Posts Tagged ‘politics’

This novel sits on my fence. To be a good novel, or not to be. That is the question.

Winfield has crafted a novel about a masters student, at UC Santa Cruz, who is more interested in drugs and sex than writing his thesis. His life is set on a path by the fact that his name is William Shakespeare–and his master’s thesis is about, guess who, Shakespeare. While Willie moves closer to completing his thesis, his life is paralleled by that of the historic Shakespeare. Winfield brings Shakespeare’s youth and accidental impregnation of Anne Hathaway to life and makes a case for Shakespeare practicing Catholicism during a time when papists were being hung, drawn, and quartered by the Queen of England.

I think the parallel structure of the novel is clever, and the imagination of Shakespeare’s youth was well drawn up. I particularly loved the inclusion of many Shake’s quotes in a relevant and illuminating manner. This novel also shed to light the political situations that Shakespeare would have grown up feeling oppressed or frustrated with.

My issues with the book come from another area. First, the descriptions are flowery. Rarely do I find myself skimming sentences, but it became so bad at points that I even skimmed whole paragraphs. Winfield isn’t verbose, but his first novel includes many details and scenes that do not add to the texture of the story. The long winded scene at Berkeley Campus, for example, felt as though it were merely telling us what it was like to be a student at Cal. The experience could have been cut down to one or two pages, but instead it sucked up page after page telling us about picketing, people shouting absurd chants, and tabling for myriad causes. While these are all a part of Berkeley culture, it was primarily irrelevant to the novel.

“My Name is Will” is Winfield’s first novel, and it was well enough crafted to ensure that he will continue to write, and be read. As I said at the beginning of this post, I can’t recommend this novel, but I also can’t condemn it. Read it yourself, and tell me what you think.

Jess Winfield’s website

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The English Translation, “Philosopher or Dog?,” was originally written in Portuguese under the title “Quincas Borbas.” This Portuguese title is perhaps more applicable to the narrative; at the least it does not lead the reader to believe the dog is in any way a philosopher, nor does it suggest that the dog plays a vital role in the novel. The dog’s name is Quincas Borbas, named after it’s original owner Quincas Borbas who was a philosopher. I can only speculate that the English translation title was a simple question in the translator’s mind: did the original title, Quincas Borbas, refer to the philosopher or the dog? Don’t make the same mistake I did, looking for the dog to have any importance in the novel whatsoever. It was a character that was really inconsequential to the narrative.

Although this novel was written more than a hundred years ago, the prose is fresh and interesting. The narrator is occasionally intrusive, and the point of view changes often. This is a fabulous technique because it allows the reader to see differing viewpoints. For example, the reader knows that Rubaio is in love with the beautiful, sophisticated (and married) Sophia, but we might have read the entire novel believing it was mutual if Rubiao’s voice had spoken to us alone. This technique allows the reader to watch the protagonist’s mental decline through the vision of his social climbing leach-like friends.

De Assis did a fabulous job displaying love in the fashion they would have found enchanting in “Love an the Time of Cholera.” His use of chapter breaks is interesting, and I might reread this novel at some point to try to understand what de Assis was attempting. Sometimes a day or several months elapse between chapters, but sometimes they break up a scene. And finally, the end was odd. After also having read Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” recently, I’m not sure what to make of the ending of this novel. At the same time, I don’t want to give any spoilers. If you love literature, then I recommend reading Philosopher or Dog?. He is considered one of the greatest classic writers in Brazil [thanks Melissa, for noting my mistake in writing Portugal], and his work is assigned for almost every schoolchild. Unfortunately, not all of his work has been translated into English.

Purdue’s link about de Assis

NYT Article on de Assis