Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Curiosities of Literature by John Sutherland (a review)

Curiosities of Literature: A Feast for Book Lovers
2 out of 5: Curiosities of Literature is a collection of short musings on literary miscellany, including such topics as “The First Typewriter-Writer,” “The Worst Novelist Ever,” and “Most Misquoted.” I like to read about books, so I was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, I found Sutherland’s prose, loaded with self-indulgent complexity, to be almost incomprehensible.

Here’s an example from “The Ultra-Literary Biscuit”:
Paterson Arran’s ‘Brontë’ shortbread (so called for entirely inscrutable reasons) is reported to be the top-selling brand among MPs at Westminster’ Portcullis House. Cheering news for the Scottish Nationalists (the maker Paterson Arran is as Caledonian as their product). The biscuit that takes the literary biscuit, so to speak, is Proust’s madeleine, the redolent taste of which inspires the long ruminations of Remembrance of Things Past.
Another example from “Adjectivals”:
The epithets ‘Brontean’ and Thackerayan’ are common in critical and general discourse. I frequently use them myself and very useful they are. But, curiously, some authors’ lives, lifestyles, reputations, and literary works distil conveniently into adjectivality, and others inconveniently resist conversion. Peter Conradi, for example, gets through 500 pages of his authorized life of the novelist without once using ‘Murdochian’. Having read those pages, however, one has a precise idea of what the uncouth term would mean, if anyone, less stylistically scrupulous than Professor Conradi, cared to invent it.
Sutherland’s witty pomposity will either entertain you or drive you mad. Unfortunately, I found myself in the latter category. Consider which camp you belong to before reading this one.


Lisa said...

What a disappointment. The title is so promising but from the excerpts you have here, I'm afraid I'd have to agree with you.

Tina said...

Thanks for the review. I agree --from the title I might have been interested, but this looks like one I can pass on for the time being.

Zibilee said...

I don't think I would enjoy this one at all. Sounds very pretentious and dry to me.