The pleasure of reading The Sundial is in the quality of Jackson’s prose, the cleverness of the way she does character and plot through dialogue or limited narration, the way she can take almost any scene and infuse it with that little frission of dread and foreboding. I’m not as much a fan of it as I am of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, though there are commonalities; most of the characters are detestable, which is not something I get along with, and all but one or two are quite weak personalities, which means they don’t act much versus a single powerful character — which makes that character repellently appealing, but makes the rest of them seem pretty insipid.
Overall, it’s never clear whether this is meant to be horror, literary, fantasy/spec fic, whatever. It can be what you want it to be. What it is really is a story about people and the way they act and react, and how difficult it would be to find people who are really worthy of inheriting a new world. You don’t have to accept that the world is really ending, only that the characters believe so.
As you’d expect, there’s also a fine sense of place; the Hallorans’ home is a character in the story too. There’s a lot of description of it, which is all revealing of character and the history of the family, but if you don’t have the patience for it, that might seem quite slow.
I’ve read some of Wilde’s other work, and in general I like it more than this; the first story, ‘The Canterville Ghost’, is kind of funny, making a comedy out of a ghost story, and some of it is genuinely funny. The second and third stories in this little collection, though, were more disappointing: ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’ seems a pretty standard exercise in a story of self-fulfilling prophecy, and ‘The Sphinx Without A Secret’ was just kind of bloodless.
Still, Wilde’s writing is always good, which kept the mediocre level of plotting from being just boring. ‘The Canterville Ghost’ is the best of the three, I think.
I got along with Fictions a lot better than with The Book of Imaginary Beings; while it’s still composed of various short pieces, each one has a plot and a purpose. The writing is beautiful; if the translation does any justice to the original, it must be gorgeous in its simplicity, while describing plots and settings that are anything but simple. I could almost go learn Spanish just to read Borges’ own words — though this Penguin translation by Andrew Hurley is a good one, and makes the stories accessible and clear.
Can you even pick a favourite from this volume? I suppose maybe I can — ‘The Library of Babel’, maybe, or ‘The Lottery in Babylon’. I’m going to keep this book around and reread it sometime, slower, in a different order, whatever. Just dip in and out see what else I find in these stories that I didn’t see this time. And it’s high praise for me to say that I am sure there’s a lot I didn’t see.
It’s funny to think I didn’t enjoy Armitage’s work the first time I came across it. I think it was his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that changed that. He brought something fresh and dynamic to the poem, which made it a very different reading experience to other translations and adaptations. He’s done the same here with The Odyssey. This is not a translation, or even a completely faithful adaptation: I can think of several places where it departs from the original poem.
However, he brings that same dynamism to Homer’s voice as he did to the Gawain-poet’s. Some of the turns of phrase still ring perfectly true, mixed in with the modern vernacular he uses as well. I’m sure it drives purists crazy, but I set aside any professional qualms and just read it for enjoyment, and thought that he rendered some scenes beautifully — more true to the spirit of the original than any stuffy translation, too, I think.
If you want to read The Odyssey without reading the phrase ‘rosy-fingered dawn’, and you don’t want to worry about Greek customs (xenia, for example), this makes it very easy to follow the story and understand the basic motivations of all the characters. It has a robust beauty to it that wouldn’t work in translating, say, Vergil, but I think in translating Homer it works very well.