Books, 2015 (3)

73. Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2. 7/3. The last act, with its scenes between Henry IV and Prince Hal over the crown and their reconciliation and between Falstaff and his cronies, and then between Henry V and Falstaff, is so strong. I agree with those who find Henry V suspect. If I were directing this, I would make the dying Henry IV a credulous grasper after straws and Hal a conniving bastard; his dismissal of Falstaff would be cruel and politic. The two Henrys and Prince John are so treacherous and untrustworthy and so ready to rationalize their conduct. Falstaff isn't a good man by any standards, but he's lovable and dependable in his knavery in a way that the royals aren't.

74. Jesse Green, O Beautiful. 7/5. Martin, a wealthy young gay man who designs theater sets, has a blind date with the beautiful Matt, whom he discovers to be straight. Matt has a falling out with his girlfriend and moves in--temporarily--with Martin. They share a bed, the TV, a bathroom, and food, but not sex. Martin is in love with beauty, but the outward order of his life disguises an inner mess. Matt sponges on him and tells him lots of lies. Eventually Martin discovers how much Matt has lied. Martin falls into the East River, nearly drowns, and survives to become a new man. Martin thinks a lot about beauty. Like Matt, he concludes, beauty depends on lies.

Green occasionally produces a stellar sentence, but this is so carefully written that it becomes artificial. This is the literary novel writing courses and lit crit courses teach authors to write. Every childhood woe of Martin's is reworked into a metaphor for his life and his damaged psyche. People and events are carefully balanced to display opposing traits. Martin neatly learns a lesson about life at the end. Martin and Matt deserved a messier writer.

75-77 Harry Green, Nothing, Doting, and Blindness. Most of July. A collection of three Green novels published by Penguin. Blindness (1926) is about a young man who is blinded in an accident and his life before and after. Nothing (1950) and Doting (1952) treat manipulative women. The latter two are unique for the relative paucity of narrative description of people and places and the avoidance of free indirect speech. Upwards of 95 percent of each book is devoted to dialogue (most often between two people; rarely three or more), and neither can be said to have a plot. The conversations are extraordinary for conveying the inner lives of the characters without breaching the bounds of conventional language or everyday conversational topics. In terms of technique, both novels are superb; neither is particularly analytical, however. But, then, neither aspires to deal with anything beyond everyday life. They do that marvelously well. Blindness was Green's first published novel. It is more traditional in form, and, especially in the descriptions of places and environments, the language is a bit fanciful and tries too hard to be distinctive.

78. Reginald Hill, On Beulah Height. 7/15. Peter Robinson and Reginald Hill have a lot of similarities: both situate most of their stories in rural/small town Yorkshire, they have a similar roster of characters, both write police procedurals with heavy doses of information on the personal lives of their cops. Hill, however, favors more eccentric , colourful characters. He also tries harder to be a 'good' writer than does Robinson. Sometimes that works; other times it leaves his books strewn with purple passages. Overall, I favor Robinson because the cumulative impact of any of his books leaves me feeling that it could have happened and that the events are more deeply rooted in real life. There may not be as many fireworks, and their impact is quieter, but Alan Banks is a person and Andy Dalziel is not. Still, Hill's books are great entertainments.

79. Reginald Hill, Arms and the Women. 7/17. Several intrepid women overcome assorted baddies:
Ellie Pascoe, DI Pascoe's wife; her Tory, daughter of an archdeacon friend; an elderly woman devoted to liberal causes and a former intelligence operative; her granddaughter, an expert in laundering money; a young intelligence officer; a female DC; a South American rebel; a wheel-chair bound gatherer of intelligence; and last but not least, the Pascoe's young daughter. The usual male crew of Pascoe, Dalziel, and Wield play lesser roles.

80. Reginald Hill, Exit Lines. 7/18. Three elderly men die on a stormy evening after uttering enigmatic last words.

81. Reginald Hill, The Wood Beyond. 7/22, Pascoe discovers information about his great-grandfather and grandfather, all of which has bearing on several present-day cases. Well written, but too neatly tied up at the end.

82. Reginald Hill, Recalled to Life. 7/24. Daziel and Pascoe solve a murder committed in 1963.

83. Henry Green, Concluding. 7/26. A novel that observes the three unities. This takes place over the course of one day at training school for young women destined to work for the 'State'. It is set in a former great house in the country. It takes place in the near future of an all-encompassing, highly bureaucratic state. Green published this in 1948 at a time when the UK envisioned by the Labour  party seemed possible. Mr. Rock, now an elderly and retired architect of the State, has a life tenancy of one of the cottages on the estate and lives there with his granddaughter, who has suffered a mental breakdown from overwork and is in love with one of the teachers at the school (an alliance Rock opposes); a goose named Ted; a pig named Daisy; and a cat named Alice. The principal of the school, Miss Edge, is the type of mediocrity churned up by bureaucracies. She is determined to dislodge Mr. Rock from his cottage. Her animus towards Rock is hard to fathom until near the end of the book she proposes marriage to him while under the influence of tobacco (she has had three cigarettes instead of her usual one). Rock's refusal of her offer makes her even more determined to get rid of him. Rock, who is oblivious to all this as well as to his granddaughter's continuing passion for her beau, wanders back to his cottage, thinking all is well.

Green's descriptions of the environment still veer towards the purple, but he has this tendency more under control than in some of the earlier novels. Here, the odd conjunctions of descriptive adjective and the modified noun are more often examples of synaethesia than a risible reaching for effect. Again, the plot is of minimal importance in the book. This is more a character study of common human traits as they might find expression in the Brave New World of the State.

84. Reginald Hill, Bones and Silence. 7/27. A clever woman outwits both Dalziel and Pascoe, and a clever man almost does. One great line: two women are 'laughing together, or at least they were laughing at the same time.'

85. Reginald Hill, Dialogues of the Dead. 7/29. The ending of this one strikes me as far-fetched and too clever.

86. Reginald Hill, Under World. 7/30. Sex, lust, marital infidelity, and murder. The Pascoes' divergent political views cause a rift, which carries over into the next novels in the series. Ellie Pascoe is also tempted here by an attractive young man, but he dies and ends the threat

87. Reginald Hill, Pictures of Perfection. 8/1. A quaint English village mystery, which turns out to be more mischief than mayhem. The only critter murdered is a bird. Sergeant Wield finds his love.

88. Reginald Hill, Death Comes for the Fat Man. 8/3. Dalziel is sidelined in this segment when an explosion leaves in a coma. Pascoe develops Dalzielish traits as he battles the security services and a rogue gang exercising vigilante-style executions of Muslims it regards as terrorists. Often combos of detectives such as Holmes and Watson, or here Dalziel, Pascoe, and Wield, are seen as split personalities. Pascoe's integration of Dalziel into his personality makes up for the absence of Dalziel in the mix and buttresses this argument.

89. Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing. 8/4. Jokes about cuckolds must have been thought hilarious in S's age. I know that according to contemporary mores, Hero had to wed Claudio or be thought guilty of what he accused her of, but still I wish she had refused him or at least slapped his face. Benedict and Beatrice, and Hero and Claudio, would have divorced after a few months if they lived now. As flirts, B&B are successful--but they have no basis for a marriage other than their mistaken belief in each other's love. In truth each loves only him/herself and each is flattered to think of the other as the person who loves, not as the person he or she loves. Psychological a sound basis for egoism but not for marriage.

90. Shakespeare, Henry V. 8/7. The way in which Shakespeare manipulates audience opinion is much more apparent here than in other plays. Shown to be outnumbered, outgunned, outbragged, the plucky Englishman still triumphs and then modestly attributes his success to God. Plus, he's a rough, honest wooer unlike those effete Frenchies. Even a French audience would applaud Henry. S's manipulations of the audience mirror Henry's manipulations of the other characters.

S doesn't neglect the brutish aspects of rulers in that age, however. He is realistic about that. Henry tells the leaders of Honfleur they can surrender the city or watch while his victorious  troops rape and slaughter and pillage. The new improved Henry also lets his old associate Bardolph swing for his crimes to show that the law and his orders take precedent over acquaintanceship and comradeship. Henry can also massacre with the best of them--but he does so only in reprisal for the French attack on the baggage train and the murder of the boys left to watch it.

The use of Chorus to set the scene allows S both to excuse and to brag about his staging of historical events that should require casts of thousands. There is no fourth wall in this play. It even ends with an advert for the other history plays.

92. Reginald Hill, April Shroud. 8/7. While on vacation, Dalziel gets involved with a strange family. Dalziel doesn't run true to character in this and ends up covering up a case of insurance fraud and assisting the youngest member of the family to avoid a murder charge.

93. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. 8/7. Adroit, but somehow never engaging. Brutus is admirably principled but lamentably unpractical.

94. Henry Green, Loving. 8/8. The servants in a great house in Ireland (owned by a Brit, and the servants are all English) during WWII lead their own lives, barely attending to the two women and two children who are the nominal objects of their care.

95. Henry Green, Living.8/10. Green's book on workers' lives, presumably based on his own experiences in his family's factory. This takes place in Birmingham in the late 1920s. It deals with work rivalries and tensions on the shop floor and the home life of a group of three workers, an older skilled worker, another older man who is his assistant, and a younger worker, who live together in the first man's house. The daughter of the second man keeps house for them. The first man has decided that the younger man and the young woman are to marry, but the young woman decides otherwise. The man she falls in love with persuades her to elope, but that goes badly wrong and she returns to Birmingham and takes care of the two older men, both of whom were made redundant.

This is written in a new style for Green. He's almost telegraphic in conveying the inner thoughts of the characters, and he eschews the definite article ('he read newspaper').

96. Shakespeare, As You Like It. 8/10. Along with the usual joking about cuckolds, the usual devices of a young male actor portraying a woman who dresses as a young man, various degrees of rural swains, cynical clowns, wise young women, bewildered men, a melancholy male, a duke deposed by his brother and later restored, and several songs.  Like other of the comedies, the problems are resolved quickly in Act V.

The performative aspects of life are much on display, rather as in Henry V, which was written around the same time. External appearances are accepted as truths and as gauges of the psyche. Like Viola, Rosalind is successful as the male Ganymede, even though many of the characters note Ganymede's feminine aspects and Orlando pretends that she is indeed Rosalind for the purposes of curing his lovesickness.

There are nasty characters about, but they undergo reform at the end, and the nastiness never threatens to turn the comedy into a tragedy as it does in other of the comedies. Here it's more a plot device to transfer the elite characters to the Forest of Arden.

Arden is itself important in the play as a location with which the characters interact rather than simply being a place where the characters are. It is, of course, another rustic setting in a long tradition of sylvan or pastoral retreats from urban and court life. Except for Jacques, the elite characters are quick to abandon it and return to the court at the end. It is almost as if they were actors responding appropriately to their environment (in this case as the literary tradition has told them elites who find themselves in such environments behave) but ready to move on to roles in another play at the end.

97. Shakespeare, Hamlet. 8/11. The First Folio version. Focussed on cases of seeming versus real, doubt versus knowledge. The soldiers and Horatio see a ghost who seems to be the remnant of King Hamlet; they're not sure. Hamlet at first accepts the ghost, but later reasons that the ghost may be a falsehood sent by the devil to tempt him into sin. Gertrude accuses Hamlet of seeming to mourn his father; Hamlet replies he is in mourning, not just pretending to mourn. Laertes and then Polonius warn Ophelia that Hamlet only pretends to be in love with her. Hamlet reveals that his strategy will be to pretend to be mad; Ophelia does go mad. The player weeps for Hecuba. Hamlet doubts the ghost and needs independent proof; a make-believe supplies the proof. Hamlet thinks Claudius is praying and would die shriven; Claudius gives up on prayer. Hamlet thinks it's Claudius behind the arras and discovers it is Polonius. Rosencrantz and Guildensterne pretend to be Hamlet's friends but betray him for the king's favor. The courtiers, who disdained Claudius while King Hamlet was alive, now pay great amounts for a portrait of him. In the end, Hamlet abandons knowledge and surrenders to fate ('a special providence in the fall of a sparrow').

An interesting variant in the Folio---'there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophies.' That changes the meaning of the line considerably. I think it adds to the sense that Hamlet's emotions and reason are in conflict.

Hamlet drifts in and out of the play the other characters are acting.

98. Reginald Hill, A Pinch of Snuff. 8/12.

99. Henry Green, Party Going. 8/13. A group of very rich people on their way to the south of France are stranded by fog in a railway station hotel in London. They behave petulantly and generally make trouble for one another. Green manages to make a group of unsympathetic people interesting.

100. Reginald Hill, A Killing Kindness. 8/15. An early, short (ca. 85K) work, and Hill is still working out the personalities and interactions of Pascoe, Dalziel, and Wield.

101.  Reginald Hill, A Clubbable Woman. 8/15. Hill's first work in the Pascoe and Dalziel series. Wield and Ellie do not appear here.

102. Reginald Hill, Ruling Passion. 8/16. The third in the Pascoe and Dalziel series. Ellie and Pascoe become engaged in this one. Wield has yet to appear. The desire of the middle classes to keep up appearances is the mainspring of the action here.

103. James Ellroy, Killer on the Road. 8/18. A first-person narrative by a serial killer interspersed with articles from newspaper and magazines to reveal things the killer would not know. Ellroy's true crime and tabloid-style prose is rampant here.

104. P. D. James, A Certain Justice. 8/20. Good psychologies, but James resorts to the long confessional letter from one of the prime suspects and eventual victims to unravel the mystery and the plot. The letter itself doesn't fit the character and it's too lyrically descriptive for the occasion. It's her solution to the problem of revealing a character's thoughts and motivations post mortem and the equivalent of Poirot gathering everyone in the library to announce the solution. One of the murderers gets away with his murder, but he's a lawyer and knows how to leave no actionable evidence. James reveals his motivations in a long, hypothetical discussion between him and Dalgleish.

105. P. D. James, Original Sin. 8/22. Contrived plot. During WWII, an Englishman has to flee France, leaving his Jewish wife and two children behind in Vichy France. They are betrayed by a member of the Resistance to the Nazis and gassed. After WWII, the Englishman becomes a published poet of some note and joins a publishing firm. The Frenchman who betrayed his family has married the daughter of the man running the firm and is now a partner in the firm. Many years later, the Englishman takes his revenge by killing the two grown children of the Frenchman.

Dalgleish and Kate Mishkin are joined by a Jewish detective this time around. Daniel Aaron is not an observant Jew and this tortures him a bit. He discovers the murderer and lets him escape to commit suicide, an act that ends his career. So he's a one-off in the series for his convenient Jewishness.

James uses a lot of touristy descriptions to describe London and the Thames. As in A Certain Justice, she mentions Barbara Pym. Her books do share certain similarities with Pym's (and with Iris Murdoch's). She had their psychological insight and is fond of describing interiors and clothing in detail. She doesn't have Pym's skill in writing conversations, however.

106. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. 8/22. Besides The Tempest, this is the only comedy without jokes about cuckolds and female infidelity. It still features several of Shakespeare's favorite comedic ploys--cross-dressing, mistaken identities, unsuitable pairs of lovers who find the right partner in the end. Malvolio is a comic masterpiece--he's detestable for the first three acts and then ends up eliciting sympathy. In the economy of the play, he is the most obvious of the fools in love. On the page, Olivia doesn't come across as particularly desirable--only Orsinio's and Aguecheek's pursuits of her testify to her desirability, and both of them abandon her with little hesitance at the end.

107. P. D. James, Devices and Desires. 8/25. A lot of characters handled with skill. Some info-dumps. The first is a quality I need to acquire; the second is something to avoid.

108. P. D. James, Death in Holy Orders. 8/26. Another High Church Anglican community beset with murder.

109. Val McDermit, The Torment of Others. 8/30. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan continue their broken lives while catching the mastermind behind two serial killers. Nice twist at the end--the killer turns out to be one of the cops assisting the investigation.

110.  Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida. 8.31. In a world in which words and what people can be made to believe matter more than the truth, in which for a man honour is the most desired good, and in which reputation is a major component of honour, people like Cressida do not fare well. She does what she has to do to survive in this world. In the end, she is reduced to a gauge, a piece of fabric tied to Diomedes' armour and intended to inflame the Trojan that gave her the sleeve. She does not speak her final lines but sends them to Troilus in a note, a note that Troilus reads to himself and then tears to pieces and tosses to the wind. In the final battle scenes, she becomes the source of the rancor fuelling Troilus' fighting skills.

Here Hector is nobler and Achilles even more of a cad than they are in the Iliad. Hector spends his final battle fighting well and fairly; he decides he has had enough for the day and begins removing his armour. Achilles backed by a troop of Myrmidons surrounds him and then has his soldiers kill Hector, but of course claims all the credit for the 'victory'. Hector sees honour as a matter of fidelity to certain standards, but Achilles believes that a reputation for observing those standards matters more than the truth. And Achilles wins.

In the play, the Greeks and Trojans are less enemies (they can banquet together and entertain each other; Hector and Ajax do not battle to the death because they are cousins; Ulysses is a good friend to Troilus when they spy on the meeting between Diomedes and Cressida) and more opportunities to achieve fame and renown by scoring off each other. They need each other in a way that they do not need women or family.

The language of the play is both more theatrical and more rhetorical than that found in many of the plays. It's often so convoluted and so full of classical references and tropes that the editor of the Arden edition didn't have enough space in the footnotes to disentangle much of it and had to resort to more of the lengthy endnotes than are found in other books in this series.The language suits the play. These are characters who create themselves and others through words.

How  does an actress play Cressida? She so quickly goes from the devoted lover of Troilus to the slag of the Greek camp. Is the Cressida of the first three acts as deceitful as the Cressida of the last two? There are hints in the first three acts that she is a more knowing lover than she lets on--she sees her seeming reluctance to grant him access to her bed as one aspect of her attraction to Troilus (the 'Why buy the cow when you already have the milk?' argument), and she worries that he will prove less devoted once he has had the milk. In the final two acts, she occasionally remembers Troilus and what they meant to each other, but still she has to survive and she needs a champion in the Greek camp. Troilus, after all, hands her over with little protest (he recognizes the Realpolitik behind her exchange for Antenor) and contents himself with expressing his worries that she may prove less than faithful to him (a self-fulfilling prophecy?); her father pays no attention to her after she arrives and makes no effort to defend her 'honour'. Troilus is as enraged about the insult to his honour as Menelaus is about his, and Cressida adapts are readily to her new situation as Helen did to hers. To be sure, contemporary attitudes towards women are much on display here, but Shakespeare, as usual, is saying more. Cressida is more of an agent than the men in her life would allow her to be. That in the end her agency matters not a bit is her, and the other women's, tragedy.

The Arden edition reproduces the publisher's preface found in the 1609 quarto. It oddly insists that this is a comedy and filled with wit. Granted, the definition of 'comedy' has changed since S's time, but even so the apparently expedient placement in the Folio of the play between the histories and tragedies better captures the nature of the play. Like the histories, it portrays power and authority as matters of perception and public theatre; like the tragedies, it does not end well for the major characters (one suspects that only Thersites and Pandarus will survive unscathed). The preface also claims that the play has never been acted (evidently not true) and presents the play as a reading text only. In that it is probably correct--it raises the types of questions that are best thought in private rather than experienced fleetingly on the stage.

It's difficult to know what to make of this play, but then Shakespeare tends to defeat definitive comment.

111. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure. 9/2. A mix of elements found in other plays--the constable who mangles English; the husband tricked into sleeping with his wife and thus consummating the marriage (granted they are only strongly betrothed at that point). Shakespeare's take on the issue of law versus justice and the nature of judges and judging.

112. Anthony Trollope, Dr Whortle's School. 9/9. A late and, for Trollope, very short novel. A clergyman who runs a school discovers that one of his teachers is not married to the women he has passed off as his wife. The couple married after the the brother of the woman's first wife tells that man that his brother is dead. They discover only later that the first husband is indeed alive. (The two lived in St Louis at the time, and the husband, an Englishman, fled with his supposed wife to England.)  The brother shows up and reveals all. Dr Whortle insists that the couple separate; he offers sanctuary to the woman and funds the husband's trip back to the United States to discover if the first hushand is alive or dead.

As was his wont, Trollope did not keep readers in suspense about the fate of the first husband. The novels focusses instead on Dr Whortle's determination to behave properly to the couple. Despite the criticisms and gossipping of his neighbours and his bishop's remonstrances, Dr Whortle does not turn the woman out and treat her as a scarlet hussy. His school loses students and appears in danger of closing when the husband returns with the proof of the first husband's death, and the couple is again remarried. All ends well.

Trollope eschews the usual long discussions of hunting, and there is only a cursory love affair between his daughter and one of his pupils--a future earl. There are the usual long speeches about openness, morality, and what it means to be a Christian gentleman, but the doctor's dilemma and his handling of it speak to the value of upholding the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

113.  W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn. 9/10. Apparently a record of a walking tour of Suffolk, with chance encounters leading to long digressions about a wide variety of examples of decay.

114. W. G. Sebald, Vertigo. 9/10. Much like the previous one--the author is traveling, this time to Vienna, Venice, other spots in northern Italy and Austria, and then into southern Germany to revisit the town in which he grew up. Along the way, he resurrects Stendahl, Casanova, and Kafka and conpares their stays in northern Italy with his. His question seems to be what it is that allows a writer to write or prevents him from writing. He finds that memory is not reliable. Again a cross between fiction and nonfiction.

115. Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach, 9/10. A newly married couple discovers that they are not ready for marriage, especially the physical part of it. Much immaturity leads to a disaster and the dissolution of the marriage unconsummated.

Vacation reading, 9/12-26
116-17. Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who Went Underground, and The Cat Who Went Bananas. The usual whimsy.

118. Peter Robinson, A Necessary End.

119. Dev Stryker, Deathright. An odd combination of romantic thriller in which the thriller takes a back seat to the romance. Unconvincing.

120. Robin Cook, Blindsight. One of his better ones--he took the time to develop a story instead of writing an outline for a movie.

121. Ridley Pearson, Killer View.

122. Marcel Montesino, Big Time. A mob story, but convincing about music.

123-24. James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, Worst Case and Step on a Crack.

125.  James Patterson and Howard Rosyham, Honeymoon.

126. Scott Turow,  Pleading Guilty. Good job with a confused hero lost in plots within plots.

127. W. G. Sebald, The Emigrants. Another of Sebald's odd first-person illustrated narratives in which one is never sure where the autobiography and the biography end and where the fiction begins. Sebald mingles his own story of his migration to England for study with the stories of his own family members' life in the US with that of German-Jewish painter in Manchester and the story of the painter's family in Germany.

128. Henry Green, Back. 9/28. Green's magic works by accretion, small verbal tics accumulate, an odd word, two characters talking but mishearing each other, small realizations, a groping about in the dark, overheard phrases. A prisoner-of-war repatriated to London finds his childhood and early-adult lover dead; he meets the husband and son of the woman, and wrongly suspects the son to be his child; the father of the woman sends him to the woman's illegitimate step-sister, who the man mistakes for the woman; the father suffers a stroke, the step-daughter cares for him and his wife until the father dies; the soldier eventually recognizes that the step-daughter is not the daughter and then eventually marries her. Meanwhile the soldier's life continues at the office where he works. It's all very low-key, no dramatics, nothing much happens, yet it adds up to an intriguing read.

129. W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz. 9/30. Another of Sebald's first-person illustrated narratives in which the narrator travels through Europe and meets people who tell him their stories. In this work, the autobiographer is Jacques Austerlitz, who arrived in Wales in 1939 as one of the children evacuated from the Prague Jewish community before WWII. During his youth, Austerlitz erases his memories of his life in Prague, an act that result in frequent mental and physical problems. He eventually travels to Prague and finds traces of his parents and recovers his memories of his early life. His mental health suffers.

Austerlitz is at once a surname, the site of a chaotic battle, and the name of one of the many grand European train stations built in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries as monuments to European bourgeois civilisation that figure in this book.

Early in the book, the narrator visits a the display of nocturnal animals in the zoo in Antwerp. There he sees a racoon compulsively washing an apple, an act he sees as the animal's attempt to find a reality in the unreality in which it lives. Later Austerlitz remarks on the tendency of unreality to intrude on reality. Both of these are apt descriptions of Austerlitz's quest to recover his own personal history, a quest that leads him to discover twentieth-century history, which he had previously ignored.  His search leads him to various way stations in the Nazi Final Solution, such as Theresienstadt and the deportation sites in Prague and Paris. Ironically the site of the warehouses where the possessions of French Jews were catalogued and stored in Paris is now the site of the new national library--whose bureaucracy makes knowledge difficult to uncover even as the building in which it is housed covers up an historical site.

Sebald doesn't speculate on the tendency of reality to intrude into fiction, but that tendency is much on display here. Sebald has obviously read widely on the Holocaust, but his info-dumps are skillfully done. He lets the horror of it steal up on the reader bit by bit.

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