Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A hundred years

Lucien Freud: Girl reading (from here)
I have just finished reading Golden Age, the last of Jane Smiley's trilogy The Last Hundred Years.  I have always enjoyed her writing, but this tale in particular has chimed so closely with my own memories and thoughts.
Following a family's stories is such an apposite way to consider human development.  In this case Jane Smiley has started in Some Luck with the period just after the first World War, which is where my own memories start.  Of course I was not around then, but as a small child all the family conversation involved vivid retellings by aunts, great aunts, and one great great aunt of who did what, where around then.  My own story started in the late 1940s, just after the second World War, and so the narratives within the second volume Early Warning are more personally vivid. 
Pablo Picasso: Reclining woman reading (from here)
The third volume Golden Age goes beyond our present time by a couple of years and paints a somewhat pessimistic picture of where we are now.  A character asks if we have been living through a golden age that has come to an end, a question I increasingly seem to ask myself.
Alex Katz: Round Hill (from here)
The narrative begins on a farm and spreads to many occupations, situations, and locations, covering society's development through 20th into 21st century United States.  Farming and food production have been vital elements in humanity's development, and in some ways perhaps provide a litmus test for how we are doing as a society.
These reviews give a much better broad idea of each volume than I can:
Some Luck here and here
Early Warning here, here, and here
Golden Age here and here
Patrick Procktor: Woman reading (from here)
Somewhere in the reviews Jane Smiley is compared to Tolstoy, and certainly I was immersed in the trilogy as I previously have been in those tremendous novels that previously did not blanch at taking a great chunk of their society to hold up and examine in human detail.  Immersion in this trilogy has not made me feel any more optimistic about where we humans are going - especially as I have been reading it during the build-up to one of the most ironically excessively wasteful commercial festivals of the year - but nonetheless I very much enjoyed the telling of the tale.
Henry Moore: Girl reading at window (from here)

6 comments:

  1. This trilogy sounds very interesting, will see if I can get it at our library. I like all the art work you use here as illustrations.

    I recall trying to read Smiley's "The Greenlanders" but the library's copy was dreadful - very small font, tight line spacing and lengthy paragraphs that should have been broken up. My aging eyes could not handle that! Not the author's fault but rather the publisher's lack of type editing and design. Sigh.

    I agree with the awful commercialism of Christmas. We keep it simple, easier to do with grown up children, though the granddaughters are treated a bit more generously (art supplies this year).

    All good holiday wishes to you and your partner!

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    1. I'm sorry to read that you have suffered from bad type design. You will have to ask Santa for a Kindle so that you can adjust the size of the text.
      I find that books by popular authors can be quite inexpensive - for instance I paid less than £8 for the three books together of this trilogy. The first two were on special offer when the third was published, and then I was lucky that the third was reduced in price just when I had finished the second one.

      Well, we shall put up the tree tomorrow as is our personal custom, bring in some greenery and put up the accumulated cards. Then I shall make a mulled drink for us to have as we read.

      Wishing you and your family all the best for the holiday.

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  2. Olga, I discovered when we got to our home in Greece that I had not brought the first of the trilogy with me which I wanted to read again before starting on the other two. So, the question now is, what to do? Shall I read nos 2 and 3, or wait until I have all three volumes available, as the enjoyment would be greater? Or shall I wait until the Easter break when I will have enough time to read all three? Can I wait that long? A difficult one....

    Glad you enjoyed it and I have to say, I am envious, as I was really looking forward to it. Lovely images you have posted to accompany your post.

    Have a wonderful Christmas, Olga, and all the best.

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    1. Oh gosh, what a tricky dilemma. I suppose it depends how good your memory is as each successive volume continues as if there had been no break.

      I hope you have a great time over Christmas and New Year, and have a kourambieh for me!

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  3. Jane Smiley has written such widely different books throughout her career, in terms of subject - the amount of research alone is impressive, never mind the realisation of the story in its setting, and the embodiment of themes. I'm in awe, and was fortunate to hear her "in conversation" at a local bookshop last year. Which is not to say I've read the latest trilogy, yet. But I occasionally dip into her "Thirteen ways of looking at the novel" which came from a charity shop - what a find!

    Best wishes for the new year!

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  4. Margaret, I did not know about Thirteen ways of looking at the novel, so thanks. Yes, I too am in awe of her abilities.

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