Sunday, September 02, 2007

Reader's Diary #284- Boris Pasternak: The Last Summer (FINISHED!)

My copy of Boris Pasternak's The Last Summer was published under the Penguin Modern Classics banner but I question if it warrants the title of a "classic." While Pasternak was responsible for Doctor Zhivago and he did win a Nobel Prize, I don't think The Last Summer deserves many accolades. Perhaps something was lost in George Reavey's English translation but according to Lydia Slater who wrote the introduction, the translation was surprisingly close.

It was far from the worst thing I ever read, but if it had been longer than 93 pages I have a feeling this assessment would be harsher. My major issue was the heavy language. Every minute detail and thought seemed drawn out and tedious, like complexity for its own sake. A typical example:
...each time anyone thinks it does not matter, which way these carpet fictions fall- head or feet South or North of the Pole, then descriptions and similes of of prodigious magnetic sensitivity manifest themselves.
How many times did I simply decide to read on without the slightest idea as to what he was talking about?

Fortunately, however, there were moments of clarity, and those I quite enjoyed. In particular I loved the beautiful and poetic way he continuously described the setting. A favourite line comes the morning after a storm:
[The poplar trees'] felled leaves speckled the pavement like soiled scraps of torn receipts.
I often have a problem when authors use the setting as a consequence of the action, as if the weather, for example, depends upon our moods and not the other way around. Pasternak seemed to realize he has been guilty of that as well, but subtly acknowledges that it is the way weather is perceived by someone that counts. If you're in a bad mood, the day might be humid. If you're in a good mood, it might be sultry. The connotations are what matter.

I also appreciated the occasional glimpses into his craft. Apparently The Last Summer is quite autobiographical and it was nice to get some insight into his inspiration and methods. It was interesting to note that he sometimes added fictitious words into his first drafts. He didn't want to be slowed down to find a better word and this approach allowed him to keep going. I really enjoyed one of the excerpts that Serezha (the protagonist) worked on and found myself longing to read that story instead- it certainly had more of a plot!

All in all, The Last Summer was okay- not remarkable one way or the other. Much like the one that's now ending.

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