelligent assimilation into the American middle-classes

This in itself was too compressed. What I meant to say was perhaps 'compressed humour describing a relucant, but nevertheless articulate assimilation into the... not middle I don't think... clerical? business classes?

I felt the seduction scene was deliberately arch, and it's amusing the way she's 'bored' into sleeping with him.

GamalielRatsey, Wednesday, 8 September 2010 08:46 (eight years ago) Permalink

when she's describing beautiful languages and expresses her affection for them by listing out the grammatical cases

yo ppl do this

this is proving a great book to pester my girlfriend about.

'what is this word' 'ganglion' 'how does gamma alpha gamma gamma make gang' 'two gammas together make an ng' 'oh'

'what even is a ganglion in greek anyway' 'go away'


an utter pleasure to read

i totally concur with this, i am going to get into work late because i decided to find time to finish part two today. i am enjoying this more than any of the other ten books i am currently reading and it is not even close.


does anyone want to hazard a guess who liberace and lord leighton are figures for?

thomp, Wednesday, 8 September 2010 10:13 (eight years ago) Permalink

i'm curious about sibylla's attitude toward diligence, so i thought i'd go through the books she mentions to see if they have any particular bearing on her character, or if they show some sort of pattern of omission. (...)

doesn't she also mention reading and rereading leave it to psmith?

thomp, Wednesday, 8 September 2010 10:15 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yeah, got the impression that was her comfort book. (again, one of the iterations - says she reads it something like 23 times, like the Revolutionary Etude and the Chopin's Prelude 23.)

GamalielRatsey, Wednesday, 8 September 2010 10:37 (eight years ago) Permalink

when she's describing beautiful languages and expresses her affection for them by listing out the grammatical cases

yo ppl do this

i'm well aware! just saying, it marks her as a certain kind of person. (also, she's a linguist/classicist.)

re comfort books, notice that she also derives comfort from gesenius' hebrew grammar. to the point, apparently, that it helps stave off suicidal thoughts (better than anything you could get from a 'help line'). i'm not sure how to take the detail she focuses on—'excepting the phoenician' or somewhat. gives the impression of a kind of aestheticized attitude toward the things rather than the scholarly/scientific one it seems to aim at.

j., Wednesday, 8 September 2010 15:03 (eight years ago) Permalink

Is "Penguin English" a real term? Did the character mean "pidgin"?

Mosquepanik at Ground Zero (abanana), Wednesday, 8 September 2010 17:57 (eight years ago) Permalink

Lightning Rods is great. And more topical than ever, tbh.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Tuesday, 14 November 2017 03:45 (one year ago) Permalink

one month passes...

New and near you soon:

xyzzzz__, Monday, 8 January 2018 19:37 (eleven months ago) Permalink

New and near you soon:🕸/

ah so my June 24th date was wrong. sooner the better. fantastic news. love her so much.

Fizzles, Monday, 8 January 2018 20:29 (eleven months ago) Permalink

Should all be getting reviewer-early copies anyway, we've all done good work on this thread.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 8 January 2018 21:11 (eleven months ago) Permalink

Yes. So excited to see this. Although I still wish that YOUR NAME HERE would get a proper release.

no longer in MTL (Alex in Montreal), Saturday, 13 January 2018 16:18 (eleven months ago) Permalink

Amazon says this is 13 stories. I assume short stories. If so, I’m curious whether this collects her short stories that have already been published but in difficult to access literary journals, etc, or whether this is all new material.

no longer in MTL (Alex in Montreal), Saturday, 13 January 2018 16:28 (eleven months ago) Permalink

i did write to hdw about your name here and she responded giving a number of reasons why it wasn’t available. publisher reluctance in various forms - “too adventurous for a mainstream publisher” was what she was told, infuriatingly.

she did also say it was a collaboration and that people never read it as such, but as a piece by her, which she didn’t want. also, she said if she had known how it wd turn out she probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place.

it sounds - as often with her - there’s a lot of complexity. i wish her life was easier! sounds like she had a bad year last year as well (from her most recent blog post).

Fizzles, Saturday, 13 January 2018 16:39 (eleven months ago) Permalink

four months pass...

only read three of these, the tufte, and transfiguration of the commonplace, which is wonderful, and against the gods, which is also excellent.

Fizzles, Monday, 21 May 2018 20:22 (six months ago) Permalink

Collection is out next week; my friend who subscribes to more periodicals than I do says she’s been popping up a bunch so it seems like her PR is doing their job. I’m excited and I hope people buy it.

valorous wokelord (silby), Tuesday, 22 May 2018 19:15 (six months ago) Permalink

not until the 26th June in the U.K. apparently ffs.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 22 May 2018 20:10 (six months ago) Permalink

two months pass...

so I read Some Trick, and i'm just going to chuck some stuff down about it, because although i've got plenty of unresolved thoughts about it, if i try and do anything more cogent i won't get it down. if this were an essay i would probably title it from a line in the last story Entourage - "Umlauts up the gazoo". Most of the stories are in the recent HdW manner - content and style. Content: obsessional application of theoretical if not mathematical models to creative or artistic problems, and the absurdity of progressing from a reasonable point via reason to an eccentric point. Style: dry, laconic authorial control, generally indirect free speech, that is to say third person heavily laced with the expressions and thinking and reasoning of her enthusiastic and excitable characters or doubtful pragmatic characters. Managing the filo thin layers of control, voice and irony (rationality, sympathy, humour, contempt, enthusiasm, tragedy) so that both the dexterity and a unity of HdW 'voice' is apparent is one of the main thrills of reading her, aside from the content (tho the unexpected juxtapositions and logic of that content is very much part of that layering. To expand on that, the mathematical, rational 'mode' which drives the direction of many stories, is absolutely a voice, a layer, a structure.

There is a sprinkling of stories from her time at Oxford in 1985. These are different in style. Clearly more juvenile works, less tight in style, more juvenile in their expression of cleverness (of course another excitement of HdW is the cleverness). Their subject is often an intelligent female voice existing in a pragmatic, wry and doubtful space created by forceful or dullard men, or just men who aren't as clever as they think they are. These are less successful, I think, though Famous Last Words is very enjoyable.

It does raise the question of why these are collected here in this way. It's not, as far as I can tell, a retrospective or collection as such. The collection has a good, elliptical poem as an epigraph.

Next time someone tells you desire
Is a trick of grammnar
Tell him
If what I have is what I said I wanted
It's not what I wanted
I know what I want
But I don't know its name

and later

Some trick

So using this, and the title, to try and draw things together a bit:

[*]It's a trick of stories in the card-playing sense there are thirteen, and i'm not sure whether there is an interrelation or symbolism relating to that at play – nothing jumped out at my, but I'm afraid to say some of my reading was a little inattentive (tipsy on tube or interrupted by things, and just generally i haven't felt as sharp recently as i'd like to be). I might need to look at that again.

[*]It's the trick of grammar, of letters, of foreign words and foreign mores creating and canalising desire: (Brutto about an Italian art dealer's enthusiasm for an incredibly ugly suit ('ma che brutto!') an artist made in her sempstress training.

[*]It's the trick of managing artistic control for the vision you want in a world that is trying through enthusiasm, fandom or lack of understanding to grasp hold of that indifferent to the things that make important to its creator.

[*]It's very much the calculus of money and creativity – something that affects Helen de Witt directly.

And in fact it seemed to me that a motive behind this collection may have been to keep some money coming in. She is clearly struggling in the way that many of the artists in her stories struggle - artistic/typographic/visual control, and money.

There are odd linkages and abuttments between the stories: the name (the character?) Gil, Stanisław Lem's Robot stories - these may form little 'tricks' of stories, within the overall hand.

Nothing here as good as The Sexual Codes of the Europeans.

Ticks of her style jump out, or rather the style of the types of people with which she populates her stories, become very obvious - the emphasis of speech with italics, and capitisation and so. many. exclamation marks!!!!!

Is this a problem or not? I don't know. I came to the conclusion not particularly, given that these stories are about a certain type of person, but, well, that certain type of person, the logic of their mind and their manner, is also Helen de Witt's area of concern – they and their thinking is her subject matter. It's noticeable anyway, across compressed short stories. I found the patterns of speech in two English rock band stories quite painful, and the stories not the best in the collection, and given the tight integration of conceptually diverse objects is one of her 'tricks', that is a problem.

Occasionally I found the compression of her style confounded meaning. tho as i say, i wasn't always reading as attentively as i might have done. It does occur to me that at these moments of extreme compression language, or rather an language as an arrangement of letters, becomes as much about texture as content (something made explicit in the final story, Entourage.

However, there's a load to delight in here: Brutto, My Heart Belongs to Bertie, The French Style of Mlle Matsumoto, and Entourage, Famous Last Words.

I also went back and read some of the stories immediately on finishing them. There is just something about her writing that I find utterly compelling (I almost said something about her 'style' but as I say, it is also the content, and the interplay of the two, though even that is too formalist a framing of it).

Fizzles, Saturday, 11 August 2018 10:08 (four months ago) Permalink

What’s that epigraph from?! It’s great.

Britain's Sexiest Cow (jed_), Saturday, 11 August 2018 14:16 (four months ago) Permalink

it's her own poem – so i guess not really an epigraph. 'introductory poem' would have been better. that's just a part of it – it toys around with The Wizard of Oz (the last line is 'because because because because because') and absences, the way... well, i thought i had the knack of it the first time I read it, but I can't remember what i thought it was about:

'What would you do with a heart but try not to hurt?'
The Tin Man hadn't the heart to disappoint him.
He thanked him.
'I feel nothing,' he thought.
'But I wouldn't hurt a Behaviourist.'

there's a thing in the book that maps onto this – which is people coming with incoherent or received thinking and feeling, and the narrator (usually) being doubtful, polite, or cheerful - not really having a heart as such, but still human enough - examining the problem with statistics, or probability, or some obsessive rationale and working it through in a way that doesn't conform to the received feelings, but often helps, and HdW's characters often want to help – they're very good natured (that's not always a good thing). Here that's the Tin Man saying well I haven't got a heart, but you know, I'll do my best here. HdW's characters are often like the Wizard of Oz characters.

and that mathematics, or reason applied not in a 'common sense' way, but as a heuristical programme of life is a way out of cliche, and inherited wisdom. that it provides the tools and the experience that we lazily construct received notions of heart, feeling, desire to. sorry, feeling my away around, not very cogently. I am also being laboured – the progress of these people is funny as they hit up against the world's conventions, but the humour is generous to them, caustic to the conditions, wry at the interaction.

What of Dorothy in the poem? That's the last part:

But Dorothy? I don't BELIEVE Judy Garland could fake it.
I think she was glad Technicolor was only a dream
Glad to find she had never left home
Glad to wake up in black and white

Because because because because because

Fizzles, Saturday, 11 August 2018 15:00 (four months ago) Permalink

let me rewrite that terrible paragraph - i don't think it actually makes a *load* of sense but the least I can do is make the words into sentences:

mathematics, or reason applied not in a 'common sense' way, but as a heuristical programme of life, is a way out of cliche, and inherited wisdom, received thinking. we lazily find our way through our feelings, the world, with metaphor and loose-ish psychology. that mathematical reasoning provides the tools to see those aspects of us and the world in a way that is slightly strange, clarified by not being muddled up with conventional thinking, and still recognisably human (ie not rationality as applied by forceful wielders of 'reason' but as an exploratory toolkit).

Fizzles, Saturday, 11 August 2018 15:06 (four months ago) Permalink

Great stuff Fizzles and roundly otm I think, wish I had the wherewithal to respond in depth but it’s not that kind of weekend

faculty w1fe (silby), Saturday, 11 August 2018 21:13 (four months ago) Permalink

need to read more HdW

flopson, Saturday, 11 August 2018 22:19 (four months ago) Permalink

thanks silby - if you do get the time to respond in depth it would great to hear your thoughts.

feel i need a conversation to knock the coarse-grained and slightly random thoughts in shape.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 August 2018 07:17 (four months ago) Permalink

Very much agree, great stuff: my own reading of this collection left me feeling that I loved 2/3 of it, and the remaining 1/3 of it left me feeling how dramatically much more intelligent Helen deWitt is than me. THis is not a criticism in any way: I'd rather have fiction that stretches and boggles the mind than not, even if it doesn't all land perfectly.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Sunday, 12 August 2018 08:00 (four months ago) Permalink

^ otm

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 August 2018 10:11 (four months ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Was considering Some Trick again yesterday. Thinking about one of the 'rock and roll' stories, which, although it feels like it contains plenty that's interesting, produced several cringes – english accent, portrayal of 'rock and roll' behaviour, description of music.

A question that comes out of that is whether the other areas she portrays – classical pianist, fashion, new york boho life – are equivalently cringeworthy for someone close to them, and if so whether it matters. Part of the humour of her stories is a flattening out thru repetition and stylisation of the manner of her characters, so some unnatural stylisation is to be expected. More, all these stories are about transactions and trade offs (and have that in common with The Sexual Codes of the Europeans which otherwise wouldn't have fitted well in this selection.

She is looking at the exchange rate or the transaction between artistic integrity and its consumption, or more accurately the mechanisms and models by which it is made available for consumption. In order to do that she has to portray a common ground or create a space where this transaction can be seen to take place. That may be a cafe, it may be email, or verbal communication. That's obv also where the conflict will take place. It's also about the instruments that those people use to communicate that transaction – a card game (in that rock and roll piece), the visual presentation of chance (Bertie) for example.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 October 2018 15:51 (two months ago) Permalink

To finish that thought, I think the disfluency of style or cringe is interesting but not a problem generally.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 October 2018 15:52 (two months ago) Permalink

Tomorrow: how do you solve a financial problem like HdW.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 October 2018 15:53 (two months ago) Permalink

I want to be her unpaid intern for life tbh

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Sunday, 7 October 2018 19:02 (two months ago) Permalink

well i'm not sure she wouldn't accept that dangerous offer, silby.

as she mentions at the end of Some Trick there are people around who like her work well enough to want to try and support her generally in a way that will allow her to write more, and extends slightly further than the buy me a coffee page she has.

the challenge is that i think she sees anything that isn't writing the sort of thing that she wants to write as opportunity cost, lost time, a serious and unwelcome distraction no different from any other distraction from writing. or as she put it

and it seems as though before
anything can happen I need to think about what I would like, what (if
any) rewards I would like to give supporters, and so on. That is,
there's something of an impasse, because I can't think about these
things without neglecting other things that urgently need to be done

i get the feeling that she's probably a fairly inefficient writer, which I don't mean in a bad way, but if she wants to get to the bottom of something she will spend three days on stack overflow doing that. I'm not sure i'd want it any different, given her output is partly predicated on logical loops taken to absurd extremes. but possibly that sort of thing contributes to the list of things that 'urgently need to be done'.

but generally her aversion to anything much more than signing books, as one of the people who is trying to help her said, makes her difficult to help. he initially suggested a Patreon model, but it sounds like anything other than straight funding of her writing in a general way – ie anything like tiering or rewards – is not likely to be amenable.

Now one response to all this is of course a slightly exasperated throwing of hands up in the air. 'God helps those who help themselves' &c (a very Jordan Peterson formulation).

However, given that she is my favourite writer, and given that i think she's doing something substantially interesting and exciting enough to want her to do more of it, or if that's a bit Misery-ish, do more of it in more comfort and security, I'm willing to feel the occasional twinge of exasperation and have a bit of a think about what might be possible.

But that isn't in itself a solution. I did come up with some very scrappy thoughts, which I cobbled together in conversation with the person trying to co-ordinate this.

All my ideas are bad and at best not very likely to be successful. At worse they would be time-consuming and extremely unsuccessful. All of them would require people (not Helen) to work for free, and do that reliably and probably fairly intensively at times.

  • Beef up the PayPal donation button and encouragement on her existing blog page. Inevitably this might mean she has to post a bit more on her blog, which has been static. It might at least generate a bit more money.
  • A crowdfunding community, with a funding drive that takes place annually. This would – sorry, this might provide a lump sum which would be beneficial. It would not be tied to any particular work in progress. Absolutely no expectations of communication or advance anything. It would need a page, a place for community focus and comment, and someone to administrate the drive. A facebook page is the obvious choice, though I don't know anybody who is ever overjoyed to use Facebook. Her blog site might be another option. This seems unlikely to generate much money.
  • A Patreon or something like it, with rewards she felt able to give: autographed books - that's the obvious one isn't it? It's not easy to think of others – a list of prominent funders in the front or back of the book might be one option if the publishers were willing.
  • A subscription model, such as Alexander Pope used for the Odyssey and Iliad. A subscription is raised that guarantees the production and purchase of a limited edition book. I'm not entirely serious as it helps to do this in an aristocratic period with lots of wealthy backers and also if you are very well connected to same wealthy backers. This would have to be modernised, with a second publishing phase with an actual publisher, and it's not clear that a publisher would be very pleased at an earlier edition having been released, albeit 'privately'. It's also not clear that any sort of subscription model would generate enough cash for Helen to live on. On the other hand, self-publishing is much easier than it was, especially digitally.
  • The release of individual advance-copy chapters or segments of works in progress to sponsors. Again, publishers may not be amused by this. Or perhaps the release of material relevant to, or used in construction of, the book, in catalogue form (pictures, reading lists, scraps of notes etc) - would require some work on Helen's part.
yerman did also suggest a podcast as apparently she is a fascinating conversationalist, which I can imagine.

i should also say this problem is more generally obviously applicable. how do you usefully fund people whose work you like in a structurally sustainable enough way for it to have an actually positive effect. Something like Patreon seems to work very well if you have a niche and enthusiastic, and preferable large, fanbase, for instance if you are doing Dr Who fan stuff, but generalists, people working towards smaller audiences, or working on the periphery in some way, will struggle. I know – 'thus it ever was' – and also just chucking people some money is usually the best solution.

anyway, I did think the least I could do was post this on a thread to see whether people have got any ideas. Personally I find it hard to see how any of them can work really, and frankly, I'd be sceptical that even if HdW *did* put a load of effort into a Patreon type approach, that it would have a reward usefully proportionate to the effort.

i'm not really trying to be captain save a helen, there are many worthy, worthier causes, or people closer to home who could do with such effort i know. part of it is also having a bit of a pragmatic think about the economics of writing in the digital age, and artistic creation more generally.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 9 October 2018 19:42 (two months ago) Permalink

Promising anything "extra" in one of these is a great way to get bogged down in commitments that may cost more than they bring in and distract one from one's actual objective. (Cf. any number of examples.) On the other hand there's maybe not much of an audience if you promise nothing at all. I think better than the "buy me a coffee" model for Helen DeWitt would be a more explicit "let's raise $35,000/yr for Helen DeWitt" framework with progress bars and such that explicitly comes with no "backer reward" other than the assurance that HdW is continuing to work on what she wants to work on.

Though, I emailed her upon reading her author's note and what she said to me was that her biggest obstacle is really finding a publisher who's able and willing to publish her weirder work correctly, and also market the book, rather than (necessarily) get volunteers involved to like do prepress technical work for her pro bono, which is what I thought she was looking for. Even New Directions' Last Samurai had errors. I have done a lot of futzing around with TeX and desktop publishing but I've never Made A Book and I'm probably no better at selling than Helen DeWitt.

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Tuesday, 9 October 2018 20:24 (two months ago) Permalink

right, totally agree. it does strike me she has a rather fractious relationship with publishers (this much could be deduced alone from her writing tbh). and of course having a good relationship with your publishers is usually a good thing.

I don't think she necessarily knows what would be most helpful, and possibly she's thinking there may be solutions that are in fact not really very viable, the actual solutions just having the problem that they're not very desirable.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 9 October 2018 20:32 (two months ago) Permalink

I'd say the ideal solution is Full Communism but some people will be difficult to work with even under Full Communism

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Tuesday, 9 October 2018 20:33 (two months ago) Permalink

it can't hurt surely.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 9 October 2018 20:36 (two months ago) Permalink

I want to get that book she cowrote and self-published as a PDF a few years ago, and which now seems to be unavailable from her site. The fact HdW follows me on Twitter is one of my rare achievments.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Wednesday, 10 October 2018 00:56 (two months ago) Permalink

she didn't seem to feel that had 'worked' apparently, and felt the collaborative aspect of it wasn't fully understood, which made her reluctant to make it available. did seem to imply it might be out again *at some point* when she'd published a few more things.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 10 October 2018 05:45 (two months ago) Permalink

If that's Your Name Here you're referring to, anyway.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 10 October 2018 05:46 (two months ago) Permalink

That's the one, thanks.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Wednesday, 10 October 2018 20:43 (two months ago) Permalink

four weeks pass...

Your Name Here was contracted to Noemi Press for a very long time, which is why she took it off her website. I haven't seen where she said that it hadn't 'worked'. Did she make those comments while it was stuck in contract hell?

I think Noemi no longer has the rights to it but I'm not sure where it goes from here.

I haven't re-read it in a few years but loved it at the time - it seemed very much like the next step after The Last Samurai. Messier, to be certain, and even less of a traditional story, but filled with a lot of brilliance and excellent and funny and sad writing.

Most of what she's written since has been much more controlled in its voice, imo.

Anyway, I bought it back when it was self-published, and I'm not certain what the legalities are about sharing it privately, but when Last Samurai was out-of-print, HdW's position was that people who bought used copies could donate to her the equivalent of royalties that she would have gotten if it was new, etc.

no longer in MTL (Alex in Montreal), Thursday, 8 November 2018 17:01 (one month ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

your favourite wayward dilettante has begun the last samurai. so far so delirious

imago, Friday, 23 November 2018 22:02 (three weeks ago) Permalink


I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Saturday, 24 November 2018 00:40 (three weeks ago) Permalink

as the person who actually started this thread I have to say that i finished it at least six months after the schedule I'd set.

brokenshire (jed_), Saturday, 24 November 2018 01:09 (three weeks ago) Permalink

finished the book, that is. i could finish this thread in way less than six months.

brokenshire (jed_), Saturday, 24 November 2018 01:10 (three weeks ago) Permalink

Gets off at Farringdon - how like a man

this is some exquisite deep-London humour. i cackled

imago, Monday, 3 December 2018 10:49 (one week ago) Permalink

big takeaway from the first 100 pages: poor Sybilla being the world's best tutor before the noughties tuition boom, she'd have definitely been able to afford ice-cream

imago, Monday, 3 December 2018 11:34 (one week ago) Permalink

holy fuck the yamamoto chapter

imago, Monday, 3 December 2018 13:40 (one week ago) Permalink

i know right

na (NA), Monday, 3 December 2018 15:59 (one week ago) Permalink

trying think of a more bravura, high-art, firework-laden passage of writing I've read recently; drawing a blank

and to think there's probably more to come

imago, Monday, 3 December 2018 21:21 (one week ago) Permalink

Maybe I should just give up on all the books I’ve been starting lately and just read this again.

JoeStork, Monday, 3 December 2018 21:35 (one week ago) Permalink

most amusingly, that chapter is based on a fictional Sunday Times interview that in reality would have had to span half the paper and been the best thing any print journal has ever contained

helen just has higher standards for everyone I guess

imago, Monday, 3 December 2018 21:38 (one week ago) Permalink

That’s pretty much it yeah

I have measured out my life in coffee shop loyalty cards (silby), Monday, 3 December 2018 21:52 (one week ago) Permalink

She doesn't lack for astonishing bravura setpieces does she?

While the HC/RD bit (which I haven't even finished yet) is obviously some sort of literary pinnacle, I do feel I should observe that the best bit of Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which came out only a few years before, was also a long and dazzlingly fabulistic reported narrative about a couple of scholars (astronomers rather than philologists) involving impromptu flying devices in China and some complex and ambiguous moral lesson. I know I shouldn't compare everything to Pynchon but

imago, Monday, 10 December 2018 20:51 (five days ago) Permalink

Also of COURSE I should have anticipated L's banter with S once he turned 11. Delightful :D

imago, Monday, 10 December 2018 20:52 (five days ago) Permalink

ah man this gets intense

final chapter is perfect, cheers-to-the-rafters stuff. i cried a bit

imago, Wednesday, 12 December 2018 23:10 (three days ago) Permalink

when Tom Cruise presents the Emperor with Katsumoto's sword? ;_;

( ͡☉ ͜ʖ ͡☉) (jim in vancouver), Wednesday, 12 December 2018 23:17 (three days ago) Permalink

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