06.28.11

The Best of Brit Lit

From Yeats to Occupied Paris to a state of England novel, the editor of the TLS, Peter Stothard, picks his favorite reads from the week.

Yeats’s Magic

yeats a vision

Reading W. B. Yeats’ cosmological work A Vision is “famously impossible”, writes Clair Wills in the TLS, although the letters between Yeats and his wife, George, do now shed a little light on this book, which was written by the couple in mutual cooperation through “automatic writing” and “sleep dictation” over 15 years. The effect of this correspondence is to “humanize the visionary,” and make it all seem “nicely ordinary.” "The endless drafts of A Vision were the means by which Yeats could continue to work on his theory of the imagination, an enabling marriage of the everyday and the mystical as important as the enabling presence of George to send a clean pair of pants.”

Graham Swift’s Piece of England  

wish you were here

Clare Morgan also finds echoes of Yeats in Graham Swift's new novel, which "portrays the struggle of the dispossessed individual with all the complex and overwhelming force of what, in Yeats’ words, 'is past, or passing, or to come.'"

Wish You Were Here is concerned with everyday tragedies in England: "Madness, in one form or another, is pervasive. Mad cow disease, the madness of the invasion of Iraq, and the madness of greed and avarice which results from the unbridled expression of a late capitalist banking system—all these lie at the heart of a narrative whose central subject is grief and loss."

Dancing Under the Nazis 

and the show went on

From the glum days of England to the "dark years" of Occupied Paris, once the capital of artistic and intellectual freedom; what happened when this free-spirited community was run by the Nazis?  "The question of how its artists and writers behaved after the German army rolled into the city in June 1940" is the subject of And The Show Went On. "Although some . . . are revealed as fervent collaborators and others as committed résistants, things were not always as clear-cut as they appeared," notes David Drake; divided loyalties, patriotism and the shadow of the Dreyfus Affair all muddied the waters. The book's author, Alan Riding, "neither falls into moral relativism nor indulges in accusatory finger-pointing, but instead allows his subjects’ words and deeds to speak for themselves."