Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nathan Coulter

Nathan Coulter is the first Port William novel Wendell Berry wrote. It has a different voice from the last three Port William novels I read. I think when Mr. Berry wrote this book back in the late 60's he had no idea he would eventually people an entire town and countryside with characters.

This story is told by the boy Nathan, and it covers only a few years in his youth. As with other of Berry's novels, in places the narrative is more like viewing scenery (imagine "reading" a painting by John Constable or William Turner). Then once again, the prose returns and it's like Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Robert Murphy's book, The Pond.

This book is short, and the prose more spare than his later Port William novels. It might be interesting to read all the Port William novels and short stories in the order in which they were originally published. I wish I'd thought to do that before I became hooked.



Blogger Dana said...

Unlike Jan Karon where there is so much dialogue.

More like Miss Read.

Have you ever read any of those... about the English countryside?

8:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love Miss Read's books! I have read all of them (including her cookbook) and I own *almost* all of them!

Nathan Coulter really was a lot like The Pond. Did you ever read that book? About a young boy coming of age in rural Virginia in the early 1900's. And prose-wise, more like Hemingway, I think.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Good Yarns said...

I didn't research Wendell Holmes before the Hannah Coulter book club, so I didn't really know there were others. How nice. They sure are FAST. I am really having trouble slowing it down enough to participate with the group. I look forward to this one. Also...didn't Hannah say Nathan was very sparing with his words...your same verbage with his book!

10:30 AM  
Blogger Jennie C. said...

So are you still recommending Hannah Coulter first? I've got it in my shopping cart for the next time I check out at amazon. :-)

12:08 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jennie, I think Hannah Coulter first because she's a woman and you'll enjoy her story as a way of introducing you to Port William, Kentucky and the cast of characters.

12:15 PM  
Blogger magistramater said...

I enjoyed Nathan Coulter but it did not move me like Hannah Coulter did.


1:57 PM  
Blogger Krakovianka said...

I was very eager to read Wendell Berry because everyone was talking about him, and Nathan Coulter was the first book I read. I was knocked sideways by the theme of death in the book--I just wasn't expecting something like that. I've recovered enough to read several more of Berry's novels and I am a big fan as well. But first Port William novel or not, I wouldn't recommend reading Nathan Coulter first!

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I've read Hannah and I'd be curious to read the other side of the story. Is Hannah a large part of this story?

7:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Amy, Hannah is not a part of this novel at all because it covers only a small portion of Nathan's youth.

When he wrote Nathan Coulter, Berry did not have in mind the rest of the novels he later came to write.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Janet said...

Good review. I agree with your thoughts... I found Nathan Coulter to be pretty bleak. I thought it was partly because there's basically no feminine presence in the novel at all.

I had the good fortune to read both the revised version and the original, which is harder to find. The original novel was longer, but still bleak. It's interesting to compare the two, especially in light of what you point out about how a whole series of books have grown up around Port William, which weren't in the works when this one was written.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Framed said...

I had never heard of Wendell Barry until I read reviews on other blogs. Now I can't wait to read his books. I think I will start with jayber Crow or Hannah Coulter first.

6:12 PM  
Blogger B said...

Thanks for the review. I've read Hannah and found it moving. I've also read Fidelity (short story collection) and I really liked that better than Hannah. The stories are based on Port William, too. B.

4:40 AM  

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