A few weeks ago, and before the British Pound and the Aussie Dollar began their freefall slide into disagreement, I bought a couple of novels from the UK website The Book Depository. One because it was much cheaper than I could buy locally, and other because I had looked for it for ages here in Sydney and never been able to find it. It wasn't until I started thinking about blogging this that I realised the other thing they have in common is that they are both largely set in the 1930s (the second of which was actually written in 1933, and then revised in 1936).
First up, "A Perfect Waiter" by Alain Claude Sulzer. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this book, which is a good thing really. It was certainly thought provoking and surprising. The novel jumps backwards and forwards between the 1960s and the 1930s, when the arrival of a couple of letters opens old wounds still present from a love affair 30 years previous. Erneste is a waiter at a Swiss lakeside resort in 1935, when the arrival of 19 year old Jakob awakens his desire.
The era is meticulously evoked, including the unsettled atmosphere as wealthy Jewish refugees pass through the resort on their way from Germany, fleeing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Sulzer writes in a pared down and restrained manner, which captures the buttoned down viewpoint of closeted Erneste. Except for when his gaze falls upon Jakob. There are many themes, love, loss and betrayal for starters, but also how and why people grasp, or fail to grasp, opportunities. I think that the way Sulzer deals with the small and big betrayals, with both opportunism and it's inverse inaction, are really interesting and have parrallels in the setting and the timing of the novel.
Neil Bartlett's review is extensive and well considered, and there was a second (briefer) review in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Secondly, I just started the 1933 novel "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton yesterday. Probably too early to review it, but I'm so pleased to have it after being such a fan of the original 1930s film for many years. (We don't speak of the 1970s musical remake. Liv Ulman singing? It has to be seen to be believed. Actually, even then you may not believe it.)
Like any book from which a favourite film hath sprung, there is always that disconnect where the book and the film vary. Some of the characters are different in the novel, and the framing device that set-ups the story was ditched in the film. Having said that, I'm enjoying it very much so far and its differences make it more interesting in a way. It likewise deals with a world on the edge of war and the effects of the Depression. Its themes of hope and the search for a safe refuge against struggle are probably somewhat apropos for our recent times, but then they are big grand themes that will always be part of the human psyche.