Review 1645: The 1936 Club! Nightwood

When I looked for books to read for the 1936 Club, I picked a couple of rereads, as I usually do, but also tried to find one I hadn’t read before. That novel was Nightwood, which I had heard of for years.

T. S. Eliot, who wrote the original Introduction and had a great deal to do with its publication, said that it would “appeal primarily to readers of poetry.” That comment struck dread into my heart, because I am not a big poetry reader. And indeed this is a difficult novel.

The plot is relatively slight. Felix, an Austrian Jew and pseudo-baron, marries Robin Vote because he wants a son to pass his heritage to. Robin is an enigma whom we only see through the eyes of those infatuated with her. She is boyish, and the Doctor, an intersex character who is also an enigma, implies that she is also intersex. Robin seems to view motherhood with horror, so she leaves Felix with his son and takes up with Nora, who is madly in love with her and spends most of her time dragging her, dead drunk, out of sleazy Parisian nightclubs. Then Robin dumps Nora for Jenny, a woman who always wants what other people have.

All the characters are distraught.

The novel is most known for its style and language. It is crammed with images and metaphor, but it is difficult to understand what the characters are talking about, especially the Doctor. I felt like I understood him less than half the time.

The novel seems filled with dread, as it might well in pre-World War II Europe, even though its characters’ preoccupations are not political. I found it disturbing, thought-provoking, and astonishing.

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13 thoughts on “Review 1645: The 1936 Club! Nightwood

  1. Cathy746books April 13, 2021 / 10:53 am

    I nearly read this one for the Club this time, but chose something else instead. Sounds very interesting!

  2. Davida Chazan April 14, 2021 / 4:57 am

    Sounds more than challenging, sounds practically impossible. I don’t think I’d want to read it, to be frank.

    • whatmeread April 14, 2021 / 10:47 am

      It wasn’t impossible, but it was hard.

  3. Simon T April 14, 2021 / 5:59 am

    Oh dear, understanding less than half the time is not ideal… I’ve always been intimidated to try this one, with good reason it seems.

    • whatmeread April 14, 2021 / 10:47 am

      I have to confess that I didn’t try really hard to understand it. I just sort of took it in.

  4. buriedinprint April 16, 2021 / 5:14 pm

    I’d thought of reading this one, too, because I’ve had it on my shelf for years, but couldn’t locate it after all. (I’m reading Rebecca West instead.)

  5. Jane April 17, 2021 / 11:37 am

    I read this last year for the classics club and agree with you on every point! It is an experience isn’t it, almost not worth trying to understand what’s going on and just let it happen!

    • whatmeread April 17, 2021 / 11:37 am

      Yes, I just sort of went with it.

  6. neeruahcop April 17, 2021 / 3:04 pm

    I remember I had to read it for a course and was very wary of picking it up since everybody said it was heavy reading. Don’t remember much of the story now but do remember that I had found it quite haunting. Perhaps it is time to re-read it.

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