*Our Mutual Friend*, Dickens’s last finished novel, revives many familiar Dickens tropes, but unites them with lively social satire, a spare cast (by Dickens’s standard), and a mostly sound narrative. With characteristic ease, *Friend* traverses the socioeconomic spectrum from low to high. Its settings range from the grotesque and morbid, to scenes of fevered fancy and domestic bliss. *Friend*’s social satire is caustic as always. *Friend* is Dickens at his acme.
“My book has no thesis, and any conclusions to be found in it were reached only during the writing, perhaps the most meaningful being that Hitler was far more complex and contradictory than I had imagined. ‘The greatest saints,’ observes one of Graham Greene’s characters, ‘Have been men with a more than normal capacity for evil, and the most vicious men have sometimes narrowly evaded sanctity.’ Deprived of heaven, Adolf Hitler chose hell – if, indeed, he knew the difference between the two.”
“Nothing in the world is meaningless,” Wilde declares, “And sorrow least of all.” Wilde is writing De Profundis in his second year in prison. His first year was full of physical illness, bitterness, and cynicism. Wilde’s embrace of suffering now is motivated not by pessimism but, on the contrary, by self-love.
Joyce reputedly said that if Dublin were razed, it could be recreated from his descriptions of it in Ulysses. Dickens could’ve made the same claim regarding London and Sketches. Here, London emerges into the foreground as the main character. Dickens develops the city’s neighbourhoods, times-of-day, and inhabitants into the portrait of a vibrant city. It is a portrait monumentally detailed, full of humour and colour.
*Trust Exercise* squanders the potential of Part One’s promising narrative about ambition, love, and sexual power politics with Part Two’s dreary postmodern writerly devices.
*Waiting for Godot* and *Endgame* are pure. Pure existential angst. Their plots are constructed, with extravagant meticulousness, out of nothing. Their characters discuss, painstakingly, nothing. Meaninglessness saturates these short plays’ atmosphere: leaving the reader airless, suffocating. These plays are twin peaks of artistic achievement – and are deeply disturbing.
*Poetics* is a bite-sized treatise combining commentary on the evolution of literary genres with still-relevant advice to writers on how to develop characters, construct a good plot, and evoke appropriate emotions in the reader.
Flower Thieves is a promising debut by a writer with an eye for character, a gentle humour, and a gift for simplicity.
In this long essay, Freud examines the puzzling phenomenon of individuals in civilised societies pointing to civilisation as the root of all evil. If you want to discover the meticulous, erudite, prescient scientist behind the caricature that Freud has become in contemporary culture – this succinct, clearly-reasoned analysis marrying history and psychology is a good starting-point.
The Stranger manages to disorient us, and dislocate our own comfortable ideas about what it means to live a human life. It’s not a comfortable book – but, like the best existentialist literature, it’s a book that may enable us to search our own souls, and see in ourselves a brother or a sister to criminals and to saints. It’s a book that may empower us to face the essential meaninglessness of life: in order to create meaning for ourselves.