Thursday, 25 February 2016

NATHANAEL WEST - MISS LONELYHEARTS (1933)


Synopsis/blurb….

"Somehow or other I seem to have slipped in between all the 'schools,' " observed Nathanael West the year before his untimely death in 1940. "My books meet no needs except my own, their circulation is practically private and I'm lucky to be published." Yet today, West is widely recognized as a prophetic writer whose dark and comic vision of a society obsessed with mass-produced fantasies foretold much of what was to come in American life.

Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), which West envisioned as "a novel in the form of a comic strip," tells of an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist who becomes tragically embroiled in the desperate lives of his readers. The Day of the Locust (1939) is West's great dystopian Hollywood novel based on his experiences at the seedy fringes of the movie industry.

"The work of Nathanael West, savagely, comically, tragically original, has come into its own," said novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg. "A new public [has] discovered in the writings of West a brilliant reflection of its own sense of chaos and helplessness in a world running more to madness than to reason."

70-odd pages of prose which whilst fairly readable were only mildly entertaining.

Miss Lonelyhearts is a male agony columnist dealing with, or rather failing to deal with the problems brought to him by his readers. His cynical boss derides him and his ineffectual responses. Lonelyhearts seeks solace in drink and sex, involving himself more intimately in the problems of his readership as well as trying to seduce his boss’s wife. A temporary recourse to religion fails to provide a solution to anyone’s ills.

A bar fight, an unhappy engagement, sex with a cripple’s wife and a grappling encounter with the cripple concludes with a gun going off. We end.    

I’ve read worse and will do again.

West appears to be a fairly political writer and apparently there are greater themes at play here. 

According to Wikipedia, we have an Expressionist black comedy with the author sharing a sense of extreme disillusionment with Depression-era American society. (I get that bit.) 

It continues…..The novel can be read as a condemnation of alienation and the colonization of social life by commodification, foreshadowing the stance of the Situationists and Guy Debord in particular…..etc, etc, etc.

Well I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

I much preferred West’s A Cool Million (The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin) which I read last year. Review here.

2 from 5

Owned copy, which is a 4-book omnibus edition, also containing The Day of the Locust and The Dream Life of Balso Snell.


A 1933 book and a contribution to Past Offences’ Crimes of the Century February meme. Other offerings are here.

12 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear this didn't exactly sweep you away, Col. But to be honest, I can see why you had the reaction you did. It doesn't sound like my sort of thing, to be honest.

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    1. Margot, I suppose I might have gotten it more - if I was around when it was written, but the "metaphorical themes" passed me by. Oh well, not to worry.

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  2. As we've discussed before, I liked this book better than you do. West's an odd writer, and his bleakness of vision isn't to everyone's taste. The central image of Miss Lonelyhearts has stuck with me for the best part of fifty years -- it's an ingrained part of my mental language, so to speak -- and for that reason alone I'd hold the novel in high regard.

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    1. I'm glad you hold it in such high regard. The symbolism or metaphorical meaning just passed me by. I'll read the last couple I have by him one day and hopefully get a bit more out of them than with this one.

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  3. Col, this is a pleasant departure from the contemporary crime fiction you normally read. I'm only familiar with the author.

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    1. Prashant, it was a change of pace for me. Not great admittedly, but I will finish this omnibus one day.

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  4. I remember reading this with high hopes, and feeling less than enchanted, though he is a good writer.

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    1. I definitely preferred the other one of his I read, though a few people seem to like this one.

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  5. Not sure about this one, but I certainly should try something by the author.

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    1. I think you've four to choose from Tracy, I would try one of the other three.

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