Last Update 4/25/19

The Watering Place of Good Peace by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1974 

This is the revised version of the 1960 novel which involved shark barriers and which had to be updated because of innovations made during the interval. A man who lost both legs to a shark is hired to build a shark barrier at a remote spot in Mozambique, supposedly to help in a salvage operation involving a sunken treasure ship. But he soon suspects that more than that is involved as a mysterious submarine is detected in the area, and his employer is exchanging coded messages with the head of a United Nations research project. Pretty good adventure although the villain’s plans are unnecessarily complex and the story ends without answering all of the questions it raises. 4/25/19

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, 1949

This is the only O’Connor book I had not previously read. It is decidedly strange, the story of an uneducated man just released from the army who decides to create his own church, which stresses morality without Jesus. This is something of a reaction to his encounter with a blind street preacher and his teenage daughter, but there are other contributing factors. The plot is primarily a skeleton fleshed out by some really memorable scenes – his visit to his parents’ abandoned home, voyeurism at a swimming pool, a museum exhibit of a shrunken man, and so on. I had no idea where the story was going at any given point, but it was quite a ride getting there.   4/23/19

A Twist of Sand by Geoffrey Jenkins, Avon, 1959  

Jenkins’ first novel is set mostly in or near what is now called Namibia. A cashiered British submarine captain is blackmailed into taking a German scientist into forbidden territory through a series of dangerous shoals, an undersea eruption, a deranged ex-soldier with a grudge, a skeptical female scientist, and other difficulties. Big chunks of the novel consist of flashbacks, part of which is a secret history in which we learn that the Germans had built an experimental nuclear powered submarine during the war, which our hero – who is not a very admirable person – destroyed in order to discourage the development of more of them. The author became much more adept at story telling in later books. This one was made into a not very loyal movie in 1968. 4/21/19

The Onion Eaters by J.P. Donleavy, Penguin, 1971 

I’m afraid I prefer my surrealism is small doses and this novel length extravaganza was just too much for me. A man recently recovered from a serious illness enters an institution where nothing is rational, everyone and everything is strange, and cause and effect seem only remotely connected. A few scenes caught my fancy but for the most part I just plodded on impatiently until it was over. 4/16/19

The Saddest Summer of Samuel S by J.P. Donleavy, Dell, 1966

Samuel S is an American expatriate living in Europe. When his money runs out, he relies on the charity of friends, although he turns down the offer of becoming a kept man. He also sees his psychiatrist regularly, bedeviling the poor man. Then he meets a young American tourist who wants to have an affair with him, but he has decided that he wants marriage and children, which is far more than she is willing to offer. It’s an odd little novella with no clear resolution, flashes of dark humor, and one of the more enigmatic protagonists in modern literature. 4/9/19

The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman by J.P. Donleavy, Delacorte, 1977 

I’m started to find a pattern in Donleavy’s novels. Each of them focuses on one character, always male so far, and follows them through a series of almost anecdotal adventures as they progress through life. They all tend to be hedonistic and self centered, and their adventures are frequently ribald. In each of the books, like this one, there are some very funny events and some touching ones, but the tone varies enormously and there is generally a lack of real central focus. Darcy grows up with a tutor, has precocious sexual adventures, and then goes from Ireland to the continent for various other experiences. Entertaining reading but with a strong sense of déjà vu since I’d just read several other of his novels with similar plots. 4/7/19

The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by J. P. Donleavy, Dell, 1968   

Another occasionally ribald novel by the author of The Ginger Man. This one follows the life story of the title character, whose father dies while he is very young. His mother sends him off to boarding school in England where he has various adventures and meets people who will become more significant in his later life. The first half of the novel is definitely the better of the two. His later adventures, while entertaining, are not quite as effective in connecting the reader to the character. By the time this was published, attitudes toward explicit sexual content had begun to change dramatically so it made less of an impact that his earlier work, although I think it is actually better written. 4/4/19

 

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