Friday, June 1, 2007

Hot Retro Reading

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

1857 – 150 Years Ago

For this novel of French bourgeois life in all its inglorious banality, Flaubert invented a paradoxically original and wholly modern style. His heroine, Emma Bovary, a bored provincial housewife, abandons her husband to pursue the libertine Rodolphe in a desperate love affair. A succès de scandale in its day, Madame Bovary remains a powerful and arousing novel.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

1907 – 100 Years Ago

This intense 1907 thriller–a precursor to works by Graham Greene and John le Carré–concerns a British double agent who infiltrates a cabal of anarchists. Conrad explores political and criminal intrigue in a modern society, building to a climax that the critic F. R. Leavis deemed “one of the most astonishing triumphs of genius in fiction.”

The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch

1957 – 50 Years Ago

The quiet life of schoolmaster Bill Mor and his wife Nan is disturbed when a young woman, Rain Carter, arrives at the school to paint the portrait of the headmaster.

Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

1982 – 25 Years Ago

Using the basic facts concerning the 1940s' notorious and yet unsolved Black Dahlia case, Ellroy creates a kaleidoscope of human passion and dark obsession. A young woman's mutilated body is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The story is seen through the eyes of Bucky Bleichert, ex-prize fighter and something of a boy wonder on the police force. There is no relief or humor as Bleichert arrives at a grisly discovery. Ellroy's powerful rendering of the long-reaching effects of murder gives the case new meaning.

Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell

1997 – 10 Years Ago

The "Sex and the City" columnist for the New York Observer documents the social scene of modern-day Manhattan. The reader gets an introduction to "Modelizers," the men who only have eyes for models, as well as a more common species, the "Toxic Bachelor." Reading like a society novel gone downtown and askew, Sex and the City is a comically sordid look at status and ambition and the many characters consumed by the sexual politics of the '90s.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

2002 – 5 Years Ago

Set in 1870s London, Faber's second novel (after Under the Skin) is a powerful portrayal of a young prostitute named Sugar. Intelligent and ambitious, Sugar yearns to escape from the livelihood forced on her at age 13. Enter William Rackham, a besotted philanderer and idle heir to a family perfume business, who installs Sugar as his secret mistress in a fashionable hideaway. When the incompetent William is forced into managing the family firm, he initially seeks advice from Sugar, who, fearful of losing his affection, schemes to gain closer proximity to the Rackham family. She succeeds by becoming governess to William's only child, young Sophie, who is cruelly ignored by her father and his insane and sickly wife, Agnes. As William's interest in Sugar wanes, she seeks to maintain her position both by earning Sophie's respect and by gaining possession of the intimate diaries that Agnes has foolishly discarded. Faber's mastery of character, evocative descriptions of Victorian England, and rich dialog, together with his weaving of enduring themes throughout a complex plot, creates a remarkable novel. Strongly recommended for most literary and historical fiction collections.

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