Not that I was ever off it, but Ulysses was just a massive presence in my life for a month and a half. At the time, I thought the novel was a bit of a chore, but ever since then I’ve been writing much weirder, more modernist-influenced work. Go figure, I guess.
Anyway, for the past month I’ve mostly been reading German novels, and my tentative plan is to continue doing that through the end of the year. However, I did take some time out to read Bel Ami by Guy de Maupaussant. I’d previously only been familiar with his short stories (and not terribly familiar even with those), so I was surprised to discover that he even has a novel.
It was super good. I tore through it in about a day. It’s all about a guy who rises from petty clerk to major political player by, basically, seducing and getting in good with women. A very strange novel, in many ways, since the main character is so amoral. He only has glimmers of true feeling in him. In many ways, this is good, since it focuses attention on the women. The novel treats them very gently. You’re always able to see what they can see in this man. In most cases, it’s a projection of something they need in their lives. But the novel never makes them out to be ruined women. They’re…they’re searching for something. It’s odd.
Also odd is the spectral presence of death running through the novel. There’s an old literary figure in it who at one point delivers a speech–it goes on for many pages–about how he can always feel the presence of death…how nothing will ever matter because death will come and destroy it all, etc etc. And that stays with you throughout the novel. When you get to the end, you keep waiting for death to make an appearance–for the main character to somehow become aware of his own death–and he never quite does, but nonetheless it’s always in the back of the mind of you, the reader. It’s a lot of trust to put in the reader and in your own writing. That’s something I’ve been trying to learn: how to trust my own effects.