Monday, June 22, 2009


Current book: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Pages read: 4-68

I forgot to post again yesterday. That's the second time in two weeks. Late-night partying - that's what's responsible. You think I'm lying, but I'm really not. (Well, unless you object to calling 1am late-night. Which you could. But the principle is solid. Anyway.)

So, to give you a little background on TAoABT (because if you think I'm typing the whole title every time, you're dreaming), Gertrude Stein was a famous author and poet, and Alice B. Toklas was Gertrude Stein's longtime companion (and lover?), though she had little literary ambition of her own. As a sort of experiment in voice and character perception, Gertrude Stein decided to write Toklas's autobiography as though Toklas herself had written it. This, then, is the result.

Alice B. Toklas comes to Paris form her home in America and finds herself drawn to the world of modern art and literature that is represented by Picasso, Matisse, and Gertrude Stein. She stumbles into the salons and gallery shows of these most modern of artists and becomes so intrigued by both their art and their lives that she insinuates herself into that society. We get detailed character sketches of Stein, Picasso, and Matisse and their various wives, girlfriends, and lovers. It's all quite literal and detailed. Picasso and Matisse have quite a rivalry going on between their schools of artistic expression. There's not really a plot, per se, but the anecdotes and sketches of French salon society in the early 20th century are engaging. (It's sort of like Tropic of Cancer in its organization, actually, what with wandering around Paris and meeting random people, but it bears little resemblance to that monstrosity in any other way.)

I don't know how to assess the results of Stein's experimentation with creating a voice, due simply to the fact that I'm unfamiliar with her "normal" voice. That said, what she does create in this book could certainly be called distinctive. I hear the character in the prose clearly and easily, and therefore assume that Stein is successfully reproducing Toklas, rather than presenting her own voice.

I'm surprised at how much I like it, even with the lack of plot. I don't know why I expected not to, but I did. Nice to be pleasantly surprised.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read this book, but I'm thinking I might now. It sounds very "soak up the continental flavor-y". Also, the claim about the cheesecake was dead accurate. Absolutely fabulous. We had it for a late morning snack at the hotel while watching the final round of the U.S. Open.



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