Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Isak Dinesen, "Seven Gothic Tales" (1934).

c. David Grim (taken 8/19/08)

Somewhere among the piles of books I've read over the last decade or so, I think there's an Isak Dinesen title. But I'm not 100% sure. That's strange, because after completing her first published work, "Seven Gothic Tales" (1934), I'd have to say she had an extremely vivid and unique voice. Her facility for establishing setting is occasionally overwhelming. I'm not typically that excited by voluminous description of the sky and trees, but she certainly has a penchant for it.

In fact when I first picked up this book I was expecting something altogether different. I thought there would be more creepy ghost stories and chilling encounters with the supernatural. Instead there are stories of wealthy European aristocrats located plumb in the middle of the 19th century. Her characters are intensely mannered, if not above some romantic shenanigans. It was a bit difficult for me to relate to the lifestyles of her creations, but at the same time her expository powers are evocative enough to keep me interested.

The other distinguishing feature of her writing is that she embeds story within story until the reader has to stop for a minute and remind himself where he's been. Everything does eventually come around, but only after accruing so many plot points that it's difficult to see the forest for the trees. That's a bit of a shame too, because there is some fairly complex symbolism to her work. Unfortunately I'm not at the right place in my life to give over too much time or energy sifting through it. I'm sure there have been plenty of graduate level papers written about her books.

Perhaps I'll return to Dinesen when I have more time to reflect on her meaning.

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