On the Library Shelf #1

1:00 pm


During what I can only imagine will be my second-to-last last library trip as an MA student (I mean, I need to actually take these books BACK), I found myself browsing the shelves for some fiction to pick up and give a read before my card expired. The first section I laid my eyes on was the poetry of Plath, and I decided to rummage around there for some things that looked short and that I hadn't heard of previously. The smallness of these two volumes stood out to me and without really reading the backs I was checking them out and taking them home with me. Fortunately, these ended up being really good choices.

The first of the two I read was Frederik Pohl's The Tunnel Under the World, which I can only describe using a blurb I found online as there's a lot to be spoiled with its synopsis:

On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream.

It was more real than any dream he had ever had in his life. He could still hear and feel the sharp, ripping-metal explosion, the violent heave that had tossed him furiously out of bed, the searing wave of heat.

He sat up convulsively and stared, not believing what he saw, at the quiet room and the bright sunlight coming in the window.

He croaked, "Mary?"

Pinching yourself is no way to see if you are dreaming. Surgical instruments? Well, yes -- but a mechanic's kit is best of all
I'd never heard of Pohl before, but I've been reassured he's a big name in 1950s science fiction, with Gateway being his most accessible piece. After reading this short story I'll certainly be picking up more of his fiction as it was quick to read, exciting, and has that comfortingly weird feeling surrounding it that I get when I read 1950s sci-fi. Think Wyndham in language and tone, Orwell in subject matter. If you're a fan of this genre and fancy a quick, fun, but disturbing read, I would pick this up if you can get your hands on a copy. I've tried to hunt down more details on the publishers to no avail.

On the other side of the coin we have Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl, a short story in two parts, the former depicting a woman watching her child be murdered in a concentration camp, and the latter her as an elderly woman suffering from mental illness caused by her experiences during the Holocaust. Both of the stories centre around the image of her daughter's shawl and the effect this object has on those around it. The first section is substantially shorter than the second, but, however distressing the subject matter, was ten times as beautifully written. Ozick writes in an incredibly poetic manner without the need for long dialogue or descriptions of landscape. Both stories together create a sympathetic and deeply detailed view of Rosa, the lead character, with her entire life spread out in front of you, exposed. Again, this was a very quick read, and I'd like to pick up some more of Ozick's fiction in the future.

After such a successful first attempt, I'll certainly be rummaging through library shelves for some more random finds.

M x

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