Wednesday, February 22, 1995

The Age of Reason

by Jean-Paul Sartre

It's the first book in his Roads of Freedom trilogy. A very meticulously planned novel, it centers around Mathieu, a disenchanted college professor with a pregnant mistress. The character of Daniel, the cruel and masochistic homosexual who hates himself, is one of the great instigators in literature. Throughout the book, Mathieu trees to be free, even though he doesn't know how to attain freedom. He sees marriage as sacrificing his freedom, but has no clear alternatives.

There are exceptional passages, such as when Mathieu goes up to Lola's apartment after Boris has mistakenly reported her dead. The complex network of occurrences takes place in the space of three days in the book, so it's a very tight examination of its characters' minds. All in all, a great work, the theme of which will hopefully be expounded on in the second novel

four stars

Friday, February 17, 1995

Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe

by H.R. Ellis Davidson

Another academic work on the Norse gods (not a storybook retelling at all), this concentrates more on the Northern people than Dumézil's work, surveying the practical meaning and historical base for many of the stories and concepts. Intriguing passages included the similarities between Freyja and Frigg; the relation between the powers of the volva or Odin's acquisition of knowledge and shamanism; and the reasons for Christianity's power over the heathens of the late period. A great archeologically-based examination of myth.

four stars

Monday, February 13, 1995


by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Lloyd Alexander

A volume containing five stories. Each of these is repugnant in its own way, coming a little too close to the characters' personalities for the reader's comfort. The protagonists in the stories all deal with existentialist crises, much like Roquentin in Nausea does (in fact, some passages contain identical phrasing to describe these feelings). The stories:

"Intimacy." A fairly straightforward account of a wife who almost leaves her impotent husband. She suffers in that, like Roquentin, the essence of people is stripped away for her, and she sees nothing but their rather disgusting existence.

"Erostratus." A portrait of a serial killer (predating Henry). He can't handle humans existing all around him either, and fires off a diatribe against humanists, just like you-know-who again.

"The Wall." The agony of men who know they will die (they are to be shot the next day). An amazing excursion into this mindframe, with an oddly rote ironical ending.

"The Childhood of a Leader." How a boy grows disenchanted and turns to anti-semitism, believing he can find the reason for existence in power. Hard to read, the same way Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold is.

"The Room." An insane man, and his wife who wants to live as he does, see what he sees. ...Er, didn't quite get this one.

four stars

Wednesday, February 1, 1995

Gods Of the Ancient Northmen

by Georges Dumézil
translated by John Lindow, Alan Toth, Francis Charat, and George Gopen

Not actually a retelling of Norse myths. There's a ten-page intro by G. Scott Littleton outlining Dumézil's thought on Indo-European myth structure and a 26-page intro by Udo Strutynski on the history of scholarship after Dumézil.

The book itself is a revised version of the French version with four additional articles appended to it, eight segments in all. Not aptly named, it was a highly academic work on the connection between Germanic and Vedic myth, with bits of Roman, Celtic, and other folklore thrown in. I have to say that a great deal went over my head, but the arguments and connections that I did understand were quite intriguing and compelling (for example, the Byggvir-Beyla Barley-Bee argument was great, as was the linking of Heimdall's oceanic birth with some extremely obscure Celtic and Welsh folklore). A fascinating work. I just wish the Latin passages had been translated.

three stars