Is Wendy Lesser any good?

October 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Do you know?

She writes books of essays: sometimes linked by a theme (how her perception of certain classics has changed over her lifetime); sometimes by an overarching narrative (e.g. her one year in Berlin); but essays all the same — my heart cries out in hope: short works on brainy subjects, I want to imagine.

How very Polish of her, I want to imagine, not to pretend that every theme requires its own, definitive book (of 350 pages at least); or that she may (or needs to) have a book to say on it in order for her to even open her mouth.

Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia was like that — short, good essays, not too long for what they had to convey:  a Polish commando parachuted into the heartland of Anglo-Saxon books; what joy that was — and what disappointment to discover it was Larry’s sole such book (his other books being that intellectual tapeworm — interpretation of modern art); and Coetze’s Costello, too, a book of essays, a brainy blog in book form:  each essay containing one, maybe two good thoughts on a single topic, easily made, the reading over before the reader is bored, the content easy enough to take along for a walk.

A high content/words ratio.  Think:  Bacon; Montaigne.  Revised, trimmed, boiled down.  Dripping with content on every page.

So, is Wendy Lesser any good?

If one were to judge by the Epilogue in her Music for Silenced Voices (on Shostakovich’s string quartets), not all is well:  the essay uses rather more words than are necessary to state her observations; makes some observation that did not particularly need making (e.g. that music is about itself); and in the end veers into the common sin of “literature” — a wordy vacuity pretending to depth — I mean the last few paragraph about silence which underlies everything, etc.  A trivial nothing, no matter how fancifully stated, remains its trivial self.

Saying nothing beautifully is still — saying nothing.


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