“The Thin Red Line” (Post 2/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2


 

[19]

He was the ‘honest coward.’ If you wanted to make people like you, play the buffoon whom they could laugh at without having to admit anything about themselves. It still did not make him feel any better.

(p.144)

[20] Reference:

“Take the shovel and give me the mattock.”

(p.145)

A hand tool, used for digging and chopping, similar to the pickaxe.

[21] Reference:

On the other side tall jungle trees strung with lianas towered above it.

(p.147)

A liana is any of various long-stemmed, woody vines that are rooted in the soil at ground level and use trees to climb up to the canopy to get access to well-lit areas of the forest. The term is not a taxonomic grouping, but rather a description of the way the plant grows.

[22] Reference:

Welsh and Storm were sitting on the sides of their holes matching pennies for cigarettes.
(p.169)

A simple example game used in game theory. It is the two-strategy equivalent of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The game is played between two players. Each has a penny and secretly turns it to heads or tails. The players then reveal their choices. If the pennies match (both heads or both tails), Player A keeps both pennies. If the pennies do not match (one heads and one tails), Player B keeps both pennies.

[23] Oddly placed semi-colon:

He made up his mind that he was going along; if he had to crawl.

(p.171)

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“The Thin Red Line” (Post 1/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2


A novel based on 1942’s Guadalcanal campaign of World War II, written by James Jones and published in 1962. I read a Book of the Month Club first edition.

3 out of 5 stars. 

James Jones (1921 – 1977) wrote several novels, all of them concerned with some aspect of World War II. He may be best known for his first: From Here to Eternity (1952). He served in the Army during WWII, witnessing the attack on Pearl Harbor and seeing combat on Guadalcanal. In The Thin Red Line, he describes the first combat experiences of a group of American soldiers.

This book is an odd case for me. I first read it twelve years ago and declared it as one of my all-time favorites. I expected it to hold up on a second reading and instead struggled through. Giving it three stars is a stretch; the only reason I bumped it up from two is because I felt guilty giving a poor rating to such an intense partly-autobiographical story. I’m giving Jones credit for having lived through some of this.

The Thin Red Line may be better known for the 1998 Terrence Malick film version. Preparing for this entry I rewatched the movie. It’s beautifully filmed with an incredible score but fails in its casting (too many distracting big names getting glorified cameos; smaller actors’ roles – important to the book – reduced to nothing). Malick’s distinctive style overwhelms and alters the source material until its no longer recognizable to Jones’s novel. Trying to use one to describe the other is a useless exercise, except to say both are arduous experiences.

There are difficulties in the book: the tone is static; the narration jumps between characters’ minds (sometimes within a paragraph); each chapter is between fifty and a hundred pages with no section breaks; Jones is not a strong writer; the huge cast consists of men with indistinct, one-syllable names (we have 84 characters with names like: Stein, Spine, Stack, Storm, Stearns, Band, Bead, Beck, Bell, Blane, Gore, Grove, Keck, Kline, Kral, Krim, Culp, Culn, Cash, Catch, Catt, Carr, Dale, Doll, Darl, Welsh, Weld, Fife, Field, Fox, Fronk, Park, Potts). Jones is juggling a lot of characters and though he does a good job keeping the main ten or so straight, it’s a lot for a reader to keep track of.

Something I’ll give The Thin Red Line: Jones appears to be trying to give the most truthful representation of his experience as possible. He shows no rose-tinted comradery, we’re-the-good-guys  unselfish sacrifice perspective. Instead there’s fear, confusion, depression, and anger among men who care most about their own survival and safety. Acts of selfless heroism are outliers, not the norm. Not because these are bad or honorless men, but because they’re humans coping with an insane situation. Here’s the problem (and I feel terrible saying this): it doesn’t make a very good read. We’re not getting a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Character growth is lacking, story development is almost non-existent. We come in during the middle of an event and leave without seeing the greater picture’s end. We don’t know where any of our main cast came from and we know less about where they are going.

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“The Silence of the Lambs”

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Do I have to introduce this one? I think most people know a thing or two about the basic set-up, even if they’ve never read the book/seen the film. But just in case:

Thomas Harris’s 1988 sequel to 1981’s Red Dragon (which introduced the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in a minor role). This book expands Lecter’s mythology and, boosted by Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal in the 1991 film, established a powerful, enduring figure in popular culture.

3 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

FBI trainee Clarice Starling seeks help from imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer (and former psychiatrist) Hannibal Lecter. He claims to be able to assist in tracking down a murderer known as Buffalo Bill before Bill finishes off his latest victim, a Senator’s daughter.

This entry ended up longer than I expected, mostly because of the amount of references. Some of it is because of Lecter’s high taste, some it it from pop culture references before my time.


 

[1] Harris has an interesting stylistic tic of switching to the present tense, especially when discussing Hannibal Lecter. It brings life to the characters, makes it seem as though they live and exist outside of the narrative. Also allows scenes to play out cinematically. Harris sometime switches between the two tenses in the same paragraph, which is very unconventional, but a worthy experiment in style. I’m not sure if it’s necessary, but it does give him a unique voice. And unless you’re looking for it, it becomes a subconscious element. A few examples from the first pages:

“Who’s the subject?”

“The psychiatrist – Dr. Hannibal Lecter,” Crawford said.

A brief silence follows the name, always, in any civilized gathering.

(p.4)

Dr. Frederick Chilton, fifty-eight, administrator of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, has a long, wide desk upon which there are no hard or sharp objects. Some of the staff call it “the moat.” Other staff members don’t know what the word moat means. Dr. Chilton remained seated behind his desk when Clarice Starling came into the office.

(p.8)

They had passed through two more gates and left the natural light behind. Now they were beyond the wards where inmates can mix together, down in the region where there can be no windows and no mixing. The hallway lights are covered with heavy grids, like the lights in the engine room of ships. Dr. Chilton paused beneath one.

(p.12)

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“Don’t Look Now” (Post 2/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2


 

NOT AFTER MIDNIGHT

A fussy, nebbish man on holiday in Greece becomes suspicious of what his neighbors may have done to a previous guest at the hotel. 

[14] Three of the five stories in this collection have a male as the main character/narrator (one has a female; the last drifts between the thoughts of several characters). It’s encouraging to me as a female writer who tends toward male protagonists. Du Maurier’s style is also the kind I aspire to: functional; descriptive when needed but overall plot-driven; focused on mystery/tension with elements of speculative fiction; great dialogue. It’s wonderful to watch these stories unfold.

[15] Q: Why do Americans spell jail the way we do? (British seem to prefer “gaol.”)

A: (From this site):

“From the Latin diminutive caveola came two different forms in Old French: gaiole or gayole in Northern French and jaiole in Parisian French. So by the Middle Ages, English possessed two forms of the word: gayol, or the striking variant gayhole; and jaiole or jaile. It should be realized that the form gayol was pronounced with a hard g. In the spoken language, the form with a soft g triumphed. Nevertheless, in writing, thanks to legal language and official conservatism, the spelling gaol was preserved, even though everyone said ‘jail’ when they read the word aloud. In America, official documents favored jail, which is why it still seems to us American, although the pronunciation, derived from Parisian French, was identical on both sides of the Atlantic.”

[16] du Maurier uses little touches to give her narrators great dimensions. A small conversational thing (“Then I saw it. I mean, the snorkel”) makes this character’s voice come alive to me.

The water rippled, yet there was no wind. Then I saw it. I mean, the snorkel. The little pipe was caught an instant in the yellow gleam, but before I lost it I knew that it was heading in a direct course for the rocks beneath my chalet. I waited.

(p.142)

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“Don’t Look Now” (Post 1/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2


 

A collection of five tense novellas by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1971 (in Britain, under the title Not After Midnight). Page numbers refer to a first edition hardcover. A paperback edition (with a horrible cover) is available.

5 out of 5 stars.

This is my first du Maurier book, though film adaptations of her work (Hitchcock’s The Birds and Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now) are rightful classics. Being a fan of the movie Don’t Look Now for years, I decided to finally track this down. Best book decision of the year (so far).


 

DON’T LOOK NOW

John and Laura vacation in Venice in an attempt to recover after the unexpected death of their young daughter. A chance, possibly supernatural, encounter warns them of doom; a threat believed by Laura and brushed off by John.

[1] One of du Maurier’s strongest abilities in this collection is to set the scene – weather, location – quickly and poetically.

The sight of the water, limpid, pale, was a soothing contrast to the fierce sun above their heads.

(p.12)

[2] du Maurier also knows how to handle dialogue. There’s an ease and rhythm to it; maintaining a sense of Britishness without feeling stuffy.

“Don’t,” said Laura. “It’s cruel, poor thing,” and then suddenly putting her hand on his knee, “Do you think Christine is sitting here beside us?”

He did not answer at once. What was there to say? Would it be like this forever?

“I expect so,” he said slowly, “if you feel she is.”

(p.12)

[3] Section breaks are avoided in this story, which is an interesting choice. The passage of time is stated in the text instead of implied through breaks (see also the last sentence in [4]).

“Never,” said Laura, some twenty minutes later, “has so much junk been piled into so small a basket.”

(p.13)

It creates a relentless, dreamlike atmosphere. The plot does not ease or let up and the text gives you no good place to pause. The feeling of dread increases for our main character with no way to escape or rest.

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