The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold

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This was not the cover of my copy of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, but I like this one much better, probably for just how wrong it is.   The little picture of Gilbert and his sticks is good and the hellishness surrounding him is not a bad evocation of his hallucinations, which are entirely auditory, but the fonts on the author and title are terrible.   It looks more like an historical epic like The Robe or something by Thomas B. Costain.   At any rate, Gilbert Pinfold is none of those things.   It is a quick read set in the time it was written and a heavily autobiographical episode of a novelist taking a cruise to the island known at the time as Ceylon for his health.  He is having trouble with rheumatism and sleep and taking a variety of drugs along with alcohol to deal with it all, unsurprisingly unsuccessfully.   Once on board the Caliban he begins to hear all sorts of nasty, disturbing noises and scenes which it never dawns on him are not actually happening.   He develops one ridiculous theory after another for how this could actually be happening, but the reality of the situation eludes him.   It is a quick read and fairly enjoyable though his hallucinations get somewhat tedious.   (I can only imagine how incredibly irritating this must have been in real life.)    Oddly enough at one point one of his hallucinatory voices accuses him, among other things, of having stolen a moonstone.  I thought this was quite a coincidence having just finished The Moonstone last month.    (A far less surprising coincidence was opium figuring in both The Moonstone and The Luminaries – as the time they’re set in is almost the same.   From this small sample, opium was very popular both medically and recreationally at the time.)   Pinfold’s the only Waugh I’ve read except Brideshead and I’d definitely recommend that over it, but I didn’t dislike it and as a glimpse into Waugh’s character I think it’s of more interest than as a novel.

Roaming around book blogs this evening I ran across Book Snob who felt cheated and was absolutely furious with The Luminaries, which I’ve just finished as well.   I enjoyed it a lot, so I read her review and I can’t disagree with any of it.  There isn’t a lot of depth of character or character growth, I agree the horoscope stuff is just a gimmick that doesn’t add anything, you will not learn from this book what it’s like to be an immigrant or how the Maori felt at the encroaching of the white man on their land, and yet none of that mattered a whit to me.   I enjoyed the book first to last and would simply advise anyone thinking about it that if after a hundred pages or two you aren’t enjoying it, stop.   Because it isn’t going to change.   It goes on like that for another 600 pages and while I found the ending not completely fulfilling, I certainly wasn’t devastated.   Besides, if Catton had written all that, the book would be 2000 pages long.

So I went to Book Snob’s other reviews to see what she did like and found The End of the Affair, which I read not long ago and was fairly non-plussed by it.   She loved it from page one.   I found the main characters rather perplexing and not terribly likable.  Having an affair for years, but never leaving your loveless marriage seems like a big old waste of three peoples’ lives to me.   Sarah’s strange approach to religion was for me a shake my head sort of situation.   She seemed to sort of drift into it, never really believing it, nor able to let it go, rather like her marriage.

All of this is not to deride Book Snob’s taste in books by any means, but rather to point out how we’re all looking for different things in books and finding different things.   She’s far from alone in her praise of The End of the Affair.   In fact, I think I’m more alone in my underwhelmedness with it, but I consider myself lucky because I enjoyed the really long book and disliked the short one.

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