I’ve gotten into War and Remembrance a bit now. It being lunchtime (and after I’d spent much of the morning with “Mark” and “James” and struggling with two – that’s right, two – pages), as I eat my sandwich here at my desk I thought I’d share some initial thoughts on Herman Wouk’s incredible tome.
Allowing for its age (it’s worth always bearing in mind it’s 40 to 50 year old writing), it’s an excellent book overall so far. However, aspects of Remembrance are not anything I would want to emulate. Even more so than with The Winds of War, I’m seeing certain things style-wise in Remembrance that no novelist should really want even accidentally to replicate.
I find myself now and then desiring to skip paragraphs or large bodies of text, and in some cases actually doing so after a quick skim showed it seemed really to be “filler.” That is never good. “This is overwritten,” I thought more than once. “It’s too much like a history textbook or the Discovery Channel when it’s clearly not. I don’t need a full account of how a submarine targets a merchant ship. Let’s get back to Pug….”
God, I never want my own readers doing and thinking that.
How it’s organized consists of huge doses of this character, or that one, and those closest to them, as the focus for any given chapter. The chapters are also generally very long. You could almost say each one is practically a “short story” of its own.
But long chapters revolving around this character or that one invariably becomes a deflating issue when some of the characters get on your nerves after a while.
I never want my readers feeling that way.
I’m finding Natalie increasingly grating (and wishing she’d somehow gotten home to America and just disappeared into grad school and finished her degree). Similarly her scholar uncle, Aaron (one minute the brilliant scholar moans he’s an old man and it doesn’t matter if he dies, but the next he’s idiotically putting Natalie and her infant in danger with the Nazis because he inhabits an academic la-la land). If common sense indicates they should perhaps do “A,” they will absolutely somehow always choose “B” – and you can see the mistake coming a mile away.
Pug Henry’s son, Warren, is mostly a cocky, fly-boy stereotype. His “glamour puss” wife, Janice, is getting a bit more “interesting,” yet she’s still often thoroughly annoying. (Clearly the tale is meant to revolve about Natalie and Byron, and Pug and Rhoda and Pamela – the two women in Pug’s life. It’s a shame: Warren and Janice could have been much fuller characters, I feel.)
Pamela’s father, “Talky” Tudsbury (the broadcaster), is far too the over the top, self-satisfied, yet properly imperiously self-deprecating, Englishman. He becomes tiresome. The man predictably knows anyone who’s worth knowing at the Club, or at the naval base, or in the Government House, or from that time when he was with that old chum in, uh, where was it, old chap? Bombay? Hong Kong? Washington?
On the other side of the coin, I find one of the more intriguing characters is Leslie Slote. There could be a novel based entirely around only him. The career U.S. Foreign Service Officer is occasionally a pompous jackass; but he’s also very human. Meaning he’s wonderfully constructed and “three dimensional.” When he’s on the pages, a chapter – for me – is much better reading.
Leslie smokes a pipe, too. It being the 1940s, that’s no surprise. Many in that age group liked pipes.
My real grandfather, who would’ve been about Leslie’s age, took one up too during his retirement in the 1970s. In my own Distances, I drop in an “inside” joke about his doing so. Here, in Mark’s apartment….
Story influences can come at you from every direction. 😉
Anyway, that’s lunch. Hmm, the other day I started a chapter that includes an unexpected discussion of religion between atheist “Béatrice” and a new character who is a Muslim….
I may need a cup of coffee – or something stronger – before I attempt to tackle more of that one this afternoon.
Hope you’re having a good day. 🙂