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Told By An Idiot (1983)

Told By An Idiot (1983)

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0385279566 (ISBN13: 9780385279567)
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About book Told By An Idiot (1983)

It’s a shame that so much of Rose Macaulay’s work is out of print in the United States. I think the only title readily available today is The Towers of Trebizond. It’s a fine book, but it’s also a late book and not, perhaps, entirely representative of the work by which she made her name in the 1920s and ‘30s. WWII took a toll on Macaulay (see The World My Wilderness, which I consider a failed novel). She had recovered somewhat by the time she got to Towers, but back in the decades before the war, the woman had wit, and snark, and eloquence beyond her share. Crewe Train, for example, is a gem. Told by an Idiot is too, though the story if more dispersed, since it concerns a large number of characters in a single family. Still, it works wonderfully. I couldn’t help thinking of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks while reading it. There are obvious similarities. There’s the multi-generational cast of characters, the changes in customs and mores over decades, the question of decadence, and when and whether and in which ways that bogey does or doesn’t really appear. The tone of the two books, however, couldn’t be more different. Worthy in its way, Mann’s book is essentially a work of pessimism. Macaualay's, by comparison, is a big affirming embrace of even our human failures and foibles.As Ms Macaualay puts it: “The brief pageant, the tiny, squalid story of human life upon this earth, has been lit, among the squalor and the greed, by amazing flashes of intelligence, of valour, of beauty, of sacrifice, of love. A silly story if you will, but a somewhat remarkable one. Told by an idiot, and not a very nice idiot at that, but an idiot with gleams of genius and of fineness. The valiant dust that builds on dust – how valiant, after all, it is. No achievement can matter, and all things done are vanity, and the fight for success and the world’s applause is contemptible and absurd, like a game children play, building their sand castles which shall so soon one and all collapse; but the queer, enduring spirit of enterprise which animates the dust we are is not contemptible nor absurd.”

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