Daily Archives: May 21, 2011

Book Review: Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers

Title: Reflections in a Golden Eye
Author: Carson McCullers
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-0-141-18445-6
PP: 125 pages
Price: Rs. 299
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always believed in reading big books. The bigger, the better I say and have always maintained that. Having said that, I am also partial to novellas and short novels as and when they come my way and off late they have been coming my way more so than I expected. Reflections in a Golden Eye is one such short gem that most people do not know about. Carson McCullers has always been and will in all probability always be famous for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Ballad of the Sad Café, of course as they were brilliant books and pieces of magnificient literature, but this is no less. I picked this one up on a lark and I am glad that I did.

Carson McCullers had a knack of portraying the loneliness her characters felt. When I read her books, I am almost overwhelmed with sadness myself. The plot almost becomes secondary. It is the way she writes and describes the surroundings that almost make you skip a heartbeat and wonder how did she manage to churn out such brilliance. I for one am not surprised, considering she knew that she always wanted to be a writer and admitted it to one-time friend Truman Capote. And now to the book.

Reflections in a Golden Eye is set in the American Deep South, in a fort, during peace-time in an army camp. The story centers around six people, each battling with their own demons, each wanting love in it’s varied fractured forms, and each looking for salvation and finding none whatsoever. It concerns the relationships between five key figures – repressed and confused Captain Penderton, his unsatisfied flighty wife Leonora, who is having an affair with Major Langdon, whose wife Alison is suffering great mental and physical exhaustion. Outside of them is Private Williams, somewhat simple and quiet, but menacing. As with all of McCullers’ work it deals with the nuances of spiritual isolation, the ways in which we find ourselves completely alienated despite and because of our surroundings.

The novella is brutal in the refusal to soften these stark elements of the human psyche. Shockingly violent, in both actions and private thoughts. These lives are burdened with intense hatred for each other that it controls their entire spiritual beings disallowing them to fully comprehend themselves.

It is typical McCullers’ in that it is unspeakably bleak, and delves into the darkest emotions. Knowing of McCullers’ personal life, and her dedicating Reflections in a Golden Eye to Annemarie Schwarzenbach – who she was immensely attracted to, but who constantly rejected her advances – speaks volumes about where she is coming from, and relates to the concept which she would come to struggle with in her later work The Ballad of the Sad Café, the eternal disparity between the lover and the beloved. Reflections in a Golden Eye is a masterpiece according to me. A book that you should not miss reading. Once you are done reading the book, try watching the film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. It will for sure knock the socks out of you.