Customer Review

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of insouciance?, 6 May 2013
This review is from: A Gay and Melancholy Sound (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries) (Paperback)
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I found myself overwhelmed by this book. It grabbed me on the first page and did not let go until the muddled sadness of the ending.
The story, told on tape by Joshua Bland, is the rambling but totally compelling autobiography of a rich man who has set the time and date of his suicide and spends his last days in his New England house, with little sleep and bolstered by pills, setting out the details of his extraordinary life.
His life contains many misfortunes, not least the fact that he was a child prodigy with an almost off the scale IQ, growing up in a small town in Iowa which regards him as a freak, with an unforgettable pushy mother and few friends. His childhood takes up a large section of the book, told admittedly while his mind is relatively clear, and it does much to explain the way his character and his life worked out.
He loathes himself, and he loathes almost everybody else, and admittedly there is much to loathe in most of the people he remembers, and he has over the years, deliberately, destroyed any chance of happiness he has had by reacting with deeds and words of wilful violence.
As reader, I found it impossible to hate or even dislike Joshua Bland and I ended up with a great deal of sympathy for him. His arrogance and his vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. Basically his instincts are good and though he ruins everything at every turn he knows it but is powerless to stop himself. His parents, ghastly mother, ineffectual father and a stepfather at least as mixed up as he is himself; marriages, the first ruined as much by his wife as by himself; the second disaster his own doing; affairs, again mostly disastrous; friendships, again lost but due to the deaths of his closest friends in war - all these are told against himself, mercilessly, as his remaining days grow shorter and his memories crueller and more fragmented.
This book was first published in 1961 and covers the period from the 1920s to 1959. To me it read as freshly as if it was newly published, and in contrast to another new novel I read recently covering something of the same period, had infinitely more life to it.
Joshua Bland is a deeply flawed character but I could not see him as a monster. He sets out his life and the people he has known in bitter detail but with a black humour that I found irresistible. I did feel he seemed older than the late-thirties he was supposed to be, but then he had been an 'adult' in mind if not in emotions from a very early age.
The detail of American life in the period before, during and after WW2 is fascinating, including the cult of the child prodigy in the 20s/30s, which must have led to many real life tragedies. Joshua's war memories are fragmented but feel very real and the let down feel of post war life comes over strongly.
This is a book I am delighted to have discovered, via Nancy Pearl. I feel it is one I will be rereading.
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Location: UK

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