Archive for May 30th, 2011

I recently read a review of Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, The Bradshaw Variations, in Rain Taxi, a journal of book reviews. The reviewer evokes Woolf in a flattering if tongue-in-cheek comparison:

“What makes it not only Cusk’s best work to date but also one of the most engaging British novels of recent years is the extent to which the author commits to the insipid, the domestic, the mundane. If Virginia Woolf had gone for a jog everyday instead of smoking so much, she might have written The Bradshaw Variations (though this is still strict realism, much more Night and Day than The Waves).”

Cusk, who has written eight novels in 10 years, must be dancing on air, as she has proclaimed Woolf’s influence, particularly in her 2007 Arlington Park. The one-day-novel set in a London suburb was inspired by Mrs. Dalloway.

Now I’m reading the new collection of stories by Julian Barnes, Pulse. Barnes is a witty wordsmith, eloquent at times, egotistical and chest-beating at others. In both regards he reminds me of John Updike. My favorite story in this book is, ironically, “Sleeping with John Updike.” Jane and Alice, middle-aged, moderately successful authors and long-time colleagues and friends, are on a train traveling home from a literary festival at which they both presented.

They are generous with their praise for each other, their work, their recent readings, though “each privately liked the other’s work a little less than they said.” And under the radar they reflect to themselves critically as well on each other’s dress and appearance, mannerisms and morals.

As I was reading this, I started to picture Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield in this scenario. They engaged with each other in much the same way—devoted friends professing mutual admiration, while at the same time snide critics and fierce competitors.

And Updike? It turns out that years ago at a party Alice perched on his knee, and he “twinkled” at her. But she let Jane believe that it had gone further, because “one has one’s pride,” and their sex lives are another area of competitiveness. Hmmm, who shall we cast in Updike’s role in Virginia and Katherine’s story?

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