First things first: I received today, from Asimov's, the galleys for "Unearthed." Good to see. I've got a week to return them.
Visitation, Jenny Erpenbeck (trans. from the German by Bernofsky)
I picked this up from the library due to (I think) a recommendation in the Guardian. It has some stunning moments, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The novel, in short chapters alternating between tales of individual (typically unnamed) characters and a mysterious "gardener" who tends a lakeside German property, centers around a house and grounds; while the sections on the gardener don't advance a larger narrative, are sometimes bluntly repetitive, and become increasingly fanciful, the chapters on the people who live on the property are mostly tragic or just deeply sad, the sadness heightened by the arms-length narrative, the relative absence of dialogue, the lack of names, and the blurry, run-on writing style which, at moments, is evocative and elevating but which often sets up a kind of droning noise, producing a sameness of tone. I enjoyed some sections, appreciated the idea behind the novel's structure, and was impressed by the audacity of approach, but the overall effect left me disappointed and weary.
Mary Rose, J.M. Barrie
I looked into this play while on a trope-finding mission: I'm investigating stories in which people vanish. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, tells a circular story about a young woman who, twice, mysteriously disappears while on a small island in the Hebrides. Unhelpfully (for my purposes), the story gives no explanation, though clearly some supernatural forces are at work in all this (and a ghost appears in order to emphasize this element). Much of the play is taken up with pleasant dialogue between characters who have little of consequence to say, and the drama lacks both tension and satisfying resolution. Oddest are the stage directions, which provide most of the narrative content regarding the character's interior lives (the dialogue doing little work in this regard); I can't imagine how this play looked when it was staged.
Some sample stage directions/commentary:
The room is in a tremble of desire to gt started upon that nightly travail which can never be completed till this man is here to provide the end
Followed immediately by:
The figure of Harry becomes indistinct and fades from sight.
This is good:
These sounds increase rapidly until the mere loudness of them is horrible. They are not without an opponent. Struggling through them, and also calling her name, is to be heard music of an unearthly sweetness that is seeking perhaps to beat them back and put a girdle of safety round her.
How did anyone direct this play? 'Tis a puzzlement. There's also the expectation that an actor will demonstrate some accomplished knife-throwing at one point. Good luck with that.