Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Update 5: A Year of Reading the Med

This month’s review consists of only one novel.  We’ve been busy getting the boat ready and actually sailing, and the novel in question was a whopper.

BOSNIA: Bosnian Chronicle by Ivo Andric.  ***1/2

Andric was awarded the 1961 Nobel prize for literature largely based on his Bosnian Trilogy works, of which the Bosnian Chronicle is the cornerstone.  It is a true masterpiece.  That said, the Mona Lisa is also a true masterpiece, and yet, I wouldn’t want it hanging in my living room.  This is how it is with Bosnian Chronicle for me.  The novel follows the travails of a French consul posted to a lost backwoods town in Bosnia during the Napoleonic wars, and the tense cohabitation with representatives of the Austrian empire, the ruling Turkish viziers, the local Serbs and their Russian orthodox supporters, and the hapless and resentful Bosnians themselves.  I truly appreciate the artistry, the craft, the precision, the depth, the local color, the character descriptions, the historical scope, the humor, the drama.  When you begin reading it, it is clear beyond doubt that you are witnessing brilliance.  But I didn’t love it.  I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters. I didn’t, in fact, realize who the main character was until well over half way into the novel. There is very little dialogue in the novel.  It is written in a storytelling fashion where we learn in-depth what each character is thinking, all about their past, about their thoughts on the future, their secret hopes and desires, and anything else the author thinks would make the character come alive.  Did I mention the novel is looooooooong?  An example:  a child dies a tragic death.  After the scene, the author uses the following chapter to examine the personal history of each of the 6 doctors that attempted to treat the child. No, this won’t change the outcome.  No, you don’t need this information to follow the rest of the story. Yes, okay, it may be interesting in that each of the doctors comes from one of the different communities living in the village and has a different perspective on what should have been done to save the child. But by this time in the novel, you suspect that this slog through their histories will take you nowhere and you are right.  

This was a critical turning point in the novel for me where I started shamelessly skimming pages.  Normally, I would have given up, but since I have been finding the literature of the Former-Yugoslavia particularly impenetrable, I forced myself to persevere.  

But at the same time, it *is* a masterpiece and the writing was far better than anything I’ve read in a very long time, even if I enjoyed other lesser novels more.  The irony is that the advice you would give to such an author to punch it up a bit – more dialogue, less description, cut out the scenes with no action – would destroy the work and turn it into a cheap pulp historical fiction novel like so many modern best-sellers.  Like fine art, there are novels that deserve to be appreciated for their mastery and craft rather than for their decorative appeal, and this is one of them.  Bosnian Chronicle is a novel to be savored slowly with a nice glass of scotch.  (Better buy a nice bottle, you’ll be at it for waaaaay more than one sitting…). 

And with this 5th update and our impending departure, I will be taking a break from “reading the Med”  in order to sail it for awhile.  I need to re-immerse myself in books that really enthrall me (cheap and trashy though they may be by comparison) for the long route ahead.   


LittleCunningPlan.com said...

I will admit that this book sounds like something Mike would read but that would put me to sleep in less than 30 minutes. I do appreciate beautiful writing. But my brain appreciates engrossing stories that have movement and whose characters I grow to love. For many years I felt guilty when I would not finish a book. Now I do not. If it doesn't grab me in the first half, I'm unlikely to stay for long. Enjoy your sailing time!

Sailing Mareda said...

Same here... so many books, so little time.

Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Funny that you didn't realize who the main character was until partway through - that certainly says something about the book. Characters are really important for me when I read a book. There can be all of the great descriptions, writing etc, but if I'm not interested in the characters then I lose interest. Sounds like one that I'll probably skip. Happy sailing!

Sailing Mareda said...

Hi Ellen, In fact, the reason I couldn't figure out who the main character was is that there were so many characters and all so richly described that I didn't know which one I should focus on. The writing is extremely detailed. If ever anyone needs a model on how to create characters, this is a great reference.