Fiction; Contemporary Literature
Lore Segal is one of those uber-cerebral obscure writers beloved in literary circles but almost utterly unknown to the masses, even when this much-anticipated novel was shortlisted for the 2008 Pulitzer.
What began as an ongoing series of short stories in The New Yorker about an east coast academic chronicling her years spent at a Connecticut think tank and mingling in that rarefied atmosphere finally evolved into a novel, broken into thick chunks of time spanning several decades. The stories center around Ilka, the protagonist, and the many days and evenings she spends with the institute’s director, Leslie Shakespeare, and his wife Eliza. Philosophy, literature, minor academic intrigues and rivalries are drilled down to the banal, proving that no matter how smart you and the people you surround yourself with are, life plays out pretty much the same way for us all: you talk, drink, eat, gossip, love, betray and die.
It’s an interesting exercise in minutiae, I think, and the dialogue is compelling. It took a little while to get going in a particular direction, but when it did I was intrigued, particularly by the way things develop between Ilka and the Shakespeares. It’s very much a minimalist, snapshot take on things so if the reader looks for a fully-fleshed out cast of characters they will likely be disappointed. I didn’t develop any particular affection for any of the characters, but I don’t think that was the author’s intent anyway. I did enjoy it. The skill is definitely in the detail and observation of day-to-day existence in this little society of intellectuals who end up being just people, after all.