Last Update 6/29/19

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Signet, 1929  

I read this while I was in high school and didn’t like. I still don’t find it as impressive as some of the author's other novels, even if it is considered one of Faulkner’s best books. It covers three decades of an aristocratic family’s fall from grace and wealth, and in some cases their tragic deaths. Faulkner experimented quite a bit with prose styles here, which I ordinarily like, but in this case the shifting format seemed to me to affect the focus of the story and definitely the continuity. A couple of the characters were very well developed, but a couple of the others felt forced. I’m just not on the right wavelength for this one, I guess, which happens sometimes. 6/29/19

Sartoris by William Faulkner, Signet, 1929 

Faulkner’s third novel was an in depth look at a wealthy Southern family between the wars. One of them is a young man returned from World War I who spends much of his time taking dangerous chances, driving too fast, etc. His twin was killed in Europe and his father is growing deaf and eventually dies, as does the young man, who takes one too many risks. The plot is almost secondary, however. The novel is primarily a collection of character studies including their servants, the feisty aunt, and others. I enjoyed most of this, although occasionally Faulkner would indulge in lengthy descriptions that weren’t always clear and sometimes repeated plot points for no apparent purpose. 6/24/19

Mosquitoes by William Faulkner, Dell, 1927  

A rich but not very bright woman convinces a number of people, many of them artists, to join her for a cruise. Her planned activities go a bit awry as the men are disinclined to mix with the women as planned, and several of them have idiosyncrasies that do not lend themselves to the itinerary. One man goes missing partway through the trip and is believed to have drowned. A young woman lures the steward ashore, but their romantic intentions go very much awry. The hostess is crushed that things have not gone the way she intended. I found this quite entertaining and not as depressing as some of Faulkner’s other work. 6/22/19

The Unripe Gold by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1983

I should have liked this better than I did. I suspect I didn’t because Jenkins’ novels all seem very much alike. This time there is a copper mine inside forbidden diamond territory in Southwest Africa that is actually involved with smuggling iridium, which is much more valuable and a strategic asset. A fraud investigator from Hong Kong and an intelligence agent from the US team up with a geologist and a kayaking enthusiast to investigate, and they nearly all get killed because the mine operator is in cahoots with Khaddafi of Libya. None of the characters were particularly likeable and their success comes because of coincidence and mildly outlandish oversights by the bad guys. 6/21/19

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner, Signet, 1926

This was Faulkner’s first novel, and was not very successful.  A wounded, disfigured American soldier is on his way home following World War I. There are distracting side plots that are rather jarring – a pair of drunken soldiers and a somewhat comical lecher. Both of these plots seem inappropriate in tone and neither contributes anything to the main story. The tragic sections are mixed with some humorous ones and the contrast is generally jarring. There are a few thread of plot that work quite well, but as a whole this was disappointing. 6/20/19

Wrong Information Is Being Given Out at Princeton by J.P. Donleavy, Thomas Dunne, 1997 

Another raunchy comedy and more entertaining than most of the author’s other books, although much of the plot and humor consists of variations on things he has already written. I confess that I was largely disappointed by his work and am in no hurry to track down the last few titles that I am missing. His style and subject matter just do not appeal to me, although your mileage may vary. There are flashes of brilliance but I was frequently bored. I have a couple more of the author's books to read, but I won't be getting to them any time soon. 6/11/19

A Ravel of Waters by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1981 

The protagonist is hired to replace the murdered captain of an experimental sailing ship that has been moored in the Falklands. The ship becomes the focus of British and Argentinian conflict over the islands, as well as a plot by communist agents to establish a base in a critical area. The new captain’s actions don’t always seem justified. He actually disables an Argentinian warship in order to leave port, defying the governments of both nations. He almost certainly should have fired the man who later leads the mutiny that takes over the ship. And there is a good deal of coincidence as well, some of it straining plausibility. 6/10/19

Southtrap by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1979 

Another adventure at sea. The protagonist takes over as captain of a ship carrying scientists into the waters near Antarctica. But one of the crew members has another agenda and has smuggled two thugs aboard. The three take over the ship at gunpoint and order a change of course. Their leader was stranded on an island in the area and knows that there is a load of gold that was hidden there from the Nazis during the war. I had some problems with the plot this time. There were much easier ways for the villain to achieve his purposes, and his willingness to answer a distress call at sea does not feel right for his personality, although he eventually works it into his plans. 6/9/19

That Darcy, That Dancer, That Gentleman by J.P. Donleavy, Atlantic Monthly, 1990 

Darcy is back for his third series of adventures, and the best of them. Leila is gone and Darcy is considering marrying a rich heiress whom he does not love. Facing the collapse of his finances, Darcy listens to some bad advice and decides to throw a gala ball to recoup his reputation, but given his staff of idiosyncratic and erratic servants, the reader will be in little doubt that disaster looms on the horizon. Donleavy never really changed his formula during his career, but his writing became more organized in the late 1980s. 6/8/19

A Bridge of Magpies by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1974  

This is a pretty good adventure story about a villain trying to locate a sunken U-boat that contains an ancient book which the Japanese people consider to have mystical significance. A South African officer whose job is to prevent salvage operations in the forbidden waters off the diamond coast gets involved with stopping them even though he has no radio and virtually no allies. A chunk of the book relies on coincidence and the villains are unusually incompetent, but it’s still a satisfying adventure story. 6/7/19

A Cleft of Stars by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1973  

A man unjustly sent to prison in South Africa is released and sets out to track down the man who framed him. Their interactions are colored by the possibility of a gigantic diamond having been hidden somewhere on a fabled mountain, the possible discovery of a lost tomb with a great treasure in it, and the obsession of a German villain who is determined to find the diamond, even if that means committing multiple murders. There’s a bit too much coincidence in the story for my liking, but the pacing is much better than in the author’s previous two books. 6/3/19

Leila by J.P. Donleavy, Penguin, 1983 

Despite the title, this is the second adventure of Darcy Dancer. Still pursuing sex and love, obsessively but often ineptly, Darcy meets Leila and decides that she is the one for him. Alas, Leila declines the honor rather firmly. This gives Darcy pause and reason to reconsider the shape of his life, although not for very long and he is on the hunt again. Anecdotal, occasionally touching, sometimes tedious. 6/1/19

The Hollow Sea by Geoffrey Jenkins, Berkley, 1971

This is primarily a sea adventure about a man obsessed with the disappearance of an ocean liner in 1909 – based on a real event – and an aircraft fifty years later. His grandfather was lost on the first and his father on the second, and both occurred at the same approximate place in the ocean off the coast of Africa. The explanation is an unusual phenomenon during storms and an uncharted island that happens to look like a sailing ship under the right circumstances. A bit too technical at times for my liking, and the protagonist is a selfish cad. 5/29/17

Schultz by J.P. Donleavy, Delacorte, 1979 

Another novel of a man – a rabbi this time – who devotes his life to the pursuit of sex, in which task he mostly succeeds, often in comical circumstances. Schultz also wants to be rich, which would obviously make his quest for sex easier, and he falls in with a couple of spoiled English aristocrats who “help” him along the way. As with the previous couple of Donleavy novels, it alternates between genuinely funny and rather sadly puerile. 5/27/19

The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms by J.P. Donleavy, St Martins, 1995  

Donleavy was at his best at novella length and this is one of his most amusing ones. The protagonist has divorced her husband but her finances are starting to decline as she sets out for a series of encounters in museums – and particularly rest rooms – with an entertaining group of characters. In some ways I think this was the author’s best book. 5/21/19

The River of Diamonds by Geoffrey Jenkins, Avon 1964 

A project designed to harvest diamonds from the ocean floor off the coast of Africa is complicated by an obsessed man who lives on a guano island around which there is considerable mystery. He is not averse to killing anyone who gets in his way as it becomes clear that there is an undersea river that carries diamonds out of the mainland into the ocean. A colony of deadly jellyfish, a mysterious sound that drives people to their death, and more mundane attacks with torpedoes and machine guns adds considerable danger to an already perilous mission. This was a marked improvement on the author’s previous three novels. 5/18/19

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, 1955  

The second and sadly last novel by O’Connor is about a kind of duel. Francis Tarwater is an orphan who was kidnapped by an elderly man from his nephew, a schoolteacher with very different religious beliefs. Tarwater was raised to believe that his fate is to baptize Bishop, the mentally retarded son of his nephew. Although Tarwater resists having his life mapped out for him, when the old man dies he finds himself determined by circumstances to fulfill his destiny. This is actually a very humorous novel, although much of the human is dry and intellectualized. 5/15/19

Are You Listening Rabbi Low by J.P. Donleavy, Atlantic Monthly, 1987 

Rabbi Schultz returns. Donleavy apparently decided that since his heroes are so interchangeable, they might as well appear in multiple novels. Schultz is finally successful as a theater producer in England, but then things fall apart. His wife files for divorce, he finds himself having an affair, and he discovers that his business partners are planning to swindle him. This was a much more focused novel than most of Donleavy’s other work and is actually the first I’ve actively liked since Balthazar B. The humor almost always works, the increasingly complex plot is engaging, and the characters even seem to have more enthusiasm. 5/11/19

Hunter Killer by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1966

This is the sequel to A Twist of Sand, but I can’t imagine why. The protagonist has the same name, but his history is quite different. The story opens with an elaborate burial at sea and subsequent escape from the coffin, which feels more like it belongs in a James Bond movie than in a serious adventure story. The plot is a real mess. The secret transportation of the vice president by submarine is entirely unnecessary, and there is no reason why this would be concealed from the CIA. The author does not seem to understand how the US government and military work, and does not seem to care if his plot makes sense. There is also a giant sea creature that has to be driven off with torpedoes and the discovery of the sunken continent of Limuria. 5/7/19

The Disappearing Island by Geoffrey Jenkins, Avon, 1962  

Also published as A Grue of Ice. An oceanographer is shanghaied onto a factory ship accompanied by several whaling vessels near Antarctica. The protagonist is the only living person to have seen Thompson Island, a mythical place which the chief villain believes is rich with a very valuable mineral. The Norwegian navy sends a destroyer to stop them from violating international law, but the situation escalates when the villains find an abandoned but still functioning German naval weapons facility. I found this rather unconvincing at several points. It was hard to believe the henchmen would go along with something that would obviously place them all in clear violation of international treaties, and the protagonist’s actions are sometimes less than comprehensible. 5/5/19

A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor, 1948 

This is an excellent collection of short stories that somewhat resemble those of Carson McCullers in that they are set in the South, provide glimpses of ordinary people doing ordinary things, and often involve children. O’Connor’s characters tend to be a bit more affluent in general.  The title story is the best, a jarring story of a family on vacation who run into three desperate criminals, who kill them all. Rich prose, deeply drawn characters, and insightful glimpses into another time and place. O'Connor wrote very little but it is all good.  5/1/19

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