A Farewell to Arms, The Hours, and Matilda

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Spoiler ahead, so if you don't want to know, read the book first. In this one a young American, Henry, is serving in the Italian Army during WWI. He meets Catherine, who is grieving the death of her husband (I think I've got that right, it's been a while since I read it.). Henry and Catherine see a lot of each other while Henry is recovering from surgery and they flirt, pretending to be lovers. Soon it develops into something real and after some hair-raising combat situations, they escape to Switzerland. A few months later Catherine goes into labour, delivering a stillborn child, and then dying herself from complications. It ends with Henry walking home from the hospital. Alone in the rain. Because it's Hemingway. 

I didn't love the story or the characters. Henry seemed distant or disconnected somehow, and Catherine was a bit much, but when I read Hemingway none of that matters. It's not about the plot or the characters for me, it's just about the writing. I love spending time inside his words, where the clarity, the purity of the writing, is heady as sea air. I've never found another author who makes me feel like I can breathe deeply inside his books. There is no clutter of words, no swamp of adjectives and adverbs to wade through. It's fresh and uncontaminated, and a joy to read.     

The Hours by Michael Cunningham 
Looking at Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway from three different perspectives, this book made me realize I hadn't read the original with nearly enough depth. I found this unique treatment of it thoughtful and smart. The first part of the book is a day in Woolf's life as she writes Mrs. Dalloway, visits with her sister, and talks to her husband over dinner. The second part is a day in the life of a Mrs. Brown who is currently reading Mrs. Dalloway. The third is a modern-day Clarissa living out Mrs. Dalloway's day, planning a party for a friend who is being honored with a poetry prize, going out to buy flowers and making observations about people and life. 
I thoroughly enjoyed this.  

Matilda by Roald Dahl
My first experience with Roald Dahl has not been a good one. It seems to me an odd book for children, with its violence and bad behaviour on the part of both children and adults. Do you really want your children learning to call someone else a "piece of filth" or an "idiot"? Do you want them learning to take revenge on people who are mean to them and expecting to be successfull at it with no consequences for their own bad behaviour? 

As I was reading I became more and more uncomfortable with it. I didn't like it and I wouldn't give it to a child. I was thinking about it last night and feeling like I must have missed something, some aspect to the story that would have had me enjoying it more. Today, as I read other people's thoughts on the book, I realized that I had missed the aspect of absurdity. The characters are absurd, the things they do are absurd, and the results of their actions are all equally absurd, right through to the absurd ending. Had I approached the book expecting absurdity, I might have liked it better. I didn't know what to expect and so took it too seriously, I think. 

Having said that I still wouldn't give it to a young child - maybe a 12 year old if I could find one still interested at that age, and we'd definitely have to talk about it later.  I am somewhat curious about Dahl's adult stories and may try to find one of those.