Reviews by Waldo Gemio

1601

by Mark Twain

Well, this one really took me by surprise. I even had to check to see that this was really by Mark Twain and not a piece of sabotage by a frustrated scribe. It turns out that this is, indeed, by Twain, though he didn't own up to its authorship until 26 years after it was written (1880);it's a story in which Shakespeare and Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I, aongst others, are trying to work out who farted so thunderously, while discussing, in graphic detail, various sexual practises, including rams masturbating after copulating one hundred times, and the wearing of phallus-shaped hats. If you're offended by the 'c' word, stick to Tom Sawyer.

It's only twelve pages but it's packed with jokes, and literary criticism: "...Shaxpur did rede a part of his 'King Henry IV', ye which, it seemeth unto me, is not of ye value of an arsefull of ashes..." Poor Shakespeare.

Reviewed on 2009.03.08

The Amateur

by Richard Harding Davis

Entertaining manhunt story with a neat twist.

Reviewed on 2009.02.28

The Altar of the Dead

by Henry James

An off-beat, platonic love affair in which an unfulfilled man sets up a special altar to remember not only his would-be bride but every person dear to him who breathes no more...except one: his former best friend who did him an unspecified wrong. He eventually speaks to a 'faded beauty' who is a frequent visitor to the altar and they strike up a friendship based on their mutual rejection of the living. The main interest in this story lies in the main character's inability to admit to himself the truth of his feelings. The plot, such as it is, is dependent on coincidence, and the ending is rather abrupt, but James weaves a spell here not soon forgotten.

Reviewed on 2009.02.23

Absalom's Hair

by Bjornstjerne M. Bjornson

This short novel by one of Norway's 'Great Four' (and a Nobel Prize winner) explores a man's relationship with his obsessive mother and the other women in his life. But 'Sons and Lovers' it ain't. Perhaps something was lost in the (apparently unattributed ) translation. The short piece appended to this 'A Painful Memory from Childhood' could be seen as a coda, or as a separate story. It describes, in chilling detail, the trial and execution of a popular young man, seen from the perspective of a child. All the same, it strikes me that there is a little too much sympathy for a man who killed a woman with an axe, the first blow not killing her outright, leaving her begging for mercy; there's also an implication that because she had 'lain with other men' she might have deserved what she got. I won't be reading any more Bjornson in a hurry.

Reviewed on 2009.02.09

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