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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 November 2014
A barracks in peace-time is the setting. I would guess (no time period specified) this is set in the 1900s, before the First World War. But because this is an American town and I am reporting on the book, not the film (which bombed at the box office) I can’t be more specific.

The main characters are Captain Penderton and his wife Leonora, and her lover Major Morris Langdon who is married to Alison. It’s an overheated tale as Penderton becomes obsessed with an enlisted man, Private Ellgee Williams and the undertones of homosexuality are emphasised by Williams’ provoking habit of riding the horses while he is naked. This is a short book 125 pp., but it is remarkable for the beauty of the writing. McCullers leaves many things unspoken, but the atmosphere is sultry. Meanwhile Ellgee enters the house of Captain Penderton and watches Leonora sleeping. This act of voyeurism has implications, but they are not acted upon.

There is a culminating scene in which Ellgee is caught and the final violence is perpetrated. There are echoes in this book of The Member of the Wedding, her first and most loved book, when a young girl imagines that she will form part of the wedding service and even go away with the young couple. In this book, however, it is young Ellgee, who has been fed all sorts of ugly nonsense about the corrupt nature of women, whose passionate nature is tradduced.

This is sensuality and violence in this novel, but at heart it is sad, if not mordant. In some ways it lacks agency, because of the lack of fulfilment in the emptiness of these rich lives that remain unfulfilled.
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If this is the same territory as existentialism, which was emerging in Occupied Paris as she was writing, Carson McCullers's second novel has much in common with Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity and Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March, those agonised tales of psychological malaise and decay in pre-WW1 Austria. Like those tales, her setting is a provincial military base in peacetime which, through numbing routine and a lack of stimulus, generates a hot-house atmosphere for those stationed there. And despite a surface cheerfulness, her characters are deeply unhappy people: despite the constant talk, there is almost no communication between them.

Carson McCullers works with six characters, none especially perceptive or intelligent people, all of whom feel that life has let them down. And, when put together, these individuals relentlessly drive each other up the wall, deliberately playing on each other's nerves. We quickly learn there are unspoken tragedies behind it all: like the death of an infant child which they don't speak about. Unconfronted grief scars this tale.

Tennessee Williams praised this 1941 book highly as the work of a great artist. It is an assessment I agree with. Williams even felt this astonishingly accomplished work was a core text in forming the Southern Gothic (it sits alongside William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor) because the book revolves around that intuition, that sense of "an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience." Then add to the psychological depth of the book, the quality of the prose. Each of McCullers's economical sentences is a wonder of concision - a precisely cut stone that has been uniquely shaped to slot into its place. The writing is just so deft, so tasty.

A truly marvellous novel. This is literature at the very front rank.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 March 2016
Carson McCullers’ novella (written in 1941) has that strangely rare effect of seeming to amount to far more than the sum of its parts. That this most original of authors is able (in a little over one hundred pages) to conjure up this enthralling, dream-like world of repressed (hetero- and homo-) sexuality and longing, set in the formal, authoritarian surrounds of a Southern American army base is nothing less than a remarkable achievement. It’s the sort of read that is (for me, at least) deceptive in its encroaching power, profundity and sense of tragedy, reminding me in this respect of (oddly enough) The Great Gatsby – one of my all-time favourite novels – and, whilst not quite on a par with Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, McCuller’s simple, but hypnotic, writing style is a joy to behold. It is also the author’s ability to conjure up so effectively and compellingly her 'imaginary world’ that sets the novel way above the much less successful cinematic adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
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on 25 April 2014
This is a sensual and mythical novel written by a writer at her zenith, the themes are subtly woven like a golden thread throughout. There are so many gilded images, but they are done so as not to distract. Reading this was uncomfortable at times as the characters are painfully exposed to their reality as well as each other and McCullers writes with such frankness, even though her voice as a writers is always warm and poetic, she really tells it like it is!

I believe McCullers was attempting alchemy with this work (and succeeded), the grotesque characters glittered with promise and fascinated me so that I kept reading, and this is all because of McCullers' handling of them, as they really are unpleasant characters. Yet, I found the characters beguiling and vivid. They are hard and cold like gods turned into metal statues, and they are all trapped. Yet they can see the reflection of something they bury in themselves in the behaviours of others.

McCuller's Midas' touch extends to readers too because we are also distracted by these reflections of capacities that we have ourselves. But like in the myth of Midas one has to wonder where the characters and us as readers will get our nourishment with all the famous 'golden' descriptions of golden food and drink in this book, McCullers was aware what kind of literary feast she is offering us in a golden imitation of life. Reading can be a charmed state that offers a dangerous nostalgia for lives we never lived. There is also this dangerous nostalgia in obsessing over missed or denied opportunities as the characters do in this book. Attempts to recapture or understand joy is fool's gold, it distracts us from the real golden moment.

Depending on what kind of books you normally like and what you expect a novel to give you, there is a chance that many readers will not like this book and will find it depressing and disturbing. This is a mythical sort of tale, it has a golden veneer with the sensual, warm writing, but the characters are hard to love as they are selfish, spiteful and ignorant. If you try to take a bite out of this Midas apple of a novel you might not like how cold and hopeless the story is, despite all the golden gorgeousness of the writing, it reflects what is ugly in all of us.
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on 30 November 2015
I love Carson McCullers, I have read most of her books and this one did not disappoint me either. Excellent read
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on 18 March 2010
This short novel, like the author's more successful 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter', is about loneliness and failed relationships. Set on a US Army base in Georgia, a captain tries to ignore an affair that is going on between his wife and a major, while the major's wife slides into ill health. The captain's repressed homosexuality draws him towards a love-hate relationship with a soldier, who is himself obsessed with the captain's horse-loving wife.
If this sounds complicated it is handled in such a way as to be easy to read, though certainly there are a lot of subjects covered here, subjects that are obviously close to the author's heart. Besides homosexuality, loneliness and failure in love, she also touches on religious excess and voyeurism. McCullers peaked very early in her life, at 23, battled ill-health and died at 50. Her writing shows an amazing intelligence and a distinctive style, though I think this book could have been better if it was developed further as I found the characters a little shallow. I didn't care very much what happened to them.
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on 12 September 2015
A great writer and an extraordinary evocation. Do read this book!
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on 7 December 2012
Ancient Greek drama in the 1940s deep america. The Aristotelician unity of place is respected: a military camp. And since the first sentences, we know that a murder will be committed . "Was committed". A sacrifice. This young man, its only pleasure : riding horses, naked, in lonely places. Is he not the brother of Hippolytus from Phaedra (Seneca, Jean Racine) ? Innocent. Nearly a young child or a sweet silent animal. He discovers, by chance, the fascinating pleasure to look at a blossoming woman sleeping....That, and only that. Only the beauty of this reflection in his own eyes. Unfortunately, the husband of the woman, uncomfortable between homosexuality and heterosexuality, between life and death, has also received an irreparable shock. Just a glimpse: reflection on his own eyes of a gorgeous half man half animal riding a horse, naked, under an unbearably wonderful light.... Neighbours with a dead child... Death needs death. This is also how the ancient Greek tragedy advances.
I cannot resist to give you a few extracts of how is lighted all the beginning of the book.

"(The leaves): in late autumn they were flaming gold- (the young soldier):" his round sunburned face (...) his hair lay brown(...).In his eyes which were a curious blend of amber and brown.(...)"-
(The captain's wife rides a) "chestnut stallion"- (Their house is surrounded) by "scrubs oaks "- The captain wore a gold ring (..), he was dressed in khaki shorts(...)and a suede jacket"- (His wife) "wore her straight bronze hair"- (somebody takes) "a pint bottle of rye, a whisky jigger"- "the late autumn sun laid a radiant haze over the new sodded winter grass of the lawn and even in the woods, the sun shone through places where the leaves were not dense, to make fiery golden patterns on the grounds"- "the sky filled with a pale, sold, yellow light"- (the captain) "poured himself a cup of tea" (...)" he had a "brilliant career"- (the captain's wife) "took a ham a sprinkled the top with brown sugar and bread crumbs"- " a fire was laid in the grate"- "before the bright gold and orange light of the fire her body was magnificent"- "a breeze blew and lifted a loose strand of her bronze hair"- "the house brightly lighted(...) he kept a decanter of old strong brandy"....

Golden and golden light. Everywhere. Just read what follows....A real and (not so many so-called) masterpiece to read and read again. But nearly everybody knows that.
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on 7 May 2015
Very atmospheric film which is quite true to the Carson Mc Cullers novel. Marlon Brando is superb as the lonely , brooding and sexually ambivalent army officer who becomes obsessed by the young enlisted man. Elizabeth Taylor, plays the part of his passionate, unruly and unfaithful wife.
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on 3 November 2014
Wonderful book ; I arrived at Carson McCullers because she was in love wiht Annemarie Schwarzenbach to whom the book is dedicated.
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