|#||cover||title||author||isbn||isbn13||asin||num pages||avg rating||num ratings||date pub||date pub (ed.)||rating||my rating||review||notes||recommender||comments||votes||read count||date started||date read||
||date purchased||owned||purchase location||condition||format|
Feb 07, 2002
I have finally read a Murakami. I picked this up on a market stall and didn't realise it was part of a series until I listed it on GR and saw "The Rat...more I have finally read a Murakami. I picked this up on a market stall and didn't realise it was part of a series until I listed it on GR and saw "The Rat, #4", but it works as a standalone story, albeit an intriguingly odd one.
What sort of story?
Genre labels can be useful, but can also be an irrelevant distraction. However, with this book, I found myself repeatedly wondering what type of story it was. By the end, I was still unsure, but glad of the tension caused by doubt.
At various times, this was magical-realism, murder mystery, sci-fi, political thriller, romance (not too much, thankfully!), Kafkaesque, premature mid-life crisis story, surrealist, spiritual allegory, horror/ghost story, hints of Lolita, and the narrator likens a high-tech hotel to something out of Star Wars... It might have been easier to consider what it was not.
Quirk of the '80s
It's a strange time to read a book like this: it was published, and apparently set, in 1988, which is recent enough that it feels more or less contemporary. However, that was just before Google, laptops, mobile phones etc, which means the protagonists do not have the opportunities one now takes for granted.
Set it now, and the plot would need tweaking, but in 50 years, it will be historical enough for no one to notice. Reading it now, gave it an intriguing edge that added to the general sense of shifting reality.
Connectedness and (un)reality
Connectedness is the clearest theme of the book (and one that links it to David Mitchell, a known fan of Murakami, especially Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas).
There is perhaps unintended (or prescient?) irony in the fact that a novel that is all about connectness was written and set just before the world became dramatically more connected.
Ambiguity about what is real is the other thread: we assume the narrator is reliable (he's a journalist), but there are visions of various kinds, films, vague memories, a bit of mind reading. What is real, and what is not? As things get really weird, the narrator asks, "was the sickness in here or out there?"
Plot and Meaning
The unnamed narrator is a divorced man in his mid-30s; a freelance journalist, mostly writing restaurant reviews - a job he describes as "Shovelling snow. You know, cultural snow."
It opens with him talking about The Dolphin Hotel, and how he often dreams of it after a previous girlfriend, Kiki, took him there, then disappeared. It was a strange place: "The Dolphin Hotel was conceptually sorry... Normalness it lacked... Its corners caked with unfulfilled dreams." Four years on, he feels as if she's calling him to return, so he does. In its place, he finds the swish new Hotel Dauphin.
Dabbling in his past brings him into contact with Gotunda, a high school class mate, who is now a successful (but unfulfilled, divorced and working to pay debts and alimony) actor. They become close friends, which they hadn't been at school. Other key characters are Yumiyoshi, a pretty hotel receptionist, and Yuki, a bright thirteen year old rich drop-out, largely ignored by her divorced parents.
Characters, plot lines and reality twist and tangle, aided by dream-like visions, a portal to another dimension of reality, and a character with mild psychic abilities.
The title relates to an instruction given to the narrator quite early and that seems as if it will be the key to everything, or at least something, but nothing really comes of it (more details in spoiler).
All the way through, and especially towards the end, the narrator is musing on fate and destiny, and looking for meaning in all this - as is the reader. It never really comes, but I think that's rather the point. Had Murakami tied it all together with some ghastly homily, I think it would have ruined the book. After all, a recurring line is "What was that all about?", uttered by Kiki in a much-watched film.
In more detail: (view spoiler)[
Yumi and then the narrator accidentally (and separately) find themselves in a parallel world, in the Old Dolphin Hotel, where they meet the old owner, who the narrator nicknames Sheep Man because of all the pictures and books about sheep. He resisted selling up, and only gave in on condition the new hotel retained the name. He tells the narrator "Thisisyourplace. It'sthenkot. It'stiedtoeverything. Thisisyourworld" and that he (Sheep Man) works hard "Tokeepthings - fromfalllingapart. Tokeepyoufromforgetting." He stresses, "Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays." It is not the place of the dead, and it is real, "Butit'snottheonlyreality."
As well as being drawn to Kiki and wondering what happened to her, he fancies Yumi. He also discovers that Kiki had a bit part in a film of Gotunda's ("Unrequited Love", that the narrator watches obsessively) because Gotunda was a client and Kiki was one of the call girls at a secretive and very high-end agency.
Through Yumi, the narrator gets to know Yuki, whose flighty photographer mother had left behind at the hotel to travel abroad! He took back to her home in Tokyo and keeps a (mostly) paternal eye on her. Their relationship ought to be creepy, especially when he comments how pretty she is, but it's actually rather sweet and innocent. Even her parents think so, as they each (separately) get him to take more charge of her.
Yuki has also seen Sheep Man, though by some sort of mental connection to the narrator, rather than going through the portal.
Gotunda calls the agency to get a couple of girls for him and the narrator. The latter has Mei, who he quizzes about the missing Kiki, but she knows nothing useful. A few days later, he is arrested for her murder and interrogated in a most unorthodox way, slightly reminiscent of Kafka's The Trial, which he had been reading the night before. He denies ever having met her, not wanting to tarnish Gotunda's reputation.
Yuki's rich father (Makimura) pulls strings to get the narrator released from interrogation and suggests he takes Yuki to visit her mother (Amé), currently in Hawaii with her new partner (Dick).
In one dip to the other world, Kiki shows the narrator a room with six skeletons, one of which has a single arm. Later, when a one-armed man he knows dies, he realises they represent people close to him who have died, and fears for the lives of Gotunda, Yuki and Yumi. Another death seems to confirm his theory, though we never know who the sixth is (maybe the narrator himself).
While in Hawaii, another prostitute turns up (June), sent from the same agency, but by Makimura. However, when Gotunda later enquires about her, he's told she'd disappeared three months earlier.
Yuki gets spookily sick when they borrow Gotunda's Maserati, and when she sees him and Kiki in the film, is so unwell, she has to leave the cinema. (view spoiler)[She says that the actor (Gotunda) killed the actress (Kiki) in real life and that she "saw" it. Later, when the narrator asks Gotunda if he killed Kiki or Mei, Gotunda is unsure about Kiki (he's not certain which reality it might have been in), but says he did kill Mei because she asked him to) - yet the narrator overlooks this and plans a trip together! (hide spoiler)].
More visions, more possible deaths, more crossings over and shadows, finally get round to visiting Yumi again. The end!
Surprisingly few, for me:
* "Financial dealings have practically become a religious activity."
* "You can now enjoy hybrid styles of morality."
* "You leave things to an interior designer and it ends up looking like this. Something you want to photograph, not live in."
* "Reality receded until you can't tell who's sane and who' not."
* "Amé didn't give anything. She only took. She consumed those around her to sustain herself... Her talent was manifested in a powerful gravitational pull."
* "The passage of time wasn't a practical component in her life."
* "Her ears had special power. They were like some great whirlpool of fate sucking me in."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Jul 04, 2014
Jul 19, 2014
Jul 04, 2014
Aug 27, 1996
I hadn't read any Updike for years, the premise of this one was appealing (a promiscuous priest, sent away to consider the conflict between his sexual...more I hadn't read any Updike for years, the premise of this one was appealing (a promiscuous priest, sent away to consider the conflict between his sexual shenanigans and his faith), it was only £2.99 on a charity stall, and I don't have to like the protagonist to like a book, but this... I didn't enjoy it (2*). It was well-written in many ways (3*), but Tom was just too unpleasant. I tried make allowances for different mores, but whereas his misogyny and homophobia would be understandable in a Victorian, this is set within my lifetime (published 1975).
Plot and Structure
Tom is sent away for a month to a place in the desert for errant priests. There doesn't seem to be any therapy or counselling or anything really: just time away to reflect, and encouragement to play golf and poker ("the Bible above all is banned"). He is asked to write his thoughts each day (maybe the others are, but we don't know) so the book has one chapter for each day, with the four that fall on Sundays being like sermons. He muses on how he came to be there, with smatterings about what he's been up to that day. On the final day, it stops, with a final episode that may or may not be true. He occasionally addresses the centre manager, Ms Prynne, who he hopes is reading it, and whom he fancies. It's wry, irreverent, shameless, and, by his own admission, of dubious accuracy.
The way he analyses his own story as he seeks to justify his actions (twisting the Bible to do so), in part by blaming others, brought Humbert Humbert to mind. There is also an echo of Lolita's famous opening lines, "Oh Alicia, my mistress, my colleague, my adviser, my betrayer." He surmises that "I equate noise with [sexual] vitality" and he's "infatuated with completion", but these are not fully developed insights. Occasionally, he detaches, and slips into the third person, and sometimes likens people in his life to "dolls I can play with".
Tom is very well-read and drops lots of literary names in the first half, especially John Barth (who he sees as the epitome of masculinity). Mention of John Dickinson-Carr's idea of many locked rooms is very pertinent to the way Tom tries to compartmentalise his life, but gets only a passing mention. Later, it's his wife Jane who wants "symmetry and enclosure" by having a door to separate the foyer and living room.
(view spoiler)[He starts an affair with Alicia, his organist, and tries to pair up his wife (Jane) and curate (Ned). This doesn't work ("I thought they might at least fornicate out of conversational boredom"), and Alicia ends up having an affair with Ned, which makes Tom very jealous. He turns to Frankie, but her strong faith makes him impotent, so he has numerous affairs with other parishioners and those who come for counselling. Alicia tells Jane, but somehow Jane takes the upper hand in that discussion and with Tom; briefly, their sex life is wakened. When he sacks Alicia, with Ned's support, she tells one of the church elders. (hide spoiler)]All except Ned have children, yet they barely feature, even from a logistical angle. Tom's own teenage sons are an unpleasant nuisance, "Society... sets a term to childhood; of parenthood there is no riddance."
I was raised an Anglican, but have no faith in any higher power now. Nevertheless, the way Tom twists the Bible to show "adultery is our inherent condition" and "not a choice to be avoided; it is a circumstance to be embraced" made me oddly uncomfortable. He goes further, saying people find themselves in adultery (which is fair enough), "stripped of all the false uniforms society has assigned them... The sacrament of marriage... exists but as a precondition for the sacrament of adultery". "Free love is not a scandal but a tautology."
He is uncomfortable with the word "love" but thinks it "the spiritual twin of gravity". At home (view spoiler)[after the novelty of the revelation of his affair (hide spoiler)], "weightlessness prevailed".
His persistent impotence with the only lover with any real Christian faith provides suggests he hasn't totally lost longing for his own, "I would greet my impotence as the survivor within me of faith, a piece of purity amid all this relativistic concupiscence."
Misogyny, Sexualising & Homophobia
After years as a conventional priest, husband and father, Tom strays once, and after that, he becomes insatiable. He's largely untroubled by guilt, but he's shocked at women who are similarly free of it. His casual demeaning thoughts about women infuse the book:
* "His wife, dear sainted sloven."
* His mother "was insignificant, timid, mousily miscontented."
* "There is this to be said for cold women: they stick. So beneath our raptures I heard the tearing silk of infidelity" (even though he's the one who is committing adultery).
* "I resent feedback... as a middle-aged woman resents the mirror."
* "The typewriter that like a dull wife has grown grudgingly responsive to my touch."
* "Babies and guilt, women are built for lugging."
He rather relishes exposure of his first affair, because it makes the logistics so much easier.
As sex, rather than God, becomes his world; he sees it everywhere:
* The "flirtatious brushing" of a "naked" branch.
* Typing sounds like "ejaculations of clatter".
* "Newsletters... that pour through a minister's slot like urine from a cow's vulva"!
In footnotes, he draws attention to his numerous Freudian typos.
Better, and more subtle, was the aside that he first saw his wife when she was standing "beneath a blooming fruit tree, a small apple or crabapple."
Outwardly, Tom is uncomfortable around men he suspects are gay ("the sidling fear that any unannounced homosexual puts into me") and assumes they're all feminine with pederast tendencies. He even intuits sexual orientation from how men approach putts and holes in golf. However, there are several suggestions that he feels some attraction to Ned, though is partly a manifestation of jealousy. There is a really weird (trans?) passage where he says one of the reasons he avoids pyjama bottoms (other than ease of masturbatory access) is "to send an encouraging signal to the mini-skirted female who, having bitten a poisoned apple at the moment of my father's progenitive orgasm, lies suspended within me". He also says "Though I like myself in drag, the church is no costume ball", though this comes across as a joke.
To reinforce his general bigotry, there's a casual reference to the "tribal chauvinism of the Jews".
Furniture (and the rooms it is in) is explicitly important to Tom, and is often described in delicate detail; he sees more of God in man made objects than the natural world. As a child, the family moved many times, and the furniture was a reassuring constant. "My father's carpentry opened the furniture of my childhood to me and made it religious" and "I had no choice but to follow my father into the ministry; the furniture made me do it."
* "The room still nudges me with its many corners of strangeness."
* He's always been happy in cars, "The first piece of furniture I could drive."
In particular, he always sees stripes on the stairs, suggesting "the great brown back of a slave" and "my own captivity". More poetically, "The oaken staircase flayed with moonbeams."
Furniture is significant in his breakups as well: when one lover leaves, he likens it to removing furniture from the church and with another, he's more concerned that she might lose her rich husband's beautiful furniture than anything else.
* "Knives of light fall upon the grapefruit and glass with an almost audible splintering of brightness."
* "The faint rubbed spot on the surface of silence that indicates where voices have been erased."
* "We played in each other like children in puddles."
* "How the world sparkled now that my faith was decisively lost."
* "Morning sunlight streaming, shade-tinted, dust-enlivened, from windows east and south. Snowcrusts from last week's storm visible through them."
* "From the first Thanksgiving, ours is the piety of the full belly. We pray with our stomachs, while our hands do mischief, and our heads indict the universe."
* "I like her fondness for the subject. We are circumscribed by tangents."
* "The demand for babies isn't what it was, though evolutional inertia maintains the orgasm as bribe."
* "The electric sloshing of television's swill."
* "The man knew how to wear authority's spacesuit"!
Notes are private!
Jul 04, 2014
Jul 04, 2014
Jul 04, 2014
Sep 26, 2013
Jun 05, 2014
This is explicitly based on Arnold Bennett's wonderful Old Wives's Tale (my review), with a contemporary British Asian twist. There's no need to be fa...more This is explicitly based on Arnold Bennett's wonderful Old Wives's Tale (my review), with a contemporary British Asian twist. There's no need to be familiar with OWT - in fact, I suggest you read that rather than this!
It's had pretty good reviews in the broadsheet press, and in terms of plot, it certainly does what it claims, but it lacks the warmth and writing skill of Bennett, it attempts more humour, and demonstrates every Asian and shop-owning stereotype you can think of. The end result is like the novelisation of the BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me.
There is some character development (only a bit), but exposition is clunky, and the plot is borrowed, so Sanghera is not an author I'll look out for in future.
Note to non-Brits: In the UK, "Asian" is not derogatory and refers to those whose families hail from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is not used for those from SE Asia, China, Japan etc.
It's a story of three generations of a Sikh family who run a corner shop (convenience store) in Wolverhampton, narrated by Arjan, the thirty-something grandson of the original owners, Mr and Mrs Bains.
The chapters alternate between the modern day and his mother's childhood and young adulthood, both strands being triggered by a death, leaving a woman at the helm. The first couple of times, the switching wasn't very clear, but in the end, it more or less worked.
The final two chapters tie up the story with an unconvincing and overly dramatic surprise and then what would be a predictable finish were it not for what just happened in the previous chapter. All very rushed and unconvincing.
CASTE, CLASS and RACE
This book (unlike OWT) is primarily about fitting in, and not fitting in: the eternal immigrant story, compounded by issues of race, Indian caste, and, towards the end, British class. Integration versus identity, and to what extent compromise can be hypocritical. Sadly, it doesn't really have any great or original insights on these tricky but important issues.
Similarly, racism is experienced in many ways, by Asians and, to a lesser extent, from Asians. No surprise, but the characters' reactions to it were neither inured nor intimidated and somehow just didn't feel likely (but what do I know?).
"The need to serve customers means you rarely sit down together [to eat], and consequently have little sense of yourselves as a social unit." Given that they live above (and in!) the shop, and all help out there, even as children, this is the opposite of what one might assume. It could be the key to so much. But it didn't seem to be.
ASIAN CULTURE - and WOMEN
Several characters resist aspects of their culture and religion, and some embrace it more at stressful times. Some of the superstitions Mrs Bains (and later, her elder daughter, Kamaljit) fall back on are easy to mock, even though they gain comfort from them.
Parallels were drawn between Punjabi culture and Jewish and royal life, and at times, the exposition was annoying and unnaturally unsubtle and yet I don't feel I've learned much.
What should have been the most interesting strand concerns the role and relationships of women (Bennett managed it a century earlier). All the female characters struggle with this to some extent: who to marry and how, how much education girls should have, how much to defer to one's husband, attitudes of dress, tensions of sisterhood, but most especially, the two determined widows who run the shop at different times (which tallies with Sikh teaching of gender equality).
Similarly, the loving but prickly relationship between sisters Kamaljit and Surinder has so much potential for interest, but never rings quite true. And as for Freya... again, so much potential as a character, but not believably fleshed out.
Maybe Bennett was just better at understanding women.
OTHER COMPARISONS WITH OWT
The author admires Bennett, and he has Surinder class him as one of the great writers, but he doesn't do him justice: I gave OWT 4* and this only 2*.
The structure is very different (not a criticism): OWT is in four sections: childhood, one for each sister's adult life, and a final one when they come together again, whereas this alternates past and present. We learn less about the aunt/sister who goes away and far more about what happens to the grandson of the original owners.
There is also more mention of politics. I seem to remember some things about the local council and mayor in OWT, but nothing significant enough for me to mention in my review. This story though, is framed by Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech about immigration, a strike by bus drivers who wanted to be allowed to wear turbans, and riots in London in 2011. These mentions felt deliberate, rather than being a natural part of the story.
Plot-wise, it's write-by-numbers, with every significant thing that happens in OWT happening here:
(view spoiler)[* The shop and family name is Bains (which doesn't sound very Indian, and on page 102, Mrs Bains says it's NOT the family's name over the door).
* The original owner is bedridden and the shop is run by his wife and teenage daughters.
* The older daughter is plain; the younger is pretty, clever, shrewd, and fights to continue her education.
* One assistant leaves to open a draper's shop and ends up as a rival, and more successful business.
* The younger daughter flirts with a travelling salesman, so doesn't check on her father. He dies, and she is racked with guilt.
* The elder daughter marries the loyal (but lowly) assistant, to the disapproval of the mother.
* The younger daughter elopes with the salesman, who turns out to be a feckless drunk.
* The older daughter and her husband run the shop and eventually have a single, spoilt son.
* The younger daughter works hard, saves wisely, and ends up rich, in part from the hospitality trade.
* When the older daughter is in poor health, the younger one is traced and comes back to help rescue/run it. (hide spoiler)]
Much of it felt awkward, based too much on negative stereotypes, but a few incidents were mildly amusing:
* Trying to erase "TALEBAN PEEDO" graffiti, he erased the O first, which didn't improve matters, so then put an S in the space between words, so it looked "like it had started flogging a range of Islamic amphetamines."
* Pizza Express is a good place to end a relationship: it's cheap and has "quick, attentive service, useful for when the shit hits the fan. A certain guaranteed level of busyness, which lowers the risk of a scene. The name - 'Ex-press' - acting as a subconscious primer for the task at hand. Also, there is always at least one diner who is already eating alone and crying."
* As an Asian shopkeeper, "You are anyone. Or no one."
* "There are certain places that bristle with sexual tension: libraries, Tube carriages on hot days. But your Asian corner shop... is not one of them."
* "Full-time shopkeeping might not have been so arduous if Bains Stores enjoyed either less or more custom than it did" - either time to do other things, or too busy to notice or care.
* "She wondered whether her main mistake in life had been confusing desire for romance with desire for solitude."
* "I had never met anyone who could combine such warmth with such awkwardness."
Notes are private!
Jun 14, 2014
Jun 21, 2014
Jun 08, 2014
Aug 03, 2000
This is a fascinating insight (heavily autobiographical) into the flighty and insecure world of a chorus girl in London, around the time of the first...more This is a fascinating insight (heavily autobiographical) into the flighty and insecure world of a chorus girl in London, around the time of the first world war (though war is never mentioned).
Many other books set in this period feature chorus girls, but usually in a peripheral way that makes their lives exotic and exciting, until they settle down to conventional respectability, quietly disappear, or, less often, meet a tragic end. The storyline here is more nuanced and complex - and still relevant today.
The story is told by Anna. She is 18, recently arrived in London from a small island in the West Indies, touring England in shows. There is no suggestion she has a particular talent or passion for the stage. She is more-or-less on her own in the world: she has a step-mother in Yorkshire, but her parents have died, and she has no inheritance to fall back on.
In some ways, it's a very moral tale (the superficial glamour is not presented as something to aspire to), but it feels honest, rather than preachy, and the ending is left open.
NOTE re "the n word"
It is used several times, in a way that reflects normal usage at the time and place it's set. Anna is white (with a creole mother), but "I always wanted to be black... Being black is warm and gay, being white is cold and sad". Her use of the n word is not particularly derogatory, despite the offence it may cause some readers nowadays.
MEN and WOMEN - EXPLOITATION or SYMBIOSIS?
There are profound questions here about responsibilities, equality and exploitation in relationships: how gifts and money affect the nature of a relationship, and at what point, if any, it becomes "professional".
Anna is very free-thinking for the time: non-religious ("I believe there's something horrible about any sort of praying"!), amoral and independent, albeit more through necessity than choice. Had the book been published in the nineteen-tens (rather than 1934), it might have been very controversial. As it is, its modernity means it's still pertinent today.
Anna performs on stage, lives on her own, has relationships with men - and yet she is also very naive: she needs the support (partly, but not not only, financial) of others, but some of those people take advantage of her (women as well as men).
In some ways, she is exploitative, but really, she's more of a victim - unlike some of her friends, such as the one who advises, "The thing with men is to get everything you can out of them and not care a damn", after all, "People don't give you what you're worth... They give you what they think you're used to". Mind you, the men know the rules, too, fully aware that "a girls's clothes cost more than the girl inside them".
Early on, Anna seems to have a very negative impression of (all) men: one eyed her up "in that way they have" and "he didn't look at my breasts or my legs as they usually do", but the story progresses, her thoughts on men are replaced by introspection and memories of home. When she is a kept woman, she muses "I am hopeless, resigned, utterly happy. Is that me? I am bad, not good any longer, bad".
The life can be racy, but there is underlying pain, such as when failing to nod off or waking in the night "that was when it was sad, a lonely feeling, a hopeless feeling" because she knows "the man's bound to get tired". "But in the daytime it was all right. And when you'd had a drink you know it was the best way to live in the world, because anything might happen." That sounds like hollow happiness to me.
FEMININITY, FASHION and MONEY
There is plenty of hypocritical hand-wringing in contemporary media about societal pressures for women and girls to look beautiful at all times, but that's not entirely new. Anna agonises over the fact that "everything makes you want pretty clothes like hell", and sees people looking at the latest fashions, "Their eyes were fixed on the future, 'If I could buy this, then of course I'd be quite different.'"
She realises that once you have a taste for such things, you have a taste for such things - and it changes your outlook, behaviour, and even your voice. In a curious mix of self-awareness and naivety, she says "Money ought to be everybody's. It ought to be like water. You can tell that because you get accustomed to it so quickly."
There is pain in basing one's self-worth in the opinion of someone else: "I was so nervous about how I looked that three quarters of me was in prison... If he had said that I looked all right or that I was pretty, it would have set me free." But would it?
SENSES and SENSUALITY
Many passages are a riot for the senses, invoking the colours, smells, sights, shapes and sounds of the West Indies ("The light is gold and when you shut your eyes you see fire-colour"), and comparing them with the dull uniformity of London, where "The colours here are black, brown, grey, dim-green, pale blue, the white of people's faces". Back home, "How sad the sun can be, especially in the afternoon, but in a different way from the sadness of a cold places... And the way the bats fly out at sunset, two by two, very stately... And that hibiscus once - it was so red, so proud, and its long gold tongue hung out. It was so red that even the sky was just a background for it... And the sound of rain on the galvanized-iron roof. How it would go on and on, thundering on the roof."
In contrast, scenes which could actually be sensual, are generally described in cold, detached terms - even when there is some warmth in the relationship concerned.
There are two main styles of narration; there is nothing wrong with that, but I didn't really enjoy (or quite believe) this manifestation of it, which is why I've given 3*, rather than 4*.
Most of the time, Anna describes events in such short, sparse sentences that it's almost like an early reading primer. I know she's naive and not very educated, but her voice annoyed me: "I pulled my hand away. I thought, 'No, I don't like you.' We stopped at Germaine's flat." Tum-te tum-te tum-te-tum.
More interesting and enticing were the lyrical, stream-of-consciousness passages. For example, her first impression of London is barely punctuated: "hundreds of thousands of white people white people [sic] rushing along and all the dark houses all alike frowning down one after the other all alike all stuck together - the streets like smooth shut-in ravines and the dark houses frowning down - oh I'm not going to like this place."
The dreamier sections, especially towards the end, and coupled with a few mentions of ghosts, border on the hallucinogenic, and made me think of Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea aka Bertha in Jane Eyre
* "In my heart I was always sad, with the same sort of hurt that the cold gave me in the chest."
* "The sort of music that you always know what's going to come next, that you can listen to ahead."
* "When I remember living whit her it was like looking at an old photograph of myself and thinking 'What on earth's that got to do with me?'."
* A rich man's house was "dark and quiet and not friendly to me. Sneering faintly, sneering discreetly, as a servant would."
* "What I liked was watching her eat mangoes. Her teeth would bite into the mango and her lips fasten on either side of it, and while she sucked you saw that she was perfectly happy. When she finished she always smacked her lips twice, very loud... It was a ritual."
* "The shadows of the leaves on the wall were moving quickly, like the patterns the sun makes on water."
* At a funeral, "The candles crying way tears... The people there were like upholstered ghosts."
* "The cinema smelt of poor people, and on the screen ladies and gentlemen in evening dress walked about with strained smiles."
* "It was one of those days when you see the ghosts of all the other lovely days... From behind a glass."
* "His voice was kind, but the look in his eyes was like a high, smooth, unclimbable wall. No communication was possible."
Notes are private!
May 24, 2014
May 27, 2014
May 24, 2014
Why have so few of my GR friends reviewed this brilliant book by such a well-known author? Note: The first two pages have a rather brutal scene (thoug...more Why have so few of my GR friends reviewed this brilliant book by such a well-known author? Note: The first two pages have a rather brutal scene (though the details are vague), but there's nothing else like that in the rest of the book, and everything that follows, arises from this incident.
This is Proulx's first novel, published a year before the excellent The Shipping News. It's equally good, but has a very different structure, and the language is not as distinctively clipped or telegraphic.
It tells the stories of the diverging lives of the Blood family (impoverished farmers in Vermont), from the mid '40s until the '70s or '80s, along with the stories of others involved in their lives. The environment is harsh, the people tough, but the landscapes often beautiful - and Proulx's writing switches effortlessly to reflect these contrasts.
Most of the chapters start with a postcard to or from one of the protagonists. Sometimes it explains what's going to happen in the chapter, but at other times it's just a side story. You only ever see the written side; never the picture. You could almost treat the book as a collection of short stories, or even read just the postcards and try to cobble it all together, though I wouldn't recommend the latter unless you've already read the book.
The Blood family consists of Mink and Jewell (father and mother), sons in their 20s (at the start), Loyal and Dub (Marvin), and teenage daughter, Mernelle. Loyal is a devoted, intuitive and knowledgeable farmer; Dub has always been slow, aimless and reckless, and Mernelle is dreamy.
On the first page, Loyal's girlfriend, Billy, dies. He blames himself, and is even more sure everyone else will blame him, so he hides the body, and leaves family and farm. "It wasn't the idea that he could go anywhere, but the idea that he had to go somewhere." It remains ambiguous as to how justified his haunted guilt at her death is, but it never leaves him. And somehow, well before the end of the book, it's hard to hate Loyal for what he did.
Loyal spends his life travelling the USA, doing a variety of mostly outdoor jobs (trapping, mining, prospecting, farming), meeting intriguing characters along the way. He sends the occasional postcard home, and always hankers after a farm and family of his own, though his inability to get intimate with women makes the latter impossible. He realises "The price for getting away. No wife, no family, no children, no human comfort in the quotidian unfolding of his life". Meanwhile, his absence, and lack of return address, changes the lives of all those he leaves behind.
There is a striking description on the second page, "her nails glowed with the luminous hardness that marks the newly dead", and this lodged in my mind, priming me to notice the many, many references to nails (finger, toe, claw, and metal) that followed: at least 20 in the first 125 pages, then none that I noticed for over 100 pages, and just a smattering from there to the end.
Nails are key for Loyal, too: when he first met Billy, "her nails gleamed", and years later, he still remembers "the flash of her nails" and how pointed they were.
Neatly, the final two mentions of nails that I spotted also relate to the dead or dying.
There's a whole thesis in these nails, and a far more interesting one than the meaning of postcards (Mernelle has a friend who collects them) or bears (hunted, toy ones collected by Mernelle, as well as being on a job lot of postcards).
LANGUAGE - and NAMES
Most of the chapters are a chunk of narrative about one or more characters, but at regular intervals, there's a short one called "What I See". These are in the present tense, and much more stream-of-consciousness, often featuring lush descriptions of an arid landscape, or something rather abstract.
It's a feature of all the chapters that it's not always immediately obvious who it's about, which keeps you turning the pages (and isn't drawn out to an irritating degree).
As in all the Proulx I've read, many of the characters have unusual names. Often they are pertinent, or oxymoronic, or maybe both (e.g. Loyal Blood), but others are just bizarre: a man called Toot Nipples, for example! But there are limits: even Loyal thinks it odd that a man named his mule after his daughter.
This is a great strength of the book: so many characters over so many decades, and they change a great deal, but it feels like a plausible reaction to circumstances (except for Dub), and I really felt I knew and understood them. When Mernelle grows up "there was a sureness in her that estranged her from the old child's life".
OPTIMISM, PESSIMISM, FATE
Early on, we're told the Bloods have a "knack for doing the wrong thing", and that largely proves true. Later, Ben the amateur astronomer says to Loyal "I see the way you throw yourself at trouble. Punish yourself with work. How you don't get anywhere except a different place."
There are a couple of recurring themes that ought to be depressing, and yet the characters are always hopeful of things getting better (and some things do), so overall, it isn't a depressing book.
* Thwarted longing for children (and of those who do have them, most are painfully estranged)
* Valuable things, long saved-up for or treasured, are lost, destroyed or stolen
Although Proulx isn't crass enough to spell it out, they're all striving for The American Dream, but most never quite reach it, and Loyal in particular, wants to do "something of value".
FREEDOM OR BURDEN OF TRAVEL?
Loyal doesn't feel he has much of a choice about travelling, and is resigned to it. In contrast, the liberation his mother finds when she learns to drive in her fifties, is joyous: "continuity broke: when she drove, her stifled youth unfurled like a ribbon" and "the pleasure of choosing which turns and roads to take" is a literal and metaphorical description of her empowerment. Driving also gives her a new appreciation of landscape: "When you'd been driving with your eyes on the road for hours, you wanted to let them stretch out to the boundaries of the earth." And yet, in keeping with the theme of valuable things being lost, even this has a sting in its tale.
Initially, the Bloods are atavistically tied to their land, but as the stories diverge, they (and others) become outsiders.
* Incomers "moved into farm houses hoping to fit their lives into the rooms, to fit their shoes to the stair treads".
* An incomer was "urban in habitat but haunted from childhood by fantasies of wilderness".
"This family has a habit of disappearing. Everyone... is gone except me. And I'm the end of it."
IS THERE ONLY ONE WAY TO LOVE; CAN ONE CHANGE?
(view spoiler)[The first is is a question Loyal asks himself, and it's a slightly troubling one. Because of the ongoing trauma of how Billy died, if he becomes aroused by a woman, he has a panic attack and passes out. So he has occasional relationships with men (though this is never explicit). Assuming he was straight in the first place, it's odd he doesn't seem to struggle with this more. Or maybe he never was straight, and perhaps the fact his girlfriend had a masculine name is indicative? (hide spoiler)]
QUOTES ABOUT LANDSCAPE
* "The October afternoon collapsed into evening."
* "Evening haze... blurred a sky discolored like a stained silk skirt."
* "The overclouded sky was as dull as old wire."
* "Heat ricocheted off the colorless rocks. Nothing moved. The sky leaned on them, the earth pressed upward."
* "The work of his hands had changed the land... The smooth fields were echoes of himself in the landscape."
* "The atavistic yearning that swept him when he stood beneath the trees... he was in an ancient time that lured him but which he could not understand in any way... The kernel of life , tiny, heavy, deep red in color, was secreted in these gabbling woods."
* Florida swamp: "Dub feels the canoe slip through the tea-colored water, sees the water ruptured by iridescent gas bubbles, patterned by the checkerboard backs and wood-knot eyes of alligators, clouds of egrets slanting out of the choked trees... The plangent call of rain crown under the long layers of clouds like pressed black linen."
* "Water charged with leaves raced in the gutters, wet boots flashed like flints. The window of his house shone in the darkness like squares of melting butter."#
* "The teeth of autumn gnawed at the light."
* "His peculiar voice that was both sweet and grainy, like the meat of a pear."
* "The barn stank of ammonia, sour milk, cloying hay and wet iron."
* A husband "had crushed her into a corner of life". Widowhood isn't always bad.
* Half brothers who only recently met bond over land, "The property was like an ear-trumpet through which they could understand each other."
* "The electric feeling of quick money was everywhere" amongst those prospecting with Geiger counters.
* "The dulled eyes in their heavy hammocks of flesh were as incurious as those of a street musician."
* "The woman's shape was as formless as poured sugar."
* "He'd trained himself by now to need and want little... The unsecured scaffolding of his life rested on forgetting."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
May 14, 2014
May 23, 2014
May 14, 2014
Jan 01, 2011
A funny little book - and it is very little (64 pages, each about half the size of a normal paperback page). It's not bad, but far, far better, is her...more A funny little book - and it is very little (64 pages, each about half the size of a normal paperback page). It's not bad, but far, far better, is her feast of bloodier, darker tales, The Bloody Chamber, reviewed here
Angela Carter retells seven of Charles Perrault's classic fairytales - though two I'd never heard of. In fact, the telling is mostly traditional, but with an explicit moral or two appended, some of which have a more modern slant. I'm not really sure of its purpose or intended audience, as it's slightly too knowing (and unillustrated) for small children, but not really subversive enough for real adult enjoyment. Some of the "morals" are dubious, and surprising coming from a female author, yet they're not witty enough to be taken as jokes. Or maybe I've missed the point.
My reason for reading it was to get a version of Bluebeard, because it relates to Jane Eyre, as mentioned in my Jane Eyre review. I will now read Vonnegut's weirder take on the story.
Bluebeard is worse than Rochester, and his beard is literally blue. He marries, despite the fact he "had been married several times before and nobody knew what became of his wives", and a short while after, goes away on business. He gives his wife all the keys and tells her to have the run of the house and its riches, invite her friends and do whatever makes her happy. His only stipulation is that she must not use the tiniest key, and that the consequences will be dire if she does. Just as with the apple in Eden, what is forbidden proves irresistible, despite the lusher alternatives. In this case, the room contains the bloodied bodies of murdered former wives. However, the real problem is that, like Lady Macbeth's hands, the blood won't wash off the key, so she is found out.
Morals: "Curiosity is a charming passion but may only be satisfied at the price of a thousand regrets... [it] is the most fleeting of pleasures... and it always proves very, very expensive." The other moral is an odd observation that modern husbands wouldn't try to restrict a wife's curiosity because women rule.
Compare and contrast with a rather different novel of the same name: Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard.
Little Red Riding Hood
A completely traditional telling.
Morals: Don't talk to strangers (fine) but if you do, don't be surprised if it ends badly (sounds like victim blaming). It then warns of real-life men who sweet-talk young girls, but are really "the most dangerous beasts of all".
Puss in Boots
A completely traditional telling.
Morals are quirkier: Hard work and ingenuity trump inherited wealth. Also "clothes, bearing and youth speedily inspire affection; and the means to achieve them are not always entirely commendable."
This is a traditional telling until the marriage, after which, the prince leaves Beauty behind in her castle, and keeps her (and their subsequent children) secret for two years because his mother is half ogre and he fears she may still have "ogrish tastes" and eat his children! A few twists and turns follow (all new to me), but of course, it all ends happily and justly.
Morals: It's good to wait for the right man, but 100 years is too long, and "long engagements make for happy marriages, but young girls these days [written in 1977!] want so much to be married I do not have the heart to press the moral."
Another traditional telling.
Morals - these are odd: Charm trumps beauty - except that doesn't fit the story, despite Carter's claim that "When her godmother dressed Cinderella up and told her how to behave at the ball, she instructed her in charm." Even odder, "It is certainly a great advantage to be intelligent, brave, well-born, sensible... But however great may be your god-given store, they will never help you get on in the world unless you have either a godfather or godmother to put them to work for you"!
Ricky with the Tuft
I've never heard of this, so had no idea if Carter has changed it at all, though Petra's excellent review implies not. The question is, which is better: beauty or brains? (I have a relative who hoped her girls would be pretty rather than clever - as if they're mutually exclusive.) Anyway, Ricky is an extraordinarily ugly baby prince, but blessed with wit and brains. In a nearby kingdom, twin princesses are born: one beautiful but stupid, and the other, clever but ugly. The fairytale twist is that whoever Ricky falls in love with will attain his level of intelligence, and whoever the pretty princess falls in love with will attain (or appear to her to attain) her level of attractiveness. The other sister is rather irrelevant, so the worrying message seems to be that beauty matters more than brains.
Moral: Ying and yang and love is blind - or at least, armed with rose-tinted specs.
The Foolish Wishes
People being granted wishes and using them stupidly is a fairytale staple, but I'd not heard this version before. It's just a short and slightly amusing example of how people waste opportunities.
Moral: People are stupid. Or, as Carter prefers to put it, "Greedy, short-sighted, careless, thoughtless, changeable people don't really know how to make sensible decisions; and few of us are capable of using well the gifts God gave us, anyway."
Here's a more radical approach to retelling fairytales:
Notes are private!
May 27, 2014
May 28, 2014
May 13, 2014
Jan 01, 1997
Apr 22, 1997
A lyrical, mysterious tale of misunderstanding and pain, echoing through the years. At its dark heart, it demonstrates how small things can have multi...more A lyrical, mysterious tale of misunderstanding and pain, echoing through the years. At its dark heart, it demonstrates how small things can have multiple and major consequences, meaning that everything can change in a single day. "Anything can happen to anyone. It's best to be prepared." - and these fears trigger tragedy.
It is set in Kerala (southern India) in 1969 (when twins Rahel (girl) and Estha (boy) are aged 7) and 23 years later, when the twins return to the family home. As the narrative switches periods, hints become clearer and eventually become facts: you know bad things will happen, but it's not initially clear who will be the perpetrators. There is beauty, but always brooding menace of nastiness to come, or echoes of trauma long ago.
Caste, communism, Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", "The Sound of Music", whom to love (and how), and insects (especially moths) are common threads.
They are affluent, educated, Anglophile, Syrian Christians. The grandfather (Pappachi) was the Imperial Entomologist and in later years his wife (Mammachi) and their son (Chacko) started a pickle factory. Their daughter, Ammu, is the divorced mother of the twins, and has "the infinite tenderness of motherhood and the reckless rage of a suicide bomber". The twins' great aunt (Baby Kochamma) lives there as well. She is a bitter woman, who loved, but never had, Father Mulligan, so retreats into false piety. She seeks and relishes opportunities to gloat at the misdemeanours and misfortunes of others: on hearing of scandal, "She set sail at once. A ship of goodness ploughing through a sea of sin".
The big event is when Chacko's English ex wife (Margaret) is widowed and she brings Chacko's 9 year old daughter (Sophie Mol) to visit.
The other key character is Velutha (son of Vellya Paapen), a clever untouchable, a couple of years younger than Ammu. The family pay for his education and he becomes indispensable at the factory for maintaining the machines, though carpentry is his true skill. There is also Kochu Maria, a house servant, who becomes more like Baby Kochamma's companion in later years.
The powerful bond of "two-egg" twins is essential to the story: "In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun... Estha and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us... a rare breed of Siamese twins, physically separate, but with joint identities."
However, they spend the years between the two time periods living apart, and that, inevitably, changes things. When returning as an adult, "now she thinks of Estha and Rahel as Them... Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Links have appeared." They are now "A pair of actors... stumbling through their parts, nursing someone else's sorrow", and realising, too late, "You're not the Sinners. You're the Sinned Against."
The family is founded on preservation: first of insects, then of Paradise Pickles and Preserves, and always of reputation. However, ghosts are everywhere, mainly in the memories of the dead and the ramifications of their deaths, but also in other forms of loss: opportunities, love, names (the twins are without a surname when their parents split) and even the power of speech. "Silence hung in the air like a secret loss."
Sophie Mol's death is mentioned on page 4, and although its significance is constantly referred to, the details are only revealed very near the end. Her death "stepped softly around the house... like a quiet thing in socks" and "sometimes the memory of death lives... much longer than the life it purloined". Eventually "Sophie Mol became a Memory, while The Loss of Sophie Mol grew robust and alive. Like a fruit in season. Every season."
Those left behind experience "Not death. Just the end of living."
The family home descends into dilapidation. Baby Kochamma, once an skilled gardener, lets her plants wither or go wild, while she devotes her life to vicariously living the lives of ghosts she sees on satellite TV.
There is also an abandoned house across the river that the twins nickname The History House. There are many explicit comparisons with The Heart of Darkness: it was the home of Kari Saipu, and Englishman who "went native" and "captured dreams and redreamed them". Eventually, he shot himself when his young lover was taken away.
BETRAYAL AND THE DEATH OF LOVE
There are violent relationships, broken relationships (not necessarily the same) and unrequited love, but it is, of course, the children who suffer most.
The twins are raised by their loving but strict mother, but they are haunted by a fear that she will cease to love them. Their "willingness to love people who didn't really love them... was as though the window through which their father disappeared had been kept open for anyone." After Sophie Mol's death, when everything changes, (view spoiler)[Ammu is sent away, Estha is sent to his father, and Rahel is left behind to be raised by her uncle and grandparents, who "provided the care (food, clothes, fees) but withdrew the concern". (hide spoiler)]
There are other forms and instances of betrayal and lies, sometimes to keep up appearances, and sometimes for selfish ends.
CROSSING BOUNDARIES - OF LOVE AND OTHER THINGS
Taboos are many in a society ruled by caste (as well as class and religion), but the family's problems with classification are first highlighted in relation to jams and jellies, and the fact that banana jam was illegal as if fitted neither category. "They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much." And by whom.
Gradually, "Estha and Rahel learned how history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break its laws." "History used the back verandah to negotiate its terms and collect its dues. Estha would keep the receipt for the dues that Velutha paid." When pressed by an adult to lie about something significant, "Childhood tiptoed out. Silence slid in like a bolt. Someone switched off the light and Velutha disappeared."
There is also confusion and hypocrisy around some of the power relationships, e.g. a wealthy communist landlord and factory owner with "a Marxist mind and feudal libido", and of course, the different levels of sexual freedom permitted for men and women.
SMALL THINGS: MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES
The whole story is really a demonstration of The Butterfly Effect, although it's moths that are mentioned explicitly (Pappachi discovered a new variety of moth, but wasn't recognised for it).
"It was the kind of time in the life of a family when something happens to nudge its hidden morality from its resting place and make it bubble to the surface and float for a while in clear view."
There are many other Small Things:
* "The God of Loss. The God of Small Things."
* Ammu telling Rahel "When you hurt people they begin to love you less", a throwaway line that grows, festers and twists within until it changes the lives of everyone.
* Ammu is "Someone Small who has been bullied all their lives by Someone Big".
* At big moments "only the Small Things are ever said".
* A couple who know they have no future, so "instinctively they stick to the Small Things"
* Filth and decay, of which there is much 23 years later, is an accumulation of small things.
A distinctive feature of the writing is the large number of portmanteau coinages. Most are pairs of adjectives or adjective plus noun: sourmetal, oldfood, fishswimming, chinskin, deadlypurposed, longago, suddenshutter, sharksmile, orangedrinks, steelshrill, suddenshutter, stickysweet. However, things like cuff-links are written with a hyphen. Cuff-links also hint at an explanation: when the young twins are told they are "'to link cuffs together'... they were thrilled by this morsel of logic... and gave them an inordinate (if exaggerated) satisfaction, and a real affection for the English language."
* "Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, flatly baffled in the sun."
* "The nights are clear but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation" and in monsoon season "short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with."
* "Over time he had acquired the ability to blend into the background... [he] occupied very little space in the world."
* "Once the quietness arrived, it... enfolded him in its swampy arms... It sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles... hoovering the knolls and dells of his memory, dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue. It stripped his thoughts of the words that described them and left them pared and naked."
* "Gulf-money houses build by [people] who worked hard but unhappily in faraway places... the resentful older houses tinged green with envy, cowering in their private driveways."
* "drifted into marriage like a passenger drifts towards an unoccupied chair in an airport lounge."
* "Her eyes spread like butter behind her thick glasses."
* He walked away "like a high-stepping camel with an appointment to keep."
* "Rahel tried to say something. It came out jagged. Like a piece of tin."
* "twinkled was a word with crinkled, happy edges."
* The weight of obligation "widened his smile and bent his back".
* The things that can't be forgotten "sit on dusty shelves like stuffed birds, with baleful sideways starting eyes".
* "Silverfish tunnelled through the pages, burrowing arbitrarily from species to species, turning organised information into yellow lace."
* "The ants made a faint crunchy sound as life left them. Like an elf eating toast."
* An adult playing with children "Instinctively colluding in the conspiracy of their fiction".
* "Insanity hovered close at hand, like an eager waiter at an expensive restaurant."
* "resting under the skin of her dreams"
* The "transparent" kiss of a child "unclouded by passion or desire... that demanded no kiss-back. Not a cloudy kiss full of questions."
* "The great stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably."
* "She was too young to realise that what she assumed was her love for Chacko was actually a tentative, timorous acceptance of herself."
I should add that I am really grateful to Steve whose excellent review, and comments beneath, persuaded me to pick up this book asap, rather than let it languish on my shelves any longer. His review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
May 10, 2014
May 01, 2014
Jan 01, 0200
Mar 04, 1986
Having enjoyed The Return of the Soldier, I picked this up in a charity shop, without realising it was the second of a trilogy until after I started r...more Having enjoyed The Return of the Soldier, I picked this up in a charity shop, without realising it was the second of a trilogy until after I started reading it. Fortunately, it still works as a standalone book.
This is a coming of age novel, set in in the run up to WW1: "I wanted to make friends... to be part of the general web, to be linked with boys and girls and men and women who were not yet what they would be in the end."
Clare Aubrey, a retired concert pianist, has been abandoned by her gambling husband and is raising their teenage children: Cordelia (the oldest and least warm), twins Rose (the narrator) and Mary (both destined to follow in their mother's musical footsteps), and Richard Quinn (charming, bright, wise and still at school). Cousin Rosamund and her mother, Constance, live with them, too. They are upper-middle class, and by selling some paintings, on the advice of Mr Morpurgo, family finances are now reasonably secure.
As the family rebuild their lives, they relish small victories such as being able to afford flowers to plant in the garden, "We were able to do the things that other people could do". But as they progress, the shadow of war looms, and "we saw a fungoid bloom of ruin slowly creep across the familiar objects among which we had been reared".
At times, it's a little florid, mannered and self-consciously erudite - like a diluted version of Ivy Compton-Burnett. There is not much plot (though there is a murder), but there is some sharp wit, especially at the expense of the dreadful Mrs Morpurgo.
The Aubreys are a little adrift: they have the background, tastes and education of the elite, but not quite the income. The mother has become (or maybe always was) oblivious to many social cues, and their friendships cross boundaries in a way that may have shocked some: Mr Morpurgo is a wealthy and generous Jewish art dealer, but they also regularly stay in a pub on the Thames, where they're related by marriage to the landlord.
This can cause awkwardness: "Like all people brought up in households destitute of manservants, we regarded them as implacable enemies... who could implement their ill-will by means of supernatural powers which enabled them to see through a guest's pretensions."
Appropriate clothing is a potential pitfall, but also a source of wry observation. For a prison visit, a man wore "clothes which suggested he had not made up his mind whether he was going to a funeral or to Ascot."
RADICAL FOR HER TIME
West was a member of the Bloomsbury set, that also included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E M Forster. They were known for their progressive attitudes to women and relationships amongst other things, and although this is not a radical novel, there are glimpses of this aspect of West's thinking.
She portrays strong, independent women, and although she doesn't suggest all men are feckless or dangerous, the twins do have such fears, which is one reason why they are determined not to marry.
But there are admirable men in the story, with Richard Quin held up as the ideal man - even before he's a man. (view spoiler)[The fact he dies in the war demonstrates teh futile waste of war. (hide spoiler)] Cousin Rosamund says of Richard Quin "I love him... but it's a shame he has to be a man... what will happen to him in a world where men are so awful?"
Uncle Len is also a reliable chap: a lower middle class a publican who is a quirky and admirable auto-didact, something the Aubreys encourage. It sometimes has amusing consequences, such as when he assumes Darwinism is a new and controversial topic for the doctor and the rector: "he was not making the mistakes of a stupid man, he was guessing like an explorer". For all his good qualities, he's still a bit old-school, wanting to keep the women away from any trouble, though Rose asserts "There was no difference in courage between men and women, if what happened wasn't fit for me it wasn't fit for men to see either".
There is also a lengthy and educational look at perceptions of gypsies.
A child is not a different species, as Victorians sometimes thought, but "an adult temporarily enduring conditions which exclude the possibility of happiness".
The mixed feelings of adolescence are probably not as anti-feminist as they first seem, but rather reflect typical mix of fear and excitement, coupled with the limitations women of the time faced. For example, on becoming aware of the attention of men, "We liked this, and did not like it. We wished we were growing up into something other than women."
On the other hand, Clare's advice to a shy, pretty daughter is a little off: "people like young girls who are pretty... when you go to any new place and you feel nervous, just stand there and let people look at you"!
It's not just in class terms and in the travails of reaching adulthood that characters have identity issues.
Is Clare, married, abandoned, or widowed?
When they leave music college, one of the twins has to change her surname to avoid confusion.
Loss of identity is one of Rose's reasons for fearing marriage.
Uncle Len tries to hide his gypsy background.
One can't help wondering if Mr Morpurgo's collecting of Christian art is, at least in part, a turning aside from his Jewish heritage.
Music is integral to the lives of the main characters, and there is no shying away from the hardships of training: "That was why I had had not childhood and why I had seen so much sunlight through windowpanes". There's always a higher target, but perfection is always just out of reach. They are torn between the desire to succeed and the difficulty of doing so.
When Cordelia gives up professional musicianship, the twins feel they "had so little in common with her that she seemed almost abstract: an inorganic burden like a knapsack."
* "One cannot live slowly as one can play music slowly."
* "Kate wore her wooden look of consequence."
* A butler "spoke with gloating discretion" about an extra guest.
* "Mrs Morpurgo had no secrets, She controlled her words well enough... but as she spoke the truth was blared aloud by the intonation of her commanding voice, the expressions which passed over her face, legible as the words on a poster, and her vigorous movements."
* "She had meant to be nearly, but not quite, intolerable."
* "She had not been abandoned to grief... she had been recovering her faculty for insolent surprise."
* "Her hands clasped before her dark flowing skirts, and a thread in every line of pent up emotion about to burst its dam."
* "There was a faint, sharp sweetness about her, like the taste of raspberries. She wore fussy and frilly clothes and jingling bracelets whit an air of surprised distaste, as if she had been put to sleep by a witch and had awoken to find herself in these trappings."
* "It had been furnished by Maples in the Japanese style, not that the family had any oriental connection, but simply because the backwash of the aesthetic movement had by then reached the suburbs."
* "A Victorian mansion... and within its walls Asia had taken its revenge against colonialism... the drawing room, which really did not look so bad now they had taken out the enormous ivory model of the Taj Mahal."
* Two sisters (not Aubreys) who had been "barmaids, not at the height of their profession. They had wandered in a defeated continent of the vulgar world, where vulgarity had lost its power and its pride... Listening to Aunt Lily's conversation was like having emptied at one's feet a dustbin full of comic songs and jokes from pantomimes."
* "The river, the grey-green mystery, the mirror which reflects solid objects so steadily but is not solid, the fugitive which remains."
* A mob in a pub: "Their faces were clay-coloured and featureless, yet not stupid; they might have been shrewd turnips."
* "Constance was like a statue, not a very good statue, imperfectly Pygmalionised."
* "The plane trees were casting their last crumpled maroon and silver leaves on the pewter pavements, the lights of the passing traffic paid out yellow ribbons of reflection on the shining roadway."
* "She looked as if she were about to burst into tears, but she was wonderful at catching the ball of her own mood in mid-air."
* "I was overcome by an abstract sense of grief, something like the moan of shingle dragging back to sea between breakers."
* "Waltzes and one-steps and tangoes were exhaled from the porticoes wearing striped awnings like masks, and in the gardens dancers walked on the moon-frosted lawns, the moonlight shining with phantom coldness from the young women's bare shoulders."
* "The silence that had been silting up in the rooms... now filled it as an invisible solid. (view spoiler)[Now Richard Quin was nowhere but he was everywhere. (hide spoiler)]"
Notes are private!
Apr 17, 2014
Apr 17, 2014
Feb 01, 2001
A fairly typical Murdoch (which is a good thing, imo), charting the tangled lives and reconfigured and unrequited relationships of family and friends,...more A fairly typical Murdoch (which is a good thing, imo), charting the tangled lives and reconfigured and unrequited relationships of family and friends, featuring a Svengali-like figure, and focusing on just a year or two. Most of the characters are somewhat lonely and broken, with a tendency to introspection, no one is very happy for long, and few of the characters are very likeable (though all are intriguing).
One way in which it differs from some of Murdoch's other novels is that all but one of the women are strong and take the initiative (one is the master puppeteer, but others have their own schemes) and most of the men just watch or react, somewhat haphazardly.
Hugh has just been widowed. Years ago, he had a fling with his wife's childhood friend, Emma Sands, who now lives with her beautiful younger companion (possibly more), Lindsay Rimmer. Hugh and Fanny's daughter, Sally/Sarah lives in Australia with her husband and four children (and another on the way). The oldest is Penn (boy of 15) who comes to stay with his uncle Randall. Randall's wife is the rather wet and pious Ann. They have a mysterious daughter, Miranda, aged 13, and recently lost their son, Steve (who was roughly Penn's age). They have a large house and run a successful rose-growing business; their marriage is less successful.
Mildred and Humphrey Finch are friends, primarily of Hugh's. They have a happy but chaste marriage, and Mildred yearns for Hugh. Her brother, Felix, is interested in Lindsay and Ann, and the vicar has a bit of a crush on Ann. There is a frisson between Penn and Miranda, and there are fears that the gay Humphrey may have designs on Penn.
Clearly, no good can come of any of this, and as new relationships are tentatively formed, matters become more complex.
Penn is the obvious outsider, but each character is an outsider in some way, even to themselves. Hugh just bumbles along, largely oblivious to everything unless it's spelt out to him.
You could almost make a case for Hugh's Tintoretto as a character, "a pearl whose watery whiteness both reflected and resisted the soft surrounding honey-coloured shades".
Like most Murdoch books, this features someone (more than one) pulling strings in the lives of others, primarily for their twisted personal enjoyment. Consequences don't seem to feature in their calculations: "There was in [X's] apprehension of things... nothing grossly predatory. They were like servants who run ahead of their master, symbols of a presence, almost sacraments." One man is attracted by the "moral otherness" of one such schemer.
At times, the manipulation borders on the magical: "fear, attraction, puzzlement and hostility, which had once together compose a sort of enchantment" and "she has drawn me here, witch-like".
This theme is also reflected in the way Miranda still plays with dolls. Her grandfather ponders how she "managed to combine her Peter Pannish demeanour with a knowingness which made Hugh sometimes conjecture that it was all a sort of masquerade". Even Randall still treasures his cuddly toys.
This gives a somewhat theatrical feel to the whole book. "positively enjoying the atmosphere of relaxed drama which surrounded Emma. It was as if Emma made her [Ann] exist more... she had an agreeable sense almost of being seduced."
SEX VERSUS CHASTITY
There is sex, but largely off-stage. What's more interesting is the relationships that endure but are apparently chaste, all for different reasons. Divorce was less common in 1962, and some of the characters are sincerely trying to live Christian lives.
"He made of his quiet love... a sort of home... He waited."
"Their relationship was was intimate yet abstract, a frictionless machine which generated little warmth, but which functioned excellently.
"All sorts of catastrophes can happen inside a marriage without destroying it... Thank God marriages don't depend on love."
"Perhaps in their days of happiness, their personalities had been too hazy for the question [of whether they 'fitted'] to arise. Now the haze had cleared and they had hardened into incompatible shapes."
The daisy-chain of relationships seems never-ending; the relationships that seem to end, never really do, perhaps resurfacing as "a dark new passion" that "was like a mutual haunting".
Apart from less divorce and more Christianity in 1962 than in 2014, there are a couple of ideas that strike a wrong note now: the tacit assumption that homosexuality and pederasty are the same, and a jocular rape threat issued to a woman who is being a bit of a tease ("I shall probably beat you and certainly rape you" if you don't change your mind).
All the characters are mourning people, opportunities and experiences. Ann feels "perpetually haunted and mocked by a music of happiness which came from some inaccessible elsewhere."
Hugh is mourning Fanny, "his grief... came to him with a kind of healing intensity. He burned himself with that pure pain. But he knew too that he had been touched by... some leper touch, which would work out its own relentless chemistry." He is also juggling that loss with the guilt of not being a better husband (his long-ago affair) and wistfulness at lost opportunities.
In the aftermath of Fanny's death, Hugh goes to stay with Randall's family, who are also still mourning Steve, but it affects them all very differently. High finds it oppressive, "The big indifferent house, upon which the unhappiness of him and his had made so little impression, and where the phantoms of his sadness were without a resting place."
The opening is oddly reminiscent of the famous opening lines of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but I'm not sure whether to read further significance into it:
"Fanny Peronett was dead. That much her husband Hugh Peronett was certain of as he stood in the rain beside the grave."
The suggestion is that the best chance of happiness is from forgetting and reinventing.
* "He could pass as a distinguished man, just as he could pass as a good husband... But the terror and the glory of life had passed him by."
* Unlike the living characters, "Poor Fanny had no secrets. She had been a woman without mystery. There had been no dark in her."
* "Miranda was as pale as her mother, but her face had the transparency of marble, where Ann's had the dullness of wax."
* "The sun was shining, but in a feeble unconvinced sort of way."
* "His expression of rapturous doubt joined with apprehension of a higher and inconceivably beneficent yet also dangerous world... Her tender, intent, ironical gaze gently toasted one side of his face."
* "Mildred... set her feet apart in a patient yet stubborn pose which indicated with brutal clarity that she was waiting for Swann to go."
* "Remembering an infatuation, she "seemed in his memory to drip with colours almost too vivid to bear".
* "A niche reserved for men of independent means and limited ambition."
* "The silence that followed began to coil and accumulate into a great white shell of eloquence and understanding".
* Mother and daughter share "a tension, an excessive mutual consciousness, a hostile magnetism."
Notes are private!
Mar 02, 2014
Apr 12, 2014
Mar 02, 2014
An extraordinary, lyrical book that is about the power of storytelling in - and about - our lives.
Other themes are light/dark/blindness (literal and...more An extraordinary, lyrical book that is about the power of storytelling in - and about - our lives.
Other themes are light/dark/blindness (literal and metaphorical), outcasts, and the contrast between permanence and immobility (symbolised by the lighthouse) and change (people and the sea).
The fictional characters (one of whom has strong parallels with Winterson - see below) have some interaction with real characters and their works (Darwin, Robert Louis Stevenson and Wagner), and a broadly realistic story is sprinkled with slightly fairytale-like qualities, especially at the start, which also has comical aspects! Yet somehow, Winterson conjures this odd medley into something coherent, beautiful and profound.
There are two main narrative strands, both set in the small and remote Scottish village of Salts, and its lighthouse: mysterious Victorian priest, Babel Dark, and Silver, a girl orphaned in 1969.
Silver is the narrator, and the opening chapters reminded me of a Roald Dahl's children's story: she and her shamed mother live outside the village, in a house cut into the hill such that it has a sloping floor, furniture has to be nailed down, they can only "eat food that stuck to the plate", and their dog has developed back legs shorter than the front.
A tragi-comic accident leaves Silver an orphan. After a short spell with a Dahlian spinster, she goes to live with Pew the blind lighthousekeeper, and the book loses the comedy, but retains some magic. "Some of the light went out of me, it seemed proper that I should go and live in a place where all the light shone outwards."
NARRATIVE STRUCTURE, STORIES, STORYTELLING
Don't expect a single, linear narrative of a consistent style. "A beginning, a middle and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But I have difficulty with that method." It doesn't matter because "The continuous narrative of existence is a lie... there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark."
Pew is a master storyteller, and Silver weaves his stories into the one she is telling. The boundaries of fact and fiction are often blurred within her world (as in this book itself, with its mention of real historical figures): Pew will describe doing something that happened before he was born, and when challenged, dismisses it as his second sight or "well, the Pew that was born then", whilst retaining the suggestion that in some mysterious way it was actually him.
Perhaps part of the reasons for Silver's blending of fact and fiction was prompted by this: a psychiatrist defines psychosis as being out of touch with reality, and her response is "Since then, I have been trying to find out what reality is, so that I can touch it."
The musings on stories are the most lyrical and magical aspects, and suggest the tangled ways in which they thread through our lives. "In fairy stories, naming is knowledge" and that is reflected in this story in several key ways.
Most stories never finish, "There was an ending - there always is - but the story went on past the ending - it always does". Similarly, "There's no story that's the start of itself, any more than a child comes into the world without parents."
"All the stories must be told... Maybe all stories are worth hearing, but not all stories are worth telling... The stories themselves make the meaning."
If you had forty minutes to tell your life story, what would you say? (This isn't a long book, but there's more than forty minutes' worth.)
The final chapters are more overtly philosophical, with less actual story. I think they're none the worse for that, but some may be disconcerted by the chane.
SILVER AS WINTERSON?
Winterson's first book, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), was explicitly a fictionalised version of her childhood, and recently, she published the more factual "Why be Happy when you Could be Normal?" (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but there are many aspects of Winterson in this as well: an orphan born in 1959, who finds solace in stories and libraries, "had to grow up on my own", and forges her own life. Some of the problems Silver encounters in later life also echo Winterson's own (view spoiler)[(e.g. consultations with mental health professionals) (hide spoiler)]. She also finds the positive in the hardest circumstances, "We are lucky, even the worst of us, because daylight comes" (in "Why be Happy", she is grateful that the church taught her how important it is to concentrate on good things).
It goes further: the beloved mother in this "longed for me to be free, and did everything she could to make sure it never happened", and in "Why be happy", she makes an identical observation about the awful Mrs W (quoted in my review, linked above).
For such a carefully crafted book, it is a little heavy-handed at times. These are rare, minor faults in the overall context and content, and are recorded here more for my personal records than to spoil it for anyone else, hence the spoiler tag.
(view spoiler)[In particular, the names Dark and Lux are as subtle as a sledgehammer. Also, the symbolism of the lighthouse is occasionally spelt out more than it needs to be: a birth coinciding with completion of this phallic symbol, and a passage, "He was like this lighthouse... He was lonely and aloof... The instruments were in place... but the light was not lit." (hide spoiler)]
QUOTATIONS AND NEW IDIOMS
* "A silent, taciturn clamp of a man."
* "She was one of those people for whom yes is always an admission of guilt or failure. No was power."
* "I was not much longer than my socks."
* "The wind was strong enough to blow the fins off a fish."
* "Our business was light, be we lived in darkness... The darkness had to be brushed away... Darkness squatted on the chairs and hung like a curtain across the stairway... I learned to see in it, I learned to see through it, and I learned to see the darkness of my own."
* "As dull as a day at sea with no wind."
* "Someone whose nature was as unmiraculous as a bucket."
* "He turned as pale as a skinned plaice."
* "The fossil record is always there, whether or not you discover it. The brittle ghosts of the past. Memory is not like the surface of water - either troubled or still. Memory is layered."
* When contemplating writing Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson posits (in this book) that all men have atavistic qualities: "Parts of themselves that lay like developed negatives? Shadow selves, unpictured but present?"
* "Women raising empty forks to glossy famished lips".
* "The light was as intense as a love affair."
* "I went outside, tripping over slabs of sunshine the size of towns. The sun was like a crowd of people, it was a party, it was music. The sun was blaring through the walls of the houses and beating down the steps. The sun was drumming time into the stone. The sun was rhythming the day." ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 24, 2013
Dec 24, 2013
Sep 02, 1987
This is Vonnegut, so it’s quirky, knowing, silly, intelligent, funny, mysterious (what IS in the potato barn?) and anti-war – amongst many other thing...more This is Vonnegut, so it’s quirky, knowing, silly, intelligent, funny, mysterious (what IS in the potato barn?) and anti-war – amongst many other things. It's conversational, and broken into very short chunks, but don't be deceived into thinking it's lightweight.
It claims to be the autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, an Armenian-American WW2 veteran who became a major figure in Abstract Expressionism, after an apprenticeship with realist illustrator, Dan Gregory. It reads more as a memoir, interspersed with “Bulletin from the present” sections which cover the eventful months he wrote it. The backstory is relatively straight; the present day, more comical. (All the main characters are fictitious, but a few real names are dropped, such as Jackson Pollock.)
It’s the 1980s, Rabo is in his 70s, and is living alone in a huge house in the Hamptons. He no longer paints, but is wealthy from his art collection and from property he inherited on the death of his second wife, Edith. He’s not actually alone, as his cook lives in, with her daughter, and his writer friend, Paul Slazenger, practically lives there. But he wants to be alone, or thinks he does – until it looks as if it’s going to happen (his mother thought “the most pervasive American disease was loneliness”). Then the widow Circe Berman turns up, and everything changes.
THE MEANING AND VALUE OF ART
“How can you tell a good painting from a bad one? All you have to do… is look at a million paintings, and they you can never be mistaken.”
Should paintings – and their titles – communicate? (If not, what’s the point?) This is a recurring question, with a variety of answers. Old, lonely, and guarding his Abstract Expressionist paintings, Rabo says that they “are about absolutely nothing but themselves”, and lack of passion and message in his works was why he was rejected by art school. When Circe first sees his abstract works, she declares “you hate facts like poison”. And yet Rabo CAN draw – very well; the fact he doesn’t is “because it’s just too fucking easy.”
In contrast, Dan Gregory’s works are hyper-realistic, and Rabo describes them as “truthful about material things, but they lied about time” because Dan was “a taxidermist… [of] great moments”. One of the first things he taught Rabo was the importance of the phrase “The Emperor has no clothes”. It’s for the reader to decide which art that applies to.
There is a visceral thrill: “I discovered something as powerful and irresponsible as shooting up with heroin: if I start laying on just one colour of paint to a huge canvas, I could make the whole world drop away”. But it doesn’t work like that for everyone: of one artist, “I would look into his eyes and there wasn’t anybody home any more”, and he says similar about someone else.
Inflated art prices (and exploitative venture capitalists and investment bankers) are lampooned, especially by the fact that “My paintings, thanks to unforeseen chemical reactions… all destroyed themselves”, including ones that sold for $20,000. Sateen Dura-Luxe proved to be anything but durable. In contrast, his teenage works were made with the best possible materials, given to him from the stores of a successful artist.
Writing is another art form central to the narrative: Rabo is now writing; his friends Circe Berman and Paul Slazenger are also writers, of varying success, and the letters of Dan Gregory’s PA, Marilee, are crucial to the story. The secret is “to write for just one person”. How you decide who that is, is unclear.
The widow Berman is a wonderful comic creation; I’d love to meet her, though hate to share a home with her. Her opening line on meeting Rabo is “Tell me how your parents died”, because “hello” means “don’t talk about anything important”. It’s also symptomatic of her pathological inquisitiveness (“the most ferocious enemy of privacy I ever knew”). His father died alone in a cinema, and she immediately asks “What was the movie?” – shades of Graham Greene’s short story, A Shocking Incident.
Her chutzpah is breath-taking – the way she storms into Rabo’s life and takes control of him, his house, his time and those around him. He is staggered, outraged… and compliant: “’Who is she to reward and punish me, and what the hell is this: a nursery school or a prison camp?’ I don’t asker that, because she might take away all my privileges.”
BLUEBEARD and WHAT’S IN THE POTATO BARN
I read this book because I wanted to read another Vonnegut, and I was intrigued to see to what extent the title reflected the traditional story of Bluebeard (see synopsis/review ), or even its echoes in Jane Eyre .
It’s a gentle nod, but it helps if you’re aware of the original: In the grounds, Rabo has a potato barn that used to be his studio. It is now locked up, and its contents secret: “I am Bluebeard, and my studio is my forbidden chamber”, but “there are no bodies in my barn”.
Much of the book is an elaborate tease as to what’s in there, why, and whether the reader will ever find out. In contrast to his allegedly message-less paintings, Rabo says that the barn contains “the emptiest and yet the fullest of human messages”.
There are other forbidden places: Dan Gregory’s is the Museum Of Modern Art, Paul Slazenger’s is his Theory of Revolution, currently in his head, and Circe Berman must have something, but I don’t know what or where.
WAR, DEATH and RESURRECTION
The main character is an injured veteran who came to the US as a child refugee from another war. It’s not a ranting pacifist book, and Rabo himself has fond memories of the army, but Vonnegut’s anti-war opinions shine through, especially at the end. Sometimes this is poignant: Rabo is utterly repulsed by the scarring around his missing eye, and always wears a patch. Sometimes it is more satirical: WW2 was promoted to Americans on promises of “a final war between good and evil, so that nothing would do but that it be followed by miracles, Instant coffee was one. DDT was another. It was going to kill all the bugs, and almost did. Nuclear energy was going to make electricity so cheap that it might not even be metered… Antibiotics would defeat all diseases. Lazarus would never die: How was that for a scheme to make the Son of God obsolete?”
In fact, it’s Rabo who is Lazarus. Circe explicitly says so when he complains about her intrusion into and control of him, “I brought you back to life… You’re my Lazarus”, and his beloved second wife, Edith, had had a similar effect.
As a youth, Rabo assumed society had evolved so that people would no longer be fooled by the apparent romance of war, but as an old man, he observes “you can buy a machine gun with a plastic bayonet for your little kid”.
THE INIMITABLE DAN GREGORY (REFRAIN)
The central third of the book feels as much like a biography of Dan Gregory as of Rabo.
Where Slaughterhouse Five has the recurring phrase “so it goes”, in this, it’s a series of superlatives about Dan Gregory: “Nobody could [do x] like Dan Gregory”. His achievements include: “draw cheap, mail-order clothes”, “paint grime”, “counterfeit rust and rust-stained oak”, “counterfeit plant diseases”, “counterfeit more accents from stage, screen and radio”, “counterfeit images in dusty mirrors”, “paint black people”, “put more of the excitement of a single moment into the eyes of stuffed animals”.
• “Never trust a survivor… until you find out what he did to stay alive.”
• “Perfectly beautiful cowboy boots… dazzling jewelry for manly feet.”
• “She had life. I had accumulated anecdotes.”
• Old canvases “Purged of every trace of Sateen Dura-Luxe, and restretched and reprimed… dazzling white in their restored virginity.”
• “They are a negation of art! They aren’t just neutral. They are black holes from which no intelligence or skill can ever escape. Worse than that, they suck up the dignity, the self-respect, of anybody unfortunate enough to have to look at them.” (What Rabo thinks of Circe’s choice of pictures.)
Suggested by Rand (as being in a similar vein to Vonnegut's excellent Galapagos).
Notes are private!
May 27, 2014
May 31, 2014
Sep 23, 2013
This is a pitch-perfect period piece: middle class couple in their mid 40s, living in middle England, mid wars. It could have been hackneyed, or just...more This is a pitch-perfect period piece: middle class couple in their mid 40s, living in middle England, mid wars. It could have been hackneyed, or just dull, but it isn't - and it's beautifully written.
It opens with exquisite descriptions of the minor niggles of a slightly dull life; the precise annoyances being different for husband and wife, although the latter generally has a great "capacity for contentment". Each mundane thought and task (even shaving) sheds delicate light on the character involved, setting the scene for what follows.
There is a clear arc to the plot - and indeed, the characters in it. Thomas Blake runs what was his family engineering business (sold because of his late father squandered money, mostly on drink). A chance meeting with entrepreneur Laurence Knight gives Thomas the chance to better himself, and thus his family. It cleverly portrays the excitement and expectation felt by characters, even when the reader suspects the future may not always be so rosy. It's poignant, without ever being sentimental.
Thomas and Celia have three children, who are teens at the start and young adults by the end: Freda, Ruth and Douglas. Each has a distinct and different character, and the way they are shaped by events has a certain inevitability with hindsight, even though none of the precise details feel predictable.
In addition, Thomas supports his widowed mother, spinster sister and feckless brother (Edward).
The eponymous Laurence Knight is a wealthy man, returned with his wife, to the town he grew up in.
The problem with mixing in these three different levels of society is that it involves a degree of unfamiliarity or even pretence and fear of being found out: "she was always... finding herself in company to which she felt either superior or inferior" - but never comfortably equal.
At one level, this is a small family saga with a predictable plot (transformation through rise and fall - not just of the main characters). But that is only true in the most superficial sense. Within that familiar framework, many issues are vividly explored.
There are minor spoilers in this section, so you may prefer to skim the headings and then jump to the quotations at the end.
Role of Women
Celia is a wonderful mother, loving wife, and diligent and competent housewife. However, she is ill-educated in matters of business and finance, and ponders "briefly, how helpless women and children are; their fates are decided for them by men". She is cross when Thomas assumes decision-making power about Douglas' schooling on the basis that he's the man; she makes her points, but doesn't dare be really firm.
In such an environment, it's no wonder that the childless women come across as sad, unfulfilled and, in the case of neighbour Mrs Greene, an unpleasant busy-body, loathed by all.
However, when times are tough, it is Celia (and to some extent, Ruth) who is the strength of the family.
Growing Pains - Parenting Teens
Celia, struggles to understand each of her children and react appropriately to the challenges that arise with each, letting them make their own mark - and mistakes - but hating the hurt that sometimes resulted. Issues about parties, friends, fashion, heartbreak, embarrassing family members etc are just as pertinent now as then. "She was beset with the desire, common to all anxious mothers, to press into service food, sunshine, cushions, distractions, everything she could think of... to make him better."
Freda is a dreamy, self-centred snob: "when involved in any disagreeable situation, Freda's instinct was to escape". When she has a perm, against her mother's wishes, she is "almost frightened by her own behaviour" but ultimately "vanity drove out remorse". Freda blames her mother for everything that is less than perfect in her life, and her mother "didn't know whether Freda was really trivial or merely being perverse".
Ruth is outwardly more practical, but finds it hard to complete things. However, she shares her parents' capacity for love and loyalty, and proves to be a shrewd judge of character, especially with her grumpy grandmother.
Douglas is passionate - mainly about chemistry, which would be fine, were it not for the fact his father runs an engineering business.
All the marriages have a delicate dynamic, and several include an imbalance of love or loyalty that is only acknowledge by one partner.
For one couple, the apparently pragmatic reasons for swapping between double and single beds have much deeper resonance and cause "a slight barrier... between them, of which poor [other half] was entirely unaware".
For another, the wife was "ashamed sometimes of clinging where she wasn't wanted... 'He'll be old sometime, and then he'll want me.'".
By contrast, there is a beautiful example of the transformative power of love.
Prosperity makes barely-dreamed of luxuries almost commonplace, but it also provides new stresses, whether of fitting in, spreading wings, not having enough to do - or all three.
Thomas thought "Celia ought to be very satisfied... to be so well set up in this house, with these maids. She had nothing to do now but enjoy herself." But the extra staff "kept their places and saw that she kept hers. There was none of the hearty coo-operation of maid and mistress that there had been at The Grove". This, and endless bridge, which she only does "because there seemed to be nothing else to do" lead to depression: "my top life is all right... But my underneath life is all wrong".
Conversely, "the bitter bread of dependence" affects many characters in the book at different times, and each reacts differently: some are strengthened by it, and others are weakened.
Thomas and Celia are non-religious (unusual in those days), though they take their children to church because "it was safer. No good taking away when they had nothing to offer in place."
Nevertheless, Whipple was a Christian, and the book is laced with subtle messages about avarice, snobbery and Faustian pacts, bundled with non-preachy lessons about pride, forgiveness and honesty. These are discussed more explicitly in an excellent afterword.
However, towards the end, there is a much more explicit section that feels out of place with the tone of the rest of it. A shame, imo, and the only real weakness in the book.
* Her daughters "had her smooth skin now, her perished bloom. She had flowered, borne fruit, and was now fading". Later "Beauty was fugitive now. It came and went" (she was only 41 at this point!).
* "It was the sort of house where one could speak upstairs and be heard down. Smells, too, travelled easily in it."
* "The tram careered on, without having stopped. It had a reckless air."
* A grand car "arrested his attention by its discreet magnificence".
* "He continued to read the paper as he talked, because he often found it easier to talk to his children that way."
* The spinster aunt came "bringing an atmosphere of martyrdom. 'I was chopping cabbage,' she announced."
* "They had no money and lived in a small, uninteresting way."
* "Edward was fortified by the knowledge that he was the most respected frequenter of The Swan... as comfortable at The Swan as the Blakes were in their own sitting room until he entered it." Ouch: the sting in the final phrase.
* The perils of making something for an ungrateful relative: "The jacket... gave more pleasure to the maker than it would to the recipient... They gave her double gifts... presents and causes for complaint."
* "The murk of the night curling in at the window."
* "She even managed to keep an expression of disapproval during mastication."
* "Man is not constituted to bear suspense. He can bear adversity, suffering, parting, death, but not suspense."
* A mother, with a son-in-law she dislikes, feels "bitter, uneasy, shut out, able only to ask brightly about the husband's health".
(Recommended by Clare P)(less)
Notes are private!
Sep 22, 2013
Oct 27, 2013
Sep 14, 2013
Nov 01, 2004
This - or one of her others - suggested by Clare P
Notes are private!
Sep 13, 2013
Sep 03, 1998
I think the idea of one author piggy-backing, uninvited, on the characters and plot of another, is decidedly dodgy. However, this is widely regarded a...more I think the idea of one author piggy-backing, uninvited, on the characters and plot of another, is decidedly dodgy. However, this is widely regarded as a classic, and as I've read Jane Eyre many times (review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), I thought I should finally try this prequel novella.
With such well-known books, I don't think it's a spoiler to say this imagines the story of the mad first wife in Rochester's attic: from her childhood in Jamaica, through to her marriage to Rochester, and a final epilogue that ties the two novels together, set in her attic at Thorfield. She travels from privilege to poverty and then to something else altogether.
NOTE: The book and this review use the N word occasionally (and appropriately, imo).
The novel is set shortly after the emancipation of the plantation slaves, and Antoinette (aka Bertha in Jane Eyre) is the creole daughter of a former slave-owner.
Colour (in ever sense), and its contrasts and consequences, is at the heart of the novel, such as when "marooned" is used as a literal description and a metaphor, when Antoinette is looking at her mother.
The lush and multitudinous colours of the Carribean ooze from almost every page (see quotes at the end), but it's the colour of people that is more problematic.
Antoinette is mixed-race, but mostly accepted as white. Except that "accepted" isn't really true. When her widowed mother marries Mr Mason ("we ate English food now"), she notices how English he is, how un-English her mother is, and is less sure about herself. A black person describes her as a "white cockroach" and the English think of her as a "white nigger", but the blacks say that a "black nigger is better than white nigger". She muses, "I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong".
Colour determined the balance of power in colonies like Jamaica. Freeing the slaves changed that, but didn't entirely reverse it. With the story set at this turning point, it's not only Antoinette who is questioning her identity and her place in life, and to some extent, her personal change of circumstances, and Rochester's role in that, echo those of colonial people in general.
The rich colours sometimes have an unreality about them, and that seems prescient when dreams and drugs appear to muddle reality and unreality ("Only the magic and the dream are true — all the rest's a lie."). But they are transient, I think.
What of madness? I was expecting this book to be about what madness means, and the use and abuse of the label (especially by men, about women), and perhaps it is. Nevertheless, the overwhelming theme for me was colour.
NARRATORS - AND VICTIMS
The story is initially told by Antoinette. Later Rochester has a turn, and they swap a couple more times. In narration and dialogue, it wasn't always immediately clear who was talking. Not a huge problem, but a definite irritation.
More provocatively, if Antoinette really IS mad, how can she tell her story so coherently, and if she ISN'T really mad...? In fact, Rochester's final passage is more muddled and rambling than any of Antoinette's.
Given this, and the way Rochester was tricked into the marriage (stated in Jane Eyre, but given detail here) and some of what happens in this book ((view spoiler)[rumours and lies to turn him against his wife, black magic, potions (hide spoiler)]), one has to ask whether he is as much of a victim as Antoinette is.
LINKS WITH JANE EYRE
The heat of this book is in stark contrast with the cold that pervades much of Jane Eyre: here the passions are out in the open; in that, they are often suppressed.
Apart from the characters (though Rochester is never named), there are echoes of what is to come, perhaps designed to reinforce local ideas of of the power of obeah (magic): (view spoiler)[arson causes the family to flee their home; her mother apparently goes mad (from shock and grief); manic laughter; nightmares; a nearly cancelled wedding (hide spoiler)]. The colour red is strong in both, in the literal sense (furnishings, flowers, fabrics, sky etc), and perhaps as a foreboding of fire of temper and of flames.
A more Biblical omen comes from several mentions of a cock crowing: just before the wedding; when collecting (view spoiler)[a black-magic potion (hide spoiler)]("That is for betrayal, but who is the traitor?"), and persistently when Rochester is planning taking Antoinette back to Spanish Town.
Having opened by saying I dislike the idea of adding to another author's story, I was intrigued by Daniel to the extent that if there was a book about him, I might be tempted to pick it up: what sort of man is he really, and what are his motives?
Daniel claims to be one of many illegitimate half-siblings of Antoinette. Her (white) father was well-known for his philandering ways with local women, but the authenticity of Daniel's personal claim is disputed.
Baptiste tells Rochester that Daniel is "a very superior man, always reading the Bible" and, a few sentences later, "Daniel is a bad man and he will come here and make trouble". Is this poor editing, or deliberate and significant?
In his house, there is a framed text reading "Vengeance is mine" and Daniel is jealous of Sandi (the favoured illegitimate son, who passes as white, and is wealthy). His feelings about Antoinette are less clear, and his motives for telling Rochester about her mother's madness and other gossip are also uncertain: does he want to protect Antoinette in some way, is he hoping Rochester will be so incensed that he will wreak revenge on the Masons (and maybe gratitude on Daniel) and why, at the end of the scene, (view spoiler)[ does he ask Rochester for hush money, when what he's said is apparently common knowledge? (hide spoiler)]. Or maybe I'm reading too much into a minor scene?
* "The diamond-shaped pieces of silk melted one into the other, red, blue, purple, green, yellow, all one shimmering colour."
* An extraordinary oxymoron about her convent school: "my refuge, a place of sunshine and death".
* "light and dark, sunshine and shadow, Heaven and Hell"
* "Everything is too much... Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near."
* A bathing pool has "secret loveliness. And it kept its secret... I want what it hides."
* "It was often raining when I woke during the night, a light capricious shower, dancing playful rain, or hushed, muted, growing louder, more persistent, more powerful, an inexorable sound. But always music, a music I had never heard before."
* "I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it."
I'm really torn between 3* and 4* - and I see the GR rating averages 3.51* On balance, I think 4* - but only just. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Sep 04, 2013
Aug 12, 2003
Jun 08, 2004
Added because of Steve's review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
Notes are private!
Aug 13, 2013
This is my first Proulx, so I didn't know if the unusual writing style is typical, or specially chosen for this particular story. I hope it's the latt...more This is my first Proulx, so I didn't know if the unusual writing style is typical, or specially chosen for this particular story. I hope it's the latter, as it works very well. Update: I've now read Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other stories (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which use similar language, but somewhat toned down.
It covers a couple of years (plus some backstory) in the life of thirty-something Quoyle: a big, lonely, awkward and unattractive man, always having or doing the wrong thing. He is a not very successful journalist in New York, who ends up moving, with his young daughters (Bunny and Sunshine) and aunt, to a small, somewhat inbred, community in Newfoundland where the aunt and his late father grew up. Somehow Proulx keeps the reader on the fence: he isn't especially lovable, and yet he elicits more sympathy than mockery in this reader.
I think one weakness is that the mother of the girls is too horrible, and the manner of her departure from their lives stretched my credulity somewhat.
The narrative style is the first thing to hit. It is very distinctive, continues throughout the book, and could be infuriating, though I didn't find it so. It is telegraphic and observational, reflecting Quoyle's job. There are staccato sentence fragments, and some overworked analogies, some of which are wonderfully vivid, and a few of which are laughably awful. Grammar sticklers may struggle to enjoy this book, but it's their loss - context is all, and in this context, I think it works.
If I were as clever and witty as some of my GR friends (you know who you are), I would have written this review in the style of the book.
Anyway, some typical examples:
This is the entire opening paragraph of a chapter:
"The aunt in her woolen coat when Quoyle came into the motel room. Tin profile with a glass eye. A bundle on the floor under the window. Wrapped in a bed sheet, tied with net twine."
Another whole paragraph:
"Near the window a man listened to a radio. His buttery hair swept behind ears. Eyes pinched close, a mustache. A packet of imported dates on his desk. He stood up to shake Quoyle's hand. Gangled. Plaid bow tie and ratty pullover. The British accent strained through his splayed nose."
* "eyes the color of plastic"
* "the sullen bay rubbed with thumbs of fog"
* "On the horizon icebergs like white prisons. The immense blue fabric of the sea, rumpled and creased."
* "parenthesis around her mouth set like clamps. Impossible to know if she was listening to Nutbeem or flying over the Himalayas"
* "In a way he could not explain she seized his attention; because she seemed sprung from wet stones, the stench of fish and tide."
* "eyes like a thorn bush, stabbing everything at once"
* The ghost of his wife, "Petal's essence riding under his skin like an injected vaccine against the plague of love"
* "Fingernails like the bowls of souvenir spoons." (That's the whole sentence.)
THE TOWN AND COMMUNITY
Aspects of the town and its characters remind me of David Lynch's 1980s TV series "Twin Peaks": strange characters, often with impairments of mind, body or emotions, slightly strange names, odd superstitions, and dark secrets (murder, incest, rape, insurance fraud).
The town of Killick Claw isn't prosperous, and the environment is still harsh, but it's better than when the aunt grew up there: "The forces of fate weakened by unemployment insurance, a flaring hope in offshore oil money."
The Gammy Bird is the local paper, and it's like no other: lots of adverts (many of them fake), deliberate typos and Malapropisms, libelous gossip (including a regular catalogue of sex abuse cases!), shipping news and "we run a front-page photo of a car wreck every week, whether we have a wreck or not". Poor Quoyle is bemused and has the uneasy and familiar feeling "of standing on a playground watching others play games whose rules he didn't know".
Knots are the most obvious one. Each chapter opens with a quotation pertinent to what it contains, and many are from Ashley Book of Knots, which Proulx found second-hand, and gave her the inspiration and structure she sought. Knots feature in the plot metaphorically (in terms of being bound or adrift), in a more literal and superstitious sense. We also learn that Quoyle's name means "coil of rope", and I suppose he is pretty tightly coiled for the first half of the book.
Shipping is obvious, too, not just from the title, but because Quoyle ends up writing the eponymous shipping news in the local paper, in a community where everyone needs a boat. Most of the introductory quotes that are not from Ashley Book of Knots are from a Mariner's Dictionary. I confess there were times when the quantity and level of detail slightly exceeded my interest, but I'm glad I stuck with it.
The book is riddled with pain, rejection, estrangement and mentions of abusive relationships (never graphic); many are haunted by ghosts of past events and relationships gone wrong. But although it is sometimes bleak, it is rarely depressing, and sometimes it's funny. Even close and fond relationships often have an element of awkwardness and distance; for instance, Quoyle always refers to "the aunt", rather than "my aunt". Even after living with her for a while, "It came to him he knew nearly nothing of the aunt's life. And hadn't missed the knowledge."
Ultimately, it's at least as much about (re)birth and healing as death and doom. One character slowly realises it may be possible to recover from a broken relationship: "was love then like a bag of assorted sweets passed around from which one might choose more than once?"
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS QUOTATIONS
* "a failure of normal appearance" - if you can't even achieve that, what hope is there?
* "believed in silent suffering, didn't see that it goaded"
* In a shop, "the man's fingers dropped cold dimes"
* "fog shuddered against their faces"
* "the house was garlanded with wind"
* In such a harsh environment, "The wood, hardened by time and corroding weather, clenched the nails fast"
* "a few torn pieces of early morning cloud the shape and color of salmon fillets" (I think I'd prefer that one without the fish)
* "the woman in the perpetual freeze of sorrow, afloat on the rise and fall of tattered billows"
* a babysitter "doing overtime in a trance of electronic color and simulated life, smoking cigarettes and not wondering. The floor around her strewn with hairless dolls."
From The Ashley Book of Knots:
"To prevent slipping, a knot depends on friction, and to provide friction there must be pressure of some sort."(less)
Notes are private!
Aug 07, 2013
Sep 04, 2013
Aug 07, 2013
Jan 01, 2013
Sep 03, 2013
Official trailer for this book:
I wonder how it will compare with the two others,
Oryx and Crake: http://www.goo...more Official trailer for this book:
I wonder how it will compare with the two others,
Oryx and Crake: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
The Year of the Flood: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...(less)
Notes are private!
Jul 20, 2013
Apr 21, 2013
Apr 21, 2013
This was an interesting and emotional read.
It is told by Adam, who has an unspecified but severe learning disability. One of his routines is to watch...more This was an interesting and emotional read.
It is told by Adam, who has an unspecified but severe learning disability. One of his routines is to watch from windows - hence the title.
It is mostly set in his mid to late teens, as he copes with his family moving to the country, he and his siblings going through teenage stresses, and the inevitable parting of ways. It is a little slow in the middle, but picks up strongly and shockingly towards the end.
In "real" life, Adam has a vocabulary limited to a dozen or so "words" that approximate to English equivalents, but in his head, and narration, he is a compelling mix of insightful and naive, endearing and infuriating, brave and scared.
Aspects of those contrasts are problematic, though. Adam is so eloquent and perceptive in his narration, can remember events from years ago, imagine hypothetical situations and has a theory of mind. This is necessary for him to tell his story, yet it is somewhat undermined when he repeatedly refers to not understanding the words other people use - even those he has just quoted and pondered. If you can filter that conflict out and focus on his problems and frustrations from trying to make himself understood, you'll enjoy the book better.
Another reading tip: the sibling sequence is (view spoiler)[, starting with the oldest, Adam, Jake, Joss, with about one and a half years between each (hide spoiler)]. I didn't work that out till near the end, which is probably the author's intention, but there were times when I felt I needed to know their approximate ages so I could work out how their behaviour compared with what is typical.
Full disclosure: I read this at the request of the author (I hope that admission doesn't invite a flood of such requests, as I don't usually take them up). Although he sent me a free PDF version, I did actually buy a paper copy, so I feel more able to give the honest review he asked for.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Jul 13, 2013
Jul 13, 2013
Sep 24, 2002
Perhaps it's not fair to expect the writer of a wonderfully witty play ('Art') to be as good at writing a novella, even one that is really just one lo...more Perhaps it's not fair to expect the writer of a wonderfully witty play ('Art') to be as good at writing a novella, even one that is really just one long soliloquy. Nevertheless, I was sorely disappointed by this rather unpleasant book.
Some reviews describe this as "comic", but the narrator was just nasty, with very little humour that I could see (and I say that as one who often enjoys books that lack sympathetic characters).
Anyway, this is the ramblings and rantings of 73 year old man to his estranged 38 year old son. He moans about his son, his first wife (the son's mother), his second wife (Nancy), his mistress (Marissa/Christine), his housekeeper (whose faults include "existential positivism"!), friends, and others. He is self-obsessed, self-pitying, shares inappropriate details about his sex life, rattles on about the philosophy of dead friends the son is unlikely to care about, and the ending is horrid. There is also some pseudo-psychological stream-of-consciousness, general bile, and a dash of paranoia concerning his wife and housekeeper.
He claims, more than once, to want to know what happiness means, and yet his wife's happiness and zest for life infuriate him (it just puzzles me; I'd have left him or killed myself - or him!) and he is explicitly not pleased to be told that his son is happy. Later, he suggests "The road to happiness... is perhaps the road to oblivion".
The son is apparently non-productive, but happily travelling the world; had he been chasing women, the father wouldn't have minded so much.
The father has always been disappointed by his "average" son, "I would have liked you better as a criminal or a terrorist than as a militant in the cause of happiness". Both his wives accuse him of traumatising the son. His feelings about his son include "If I weren't moved by some degree of pity and affection for you, I'd find you repellent" and "If I loved you, I certainly didn't build an alter to your status as a child". Note that both start with "if".
His views of the housekeeper and her repairman husband (both of whom are Portuguese) are even worse, as he thinks of them as barely human, "Do they suffer as much as we do?... Without an imagination, you can't suffer." He is, culturally, Jewish, and particularly dislikes Jews who take on more of the trappings of Jewish identity.
When his daughter (a "cow") encourages him to read, now that he has spare time, he is less inclined to do so than if her reason was that he had less time; he attibutes this to her failure to understand him, rather than his contrariness.
The nearest he comes to self-awareness is when he says "Don't let yourself be upset, my boy, by my deplorable rantings... I make myself odious, I make myself utterly ugly to test your affection". That may be true, but it only serves to emphasise his unpleasantness.
There are a few good lines:
* "As she crunches her little piece of buttered toast with honey her eyes are marking out the hidden boundaries of her day... The woman is so upbeat, it's a nightmare."
* A friend, who has observed a tree, almost unchanged, in forty years, has noticed "time's shattering indifference".
* "We are only kissing the masks that hide the face of abandonment."
* "Another person's empty presence is the greatest lack of all... I can take your hand, and yet you couldn't be farther away. In your eyes I read your utter incomprehension... I read my abandonment."
As it is billed as humorous, the bits that come close include (view spoiler)[a friend's Viagra exploits (hide spoiler)]. And that's it, so it should be "bit" (singular)!
At 136 pages of largish print, I read it in one sitting; had I stopped part way through, I might not have bothered to pick it back up. Not recommended (in case you hadn't figured that out by now).
Julian Barnes covers similarly territory SO much better in his brilliant "The Sense of an Ending" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), which I rated 5*["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Jun 03, 2013
Jun 11, 2013
Jun 03, 2013
Jan 16, 1992
This is a gloriously ribald carnivalesque adventure, with deeper themes.
It is the life story of identical twin musical hall performers, Dora and (Leo...more This is a gloriously ribald carnivalesque adventure, with deeper themes.
It is the life story of identical twin musical hall performers, Dora and (Leo)Nora and their complex family, as remembered by Dora on their 75th birthday. Dora is a wonderful raconteur, though hardly a reliable narrator. She's more of a chatty old biddy, rambling away, enthusiastically, and suddenly remembering little asides. She would be great fun to meet, and I really felt I did.
There are many twins in the story: contrasts, duality, uniqueness, and mistaken identity are the most obvious themes, all in a theatrical setting, with many Shakespearean references.
As well as duality/twins (and related themes) and the theatre, uncertain parentage, absent fathers, decline and fall, comedy and tragedy, all feature strongly, and in fact most of them come back to duality and contrast. The performers range from the most revered Shakespearean thespians down to presenters on the trashiest sort of TV game show.
Twinship sometimes reduces a pair to a single entity, but also enhances to more than the sum of its parts: "Neither of us is anything special on our own... but put us together, people blinked... we turned heads." The trouble is, "This night of all nights I wanted to look like myself, whoever that was."
There are even similarities among those who are not twins, the same circumstances and actions recurring: romances arising from productions of King Lear, consensual incest (actual, presumed (but not certain, where paternity is not definite), and fictional (Lear and Cordelia, a pantomime goose and its gosling!)), and "to die for love runs in the family" - as does being long-lived (another contrast/contradiction).
Legitimacy and illegitimacy is another aspect, both in the literal sense of people's parentage, but also in terms of "proper" theatre versus lower forms of entertainment. Randolph, the patriarch, toured the world, evangelising Shakespeare, to the point where "the touring was turning into a kind of madness".
Performance is the background of everything, even real life: Grandma Chance's boarding house - on Bard Road "never looked plausible. It looked like a stage set of a boarding house, as if Grandma had done it up to suite a role she'd chosen on purpose", which was almost true. She even created her family out of scraps.
Fate is a strong thread, too, even in the main surnames, Hazard and Chance. "Ambition, the curse and glory of the Hazards, who'll risk everything they've got and a little bit more on a throw of the dice."
If you like spotting such things, also look out for mirrors, the grandfather's Grandfather clock (and indirect references, e.g. "we stopped, short..." re the menopause!), Shakespearean-style potions and poisons, and Melchior's obsessive attachment to a cardboard crown.
This is rather complicated, as there are lots of twins, as well as partner-swapping, resulting in children being raised by their uncles. Other children, including Dora and Nora, are raised by people who are not their parents or uncles. There is a Dramatis Personae listed at the back, but this family tree is more useful:
The title becomes clear towards, the end, "I may never have known my father in the sense of an intimate acquaintance, but I know who he was. I was a wise child."
This should be a troubling issue, but it's all glossed over in such a jolly way (no gory details), it's hard to be as outraged as one should be. Just the thought of it makes one character say, "Dread and delight coursed through my veins".
Parts of it are a little far-fetched, but whether that's Angela Carter's fantasy, or embroidered by Dora, we don't always know, though at times, doubts are explicit: "Over the years, Perry offered us a Chinese banquet of options as to what happened to him. He gave us all his histories, we could choose which ones we wanted - but they kept on changing." Another time, she admits, "I always misremember. It never seems the same twice, each time that I remember it, it distorts."
Similarly, "Grandma invented this family. She put it together out of whatever came to hand... she created it out of sheer force of personality."
There is a scene where a comedian tells an old joke about multiple illegitimacy (http://goodriddlesnow.com/jokes/view/...), but it becomes a rather meta joke within the novel, as the fiction has so many parallels in the story.
The conclusion is that children invent their own histories, and Nora wonders if much of their own memory (especially of Peregrine) is "just a collection of our hopes and dreams... Something to set our lives by, like the old [grandfather] clock in the hall."
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE
For their seventh birthday, Dora and Nora are given a beautiful toy theatre, and Dora comments (perhaps only with hindsight) that it's "just like life". They, like another pair of twins in the story, were born on Shakespeare's birthday.
"The priest and the game-show presenter. Not so different... Both of them in show business. Both, in their different ways, carrying on the great tradition of the Hazard family - the willing suspension of disbelief. Both of them promise you a free gift if you play the game."
"I... have always loved it best of all, the moment when the lights go down, the curtain glows, you know that something wonderful is going to happen. It doesn't matter if what happens next spoils everything: the anticipation itself is always pure."
When one pair of twins meet their real father, he denies parentage by quoting the Bard - ouch!
Dora describes the experience of watching film of her and Nora in their youth as "batty old tarts with their eyes glued on their own ghosts... When I was young, I'd wanted to be ephemeral... to live on just the glorious moment... But if you put your past on celluloid, it keeps."
* "The habit of applying warpaint outlasts the battle."
* "He loved his boys [who may not have been his]. He cast them as the princes in the tower as soon as they could toddle."
* "There he was on the bed, brushing up his Shakespeare." (Nudge, nudge.)
* Of a cheating wife, whose husband murdered her, her lover and then himself, "She always had a gift for exits".
* "She didn't so much talk as elocute."
* "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive... I always preferred foreplay, too, well, not always."
* "Tragedy, eternally more class than comedy."
* "Irish had an old soul... He was a man with a great future behind him already."
* When a wife is asked if she misses her errant husband, "she had the grace to twinkle right up at the very thought of him, but she twinkled dismissively."
* "I've never known such profound silences... Silences in which the unspoken hung like fog that got into your lungs and choked you."
* "We painted the faces we always used to have onto the faces we have now."
* "The third Lady Hazard, wearing a Vivienne Westwood somewhat too witty for her years."
* "She looked a million dollars... even if in well-used notes... a stunning advertisement for hormone replacement therapy... not a line on that skin but, then, sharkskin doesn't wrinkle" and her boyfriend was so unprepossessing "I hoped for her sake he'd got hidden talents."
* "Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people."
Recommended by Danielle (CUSFS)(less)
Notes are private!
Feb 03, 2014
Mar 02, 2014
May 05, 2013
Apr 26, 2001
An excellently quirky, educational, thought-provoking, and often humourous book that avoids being confusing (despite multiple narrators) or off-puttin...more An excellently quirky, educational, thought-provoking, and often humourous book that avoids being confusing (despite multiple narrators) or off-putting when describing the more shocking aspects of the near extinction of Aborigines in Tasmania and the views of white supremacists. Even the potentially awkward mix of socio-political themes and jolly japes works.
(Not saying more than is on the back cover.)
It is set in the 1800s and opens with the crew of Sincerity from the Isle of Man, intent on petty smuggling, but who end up taking some Englishmen to Tasmania, including a priest with a penchant for geology who thinks he will find the Garden of Eden, and a doctor intent on proving the superiority of white races in scientific terms. In Tasmania, relations between white settlers and local Aborigines are deadly and often shocking, whether those settlers be impoverished seal-hunters or rich and powerful soldiers or officials.
The general events in Tasmania are broadly true. Events on the boat provide a contrasting degree of levity.
A few of the plot twists were annoyingly predictable - but I loved the irony of the ending, plus the final post script, which fully justified the inclusion of some of the more unpleasant aspects in the novel itself.
I lost track of the number of narrators, but each has a distinct voice, and is explicitly introduced. Some tell one small part of the story, while others recur many times. A difficult trick for a writer to make work, but Kneale manages it.
It opens with a philosophical conundrum that defines the book: "Say a man catches a bullet through his skull in somebody's war, so where's the beginning of that?... the day our hero goes marching off to fight... when he's just turned six and sees soldiers striding down the street... that night when a little baby is born?" By extrapolation, who is to blame for the near extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines?
Conflict and opportunism are at the heart of the book; no one gets on with anyone else (with the general exception of the Manx crew) and everyone is trying to achieve personal success at the expense of others (not generally financial, though). This is often fuelled by self-deceit and the desire to see evidence and patterns where none exists.
Class, science, religion, nationalism, colonialism (paternalism, exploitation), evangelism, culture clashes, racial identity and tension, crime and punishment (redemption, reform), murder, revenge, and genocide are the main themes. Smuggling and survival are minor, but pertinent distractions.
The book is crawling with hypocrites, including the three, very different, main characters. Some are amusing, like Captain Kewley who justifies smuggling as altruistic capitalism, but others, especially Rev Wilson, have few redeeming features, while Peevay's personal history means he starts off in credit with the reader (and for most, probably remains so). Rev Wilson is the worst, though he is an easy target. His modus operandi is pious prayer that demeans and criticises those he dislikes: he always prays for their improvement, rather than his tolerance, whist stating "I am not one to judge", just as he does so.
Captain Kewley does have some redeeming features. In particular, (view spoiler)[he twice saves enemies, at considerable risk to himself. (hide spoiler)]
Dr Potter's racist "notions" are troubling to read: "The Chinese posses a unique impulse of delight in bright colours, while among the savages of Africa there was a complete absence of the impulse of civilisation." This is partly because of what they say, partly because they are mentioned at such length but most guiltily because he expresses them so ludicrously that it's often hard not to laugh (mainly when he's comparing the Celts, Saxons and Normans). However, people really did (and do) publish such tracts, and the book thoroughly ridicules and refutes such ideas.
Creationists and young Earthers don't come out of this well, so I wouldn't expect them to enjoy it.
Some of the whites genuinely want to help the Aborigines, thinking clothes, crafts, farming and Bible stories will bring salvation, civilisation and happiness.
Others want to expunge all trace of Aboriginal life and have less care for the people than for their own animals.
The Aborigines are given new names: some are Biblical, others almost heretical, but most are deliberately, and often nastily, chosen for reasons that the bearers do not realise. "The older and more exalted of the natives were rewarded with names of quaint grandeur, such as King Alpha... a girl who was dreamy and sad was now Ophelia.. the monstrous female... became Mary, and while this might seem innocent enough, I had little doubt as to which murderous monarch was in Mr Robinson's mind."
One tells an Aborigine "You must speak English now... only English", which is observed by another white as "Thus he displayed... his resolve to bring improvement to the unfortunate creature". A youngster with a newly discovered talent and passion for maths is told "it was neither useful nor practical for him to learn" and is given more Bible instruction instead.
It's not all one-way though: some of the Aborigines are determined to survive, whether in a confrontational way, or from within, by learning about European belief and culture.
Kneale clearly thought carefully about the language he used. He includes a glossary of Manx terms, though I never needed to refer to it, because context made the meanings clear. He also has a caveat at the beginning about Peevay's speech, which is how he imagines an Aboriginal of the time might speak English, given the influence of white settlers and preachers. Personally, I thought the intent was pretty clear, and the echoes of biblical language obvious.
The real skill with language is the way each of the many narrators has a clear personality and self-justifying way of telling their bit of the story.
Examples that caught my eye include:
* A Manx way of using "dream" without a preposition; "A few might have dreamed every penny on a new jacket or boots" and "I dreamed my great-grandfather, Juan, who I never met".
* "Particular words that must never be spoken aboard a Manx boat when she's out at sea", including rabbit, herring, cat, mouse, wind, sun, moon and pig! If someone slips up, they must "shout 'cold iron' and then touch the ship's cold iron as quick as he can".
* On first hearing English, an Aborigine recalls "it never was said properly but was just murmured, like wombat coughing. Now... they hardly are words to me any more but just thinkings that are said".
* Learning English swear words has a pleasingly powerful effect: "Once I said these at Smith, just to see their magic, and it was strong, as he hated me for them very much".
* Peevay's English has a quaint, simple lyrical and somewhat Biblical style. For example:
- "By and by I grew taller and got lustings, so I noticed females in a new way, and their bubbies and fluffs were tidings of joy and filled me with new hungry wanting."
- "Mother was transported with lamentation... [his] getting dead made her even worse... she never would speak to me at all, even for hating."
* "Publication is a powerful thing. It can bring a man all manner of unlooked-for events, making friends and enemies of perfect strangers." Even truer in the days of the internet.
* Suburbs are "houses marooned in fields being an advance colony of ever-spreading London".
* "His Majesty's colony of Van Diemen's land is not intended to reform criminals, but simply to store them, like so much rubbish."
* "There are few things worse than being forgiven, as you never have a chance of answering back."
PS Further thoughts, arising from discussion.
This book immediately reminded me of the first story in Cloud Atlas (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which I had reread not long before reading this. As it progressed, parallels with Cloud Atlas continued, not just in terms of the period the voyage was set, but in the themes related to exploitation. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 12, 2013
Apr 04, 2013
Mar 12, 2013
Jul 06, 1999
A beautifully-written, Edwardian faerie story for adults - not that there's any "adult" content, and were it published today, it would probably be cla...more A beautifully-written, Edwardian faerie story for adults - not that there's any "adult" content, and were it published today, it would probably be classed as YA (despite some rather unpleasant hunting). However, it only gets 3*, as a reflection of my enjoyment of it; I prefer things a little darker, even though the moral is perhaps "Be careful what you wish for".
It is essentially a tale of young love across a cultural chasm (human Alveric and elfin Lirazel), the quest of Orion (not the Greek god), and features a witch, a faerie, elves, trolls, a magical sword, runes, unicorns and many other staples of the genre.
It is written in a florid style, lauding the beauty and harmony of the natural world ("the autumn-smitten garden"), and suggesting the ephemeral, not-quite-there nature of Elfland (the other side of "the rampart of twilight").
The poetic feel is emphasised by some recurring phrases, in particular the contrast between "the fields that we know" (the normal, non-magical world) and places "that may not be told of but in song" (Elfland).
Furthermore, the word "glamour" is often used in its archaic sense, to mean casting enchantment over something. I'm less sure what to make of the two references to the King of Elfland's tower having "brazen steps"!
Then, about half way through, the magic is suddenly broken when the author addresses the reader directly with comments about real history. It jarred.
ELFLAND - (HOW) CAN WE KNOW IT?
I liked the ideas of how Elfland is occasionally but unconsciously perceivable by mortals:
"now lost to them but for dreams, a song of such memories as lurk and hide along the edges of oblivion, now flashing from beautiful years of glimpse of some golden moment, now passing swiftly out of remembrance again, to go back to the shades of oblivion, and leaving on the mind those faintest traces of little shining feet which when dimly perceived by us are called regrets."
Artists of all kinds are most receptive and "have had many a glimpse of that country, so that sometimes in pictures we see a glamour too wonderful for our fields; it is a memory of theirs that intruded from some old glimpse." Similarly, Elfland's "flowers and lawns, seen only by the furthest travelling fancies of poets in deepest sleep".
As well as being geographically abstract, Elfland exists, to some extent, outside time: time there passes V E R Y slowly in comparison with here. This is understandably disconcerting for the few who travel between the two realms. Coming to the fields that we know, "even the shadows of houses moved" as part of a "vortex of restlessness"
* "So strong lay the enchantment... that not only did beasts and men guess each other's meaning well, but there seemed to be an understanding even, that reached from men to trees and from trees to men."
* "a hare, who was lying in a comfortable arrangement of grass, in which he had intended to pass the time till he should have things to see to."
* "The glamour that brightens much of our lives, especially in the early years, comes from rumours that reach us from Elfland" and "all manner of little memories".
* "In a forest wherein it quieted the trembling of myriads of petals of roses, it stilled the pools where the great lilies towered, till they and their reflections slept on in one gorgeous dream. And there below motionless fronds of dream-gripped trees, on the still water dreaming of the still air, where the huge lily-leaves floated green in the calm, was the troll Lurulu, sitting on a leaf."
* "Little he knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man's thought for the wonder of later years, and tell of happenings that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills."
* Spring is "a mild benediction that blessed the very air and sought out all living things."
* "The hall that was built of moonlight, dreams, music and mirage."
And a dash of humour when a troll tells others about the world of men, "They listened spell-bound... and then, when he told of hats, there ran through the forest a wave of little yelps of laughter".(less)
Notes are private!
Apr 12, 2013
Apr 24, 2013
Feb 28, 2013
Oct 03, 2005
WOW! What a cracking - but crazy - read. I'm still reeling from it. It doesn't get muddled or daft and yet it has everything... really... everything:...more WOW! What a cracking - but crazy - read. I'm still reeling from it. It doesn't get muddled or daft and yet it has everything... really... everything: time travel, spies, archaeology, cyborgs, a love triangle, wars, wormholes, virtual reality, a quest, death and sacrifice, murder mystery (with all the usual clichés lovingly included), nanotech, code-breaking, genocide, bodysnatching/ swapping, bootleg music, ecological disaster, white-knuckle chases, wraith-like horror characters, alternative history, secret passages, ethics of immortality, terraforming, some steampunk, a nod to Casablanca and an even bigger nod to (view spoiler)[The Truman Show (hide spoiler)], and the weirdest biological weapon I've ever heard of! It even has some strong and significant female characters, which is not exactly the norm in sci-fi.
SETTING & PLOT
It is primarily a detective drama in a noirish sci-fi setting. Whereas all the other Reynolds' I've read have three threads of story, this has only two: Paris in 1959 and Paris in 2266. The difference between the two versions of the city were enhanced because I read this before and after Mieville's "The City & The City" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), which is also a noirish detective thriller, featuring archaeologists and set in two versions of a city, albeit a very different sort of separation.
Floyd is an impoverished private eye in 1959, whose excitement at the prospect of a case echoes my own feelings about the book: he "felt a weird sense of vertigo: a combination of fear and thrill that he knew he would not be able to resist. It would pull him deeper and it would do what it would with him." Similarly, there's a character who doesn't want to be a detective, but gets sucked in - just like the reader.
One thread starts off as a slightly odd murder investigation; the other is a slightly odd quest to retrieve historical artifacts (though the most important artefacts turn out to be a rather bigger concept). As with any good thriller, what seem like trivial asides often turn out to be important later.
As usual, Reynolds' story is told in a very visual way: at times it is almost like watching a film: the chases, the wraiths, and especially a nail-biting scene where someone is looking for a vital bit of paper that is not quite hidden (will they find it or not?).
There are a couple of places where the exposition of backstory and science is explained in a slightly heavy-handed way (and a couple of the baddies are not much of a surprise), but those are trivial issues when there is so much good stuff crammed in barely 500 pages.
When you climb off the walls from the relentless excitement, this raises many profound issues:
* How do we know what is "real" and what is simulated - and does it matter? Who decides? (view spoiler)[Do simulants have the same rights and feelings as "real" people? How would you cope if you thought you yourself weren't real? (hide spoiler)]
* If you could be immortal, or virtually so, would you want to be, and to what lengths would you go?
* If you could have the (appearance of) whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, would you tire of it? What if you could even conjure things we can't imagine: "colours were unfamiliar (and heart-wrenchingly beautiful) , but she could hear them, fell them, smell them"?
Four more (view spoiler)[
* Every archaeologist's dream must be to travel back in time to see and experience things first hand. But the risks - ethical, practical, psychological - are high. "As much as she longed for all the time in the world to explore it, she did not want to become its prisoner."
* What are the ethics and etiquette of taking over someone else's body?! Once there, would you evict a friendly usurper if it meant they would die? What if they wanted to do something altruistic, but which imperilled you body: "My body was mine to throw away... [but] you just don't do that with someone else's."
* If the Nazis had failed to invade France so that Enigma codes were not cracked, how much later would the computer revolution have happened, and with what consequences?
* What are the dangers of digital (over physical) storage? Or maybe the past has nothing to teach us, so we can we live in the present and not worry about the past?
* "New patterns would begin to emerge from the doughy grey of unstructured cloud... But right now the clouds were bickering. The patterns formed and decayed at an accelerated rate, with lightning of a kind of emphatic punctuation to the dialogue. The clouds fissioned and merged, as if negotiating age-old treaties and alliances."
* "Charm was what he excelled at. If anyone sensed his underlying shallowness, they usually mistook it for well-hidden great depth of character, like misinterpreting a radar bounce."
* On the dangers of studying maths too deeply (Reynolds was a physicist before turning to writing): "she had studied mathematics so furiously that after an evening manipulating complex bracketed equations, simplifying forms and extracting common terms, her brain had actually started to apply the same rules to spoken language, as if a sentence could be bracketed and simplified like some quadratic formula for radioisotope decay."
* "like an electric shock without the pain... a sharp inquisitional light... it lasted an eternity and an instant."
* "The trains waited with snorting impatience, pushing quills of white steam up towards the roof... Its red tail light spilled blood on to the polished surfaces of the rails."
No technology is omnipotent even if, to quote Arthur C Clarke, it is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic: "In the presence of a wizard, she wanted miracles, not excuses." With this book, I felt the story was being told by a wizard with words; no excuses were necessary. WOW!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Jan 06, 2013
Feb 13, 2013
Jan 06, 2013
I read this story in a volume that includes a few others (see http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). This review is limited to Boy in Darkness:
Thi...more I read this story in a volume that includes a few others (see http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). This review is limited to Boy in Darkness:
This 90-page novella resulted in three pages of notes! It is so beautiful and so strange, and not even strange in the same way as the other Gormenghast books.
The story starts on Titus's fourteenth birthday (part way through the second of the Gormenghast "trilogy"), though all but once, he is referred to as "the Boy". He is a truculent teen, exasperated by the relentless and oppressive rituals that govern his life: "He was in a frame of mind quite savage in its resentment".
Watching a fly, "the Boy became dimly aware of exploration as something more than a word... as something solitary and mutinous... the first flicker of imperative rebellion... against the eternal round of deadly symbolism." (And yet this book is laden with symbolism.)
Naturally, he wants escape. So he does. "To be alone in a land where nothing can be recognized, that is what he feared, and that is what he longed for."
So far, so "normal" in Gormenghast terms. But then "the moon slid out of the thick clouds and he saw ahead of him a river", but there is something strangely unsettling about this river, and it's at this point the story takes on a more dream-like, allegorical or even magical feel. He awakes to "foreign air" and "indications... that he was on evil ground".
In the second part, the Boy encounters Goat and Hyena: part-human creatures who want to take him to their menacing master, the Lamb. "You are what [not "who"] we have been waiting for."
The disused mines where these creatures live sound a little like Gormenghast, with their lavish but decayed furnishings, but for all the oppression of the Castle, the mines have more menace: a "well of darkness.. a prodigious shaft more like an abyss than anything constructed".
The sycophantic Goat and vain Hyena compete for their master's approval. Their master is in some ways a stereotypical evil genius: he transforms and brainwashes his subjects, has a grand but evil plan that is going awry, and lives in an underground lair - but he is a lamb of the purest white (a strong symbol of purity and sacrifice), with child-like hands, which he uses to perform gross transformations.
Fortunately, the Boy's profound infusion of the liturgy of ritual, coupled with his intelligence, mean he can talk eloquently and persuasively (he even gets Goat and Hyena to make him a palanquin to take him to the Lamb).
The Lamb, now blind, lives in the mines and transmutates humans into a sort of animal hybrid, based on what he thinks they are really like, and somehow sucks out their souls. He has been doing this for more than a hundred years, but all have died except for Goat and Hyena, and he doesn't know why. He has waited ten years for another subject. His plans for the Boy are clear: "His very bones cry out for realignment: his flesh to be reshaped; his heart to be shrivelled, and his soul to feed on fear."
The Lamb's motives are never clear (beyond "his exquisite pleasure to debase" and "a deep and burning hatred of all humans"), but in some respects, he is like the leader of a cult (albeit with very few followers): Goat chants "he is the heart of life and love, and that is true because he tells us so" and both Goat and Hyena are subjugated to the extent they know they are "of a lesser breed and that to serve and obey their master was its own reward".
Some of the descriptions of the Lamb are wonderfully awful and often contradictory:
* "no substance... only the yielding, horrible mollience of endless wool."
* "white as... the brow of a dead man; white as a sheeted ghost... Bright wool... white wool... in half a million curls... seraphic in its purity and softness... the raiment of the Lamb."
* "the hollow where his soul should have been seethed with horrible sickness"
* "white lord of Midnight" whose voice is like "the sound of naked innocence".
* "The Lamb had bared its pearly teeth."
* "his arms like little white doves"
* "quenchless vitality of his evil"
It may not start with "Once upon a time", but the ending is classic fairy tale - not in the sense of being overtly happy, but in terms of how the ending comes about. (view spoiler)[When the Lamb dies (leaving no body or blood, but just a mass of dazzling curls), the spell on Goat and Hyena is broken and they turn into very very old men. (hide spoiler)]
IT REALLY IS TITUS
Despite Peake’s widow saying in her foreword that “The Boy”, though not named, is Titus, he is actually called that once early on, when he looks out of the window of his room. Furthermore, in her memoirs ("A World Away" http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) she explicitly describes it as "Titus outside the Titus books". Apart from that, the descriptions of him and his home leave no doubt (an earl who is “lord of a towered tract”, “at the beck and call of officials” and “remote ceremonies the meaning of which had long been forgotten”, leaving “dust-filled rooms of his seemingly endless home”).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN and how does it relate to Gormenghast?
According to the foreword by Peake's widow, it was subtitled "The Dream", though she says "It was written as a story, to be read as a story", but acknowledges the many and varied slants people like to put on it (religious allegory, nightmare etc) and concludes "It is all or none or some of these things to the reader".
"The Boy", rips off a symbolic necklace (echoes of baby Titus ripping a page of book of ritual), sees night-owls (significant creatures in the main story), and Peake's recurring themes of islands and isolation run strong. More oddly, there is a scene near the end where his tactics are a very close parallel of a specific incident of Steerpike's! (view spoiler)[Titus promises titles and a gold throne, just as Steerpike promises the twins. (hide spoiler)]
However, it's hardest to ignore the repeated and overpowering inversion of the symbolism of a sacrificial lamb.
* "Ritual, like a senseless chariot, had rolled its wheels - and the natural life of the day was bruised and crushed."
* "That ochre-coloured and familiar patch of mildew that stretched across the cancelling like an island.... He knew by heart the tapering peninsular that ended in a narrowing chain of islets like a string of discoloured beads... and he had many a time brought imaginary ships to anchor in hazardous harbours or stood them off when the seas ran high where they rocked in his mind and set new courses for yet other lands." (Islands are a recurring theme in Peake's work)
* "in the tortuous Castle... he had on many an occasion been terrified, not only by the silences and glooms of the night but by a sense of being watched, almost as though the Castle itself or the spirit of the ancient place moved with him as he moved, stopped when he stopped; forever breathing at his shoulder-blades and taking note of every move he made."
* "Towers that a moment ago had been ethereal, and all but floated in the golden air, had now become, through the loss of the sun's late beams, like black and carious teeth."
* Bells "a murmuration, with the clamour of tongues that spread their echoes over the great shell of the Castle like a shawl of metal."
* "The night was heavy with its own darkness."
* "Signs of faded elegance... now breathed a folorn and dismal air" yet "there is a certain grandeur in decay and in stillness which slows the footsteps."
* "It was as though he had been deserted by the outriders of his memory, and an uprush of fear flowed over him like an icy wave."
* "sullen water with bilious moonlight glowering on its back."
* Sinister hounds have yellow eyes: "If a colour can have any moral value, it was incredibly wicked".
* "The sun gave out the kind of light that sucked out every hue... The water under the sun's rays was like grey oil that heaved as though with a voluptuous sickness."
* "Joyless sunlight... A gleam of dull light that had both fear and vengeance in it."
* "Far away beyond the power of search, in the breathless wastes, where time slides on and on through the sickness of the day and the suffocation of the night, there was a land of absolute stillness... the stillness of apprehension and a dire suspense. At the heart of this... where no trees grew and no birds sang, there was a desert of grey space that shone with a metallic light."
OLD REVIEW (i.e. succinct)
A curious allegorical story that starts when Titus runs away on his 14th birthday (part way through volume two, Gormenghast). He escapes the confines of the castle and encounters a pack of hounds but the story only turns to horror when, exhausted, he is found by two human-animal hybrids: Goat and Hyena, both determined to get the credit for delivering him to their evil overlord, a blind sheep living in an opulent disused mine who uses sinister powers to mutate people into the creatures they resemble. The character of a clever sheep, who is very white but very evil, wants sacrifices and is referred to as “The Lamb” (echoing Christian terminology) is certainly counter-cultural and, to some, potentially blasphemous. Whether this story is real (inasmuch as anything in Gormenghast is real) or a dream, let alone what it signifies is left to the reader: a bloodless sacrifice of a lamb; a critique of religion, despots, genetic engineering, power and corruption; something Freudian, or what?.
Perhaps the strangest aspect is that this was initially published in a collection of three short stories (others by John Wyndham and William Golding) that won a sci-fi prize (according to Maeve in "A World Away").
All my Peake/Gormenghast reviews now have their own shelf:
Notes are private!
Nov 01, 2012
Jan 01, 1951
Oct 01, 2009
A teenage near-romance has the chance of being rekindled twenty years later. Twenty years too late? (This review gives away no more than is in the boo...more A teenage near-romance has the chance of being rekindled twenty years later. Twenty years too late? (This review gives away no more than is in the books's blurb, though the quotes section at the end is a little less subtle.)
It is poignant and painful, occasionally funny, but never sentimental or saccharine. Beautifully written, and it doesn't take the easy options. However, Taylor often introduces new characters or situations as if the reader knows all about them, only filling in the gaps later. Also, there are a few sections that are rather different in tone from the rest of the book, making it feel a little unfinished.
Harriet and Vesey have known each other since childhood, but the book starts between the wars, when they are around 18 and spend much of the summer at the house of his aunt, where Harriet is helping with the children. There is plenty of frisson, but Harriet in particular is naive, and the reader is somewhat in the dark as well. As she remembers a tryst, she reinvents it, whereas Vesey dismisses it because "'we are children.' He did not know that at his age most youths believe that they are men."
This summer makes up the first third of the novel, and teenage awkwardness and doubt is painfully authentic, though it's harder to see why Harriet is so attracted to Vesey when he's oafish, self-centred and lacking in empathy. There is also some pop-psychology about them both being only children, Vesey's mother being a poor parent, and Harriet's suffragette mother being disappointed in her daughter's lack of academic success and ambition. It feels a little out of place, though it does deliver some wonderful insights: Vesey's mother "drew attention to him as if he were a beloved marmoset on a chain, somehow enhancing her own originality, decorating her" so he had "no close friends, for he had too much to hide."
They drift apart. Harriet finally shows a smidgen of initiative and gets a job in a shop (a very comical section, but more caricatured than the rest of the book). She then marries a pleasant enough man and has a daughter, Betsy. When Betsy is in her teens, Vesey comes back into Harriet's life. Their feelings are clearer, but their course of action less so. This takes its toll on her marriage, and this is the finest section of the book (see some of the quotes). Time drags on, with increasing tension, longing, and doubt all round.
The tragic passages are balanced by comedy: in the shop, and then with Harriet's incompetent au pair, "the Dutch girl". In the latter case, the humour is based on misunderstanding, exacerbated by the housekeeper using twee British idioms that she doesn't understand. When wondering why she came, Charles suggests "it's a cheap way of learning how to speak American".
Overall, despite its inconsistent style, this is a beautiful book.
* Suffragettes wondering, years later, if it was all worth it or whether "time would not despite them have floated down to them casually what they had almost drowned in struggling to reach." Nearly a wonderful sentence, but actually horribly mangled.
* An adult's irritation at young Vesey "was in in reality impatience with another person's youth heightened by nostalgia for his own."
* A bucolic bus journey: "In those days, trees laced together above many a road; buses took perilous journeys, with twigs scratching at either side; cars, meeting them, backed up into gateways. The bus conductor was like the conductor of an orchestra. He guided the conversation, drew out the shy or bored or tired, linked the passengers together... and made a whole thing out of an assortment."
* When lovers walk, "Time's winged chariot was not a thing that they could hear."
* "Departure in the afternoon is depressing to those who are left. The day is so dominated by the one who has gone and, although only half-done, must be got through with that particular shadow lying over it."
* "The days shortened, but only technically. The time it took to live them seemed endless."
* Virginity a mixed blessing: "She was left with only her self-respect, which did not seem to mean as much to her as she had been led to believe."
* "What she had dreaded in suspense and embarrassment, she now fastened to. She embraced him with an erratic but extortionate passion. He was profoundly moved, though shocked, by her desperation... But to her, life seemed all at once simplified."
* "The lady of the Manor who looked as if she had been bred in her own stables."
* "Far from fearing middle age, one took refuge in it." I'm not sure about that!
* Being tormented by a cue for jealousy: "It was as if an unkind hand raked up dead leaves in his heart."
* When tension is highest between Harriet and her husband: " Marriage doesn't solve mysteries... It creates and deepens then. The two of them being shut up physically in this dark space, yet locked away for ever from one another, was oppressive."
* "Looking back on her married life, it seemed a frayed, tangled thing made by two strangers."
* "Beyond their familiarity and nakedness they could now sense their true isolation and were more perfectly strange to one another than people passing in the street."
* "Betsy had not so much grown up as unrolled - as if she were all there at the beginning, but that each birthday unrolled more of her, made more visible, though suggesting more."
* A lady's companion "had nothing to sell but her own company, which most people would have paid to avoid"!
* More teen angst: "Nothing was explicable, even to herself. When she wept, it was from confusion. Her ravelled emotions fatigued her. She was overwrought from uncertainty, more than from any specific cause."
* "Dusk, like a sediment, sifted down through bluish sky."(less)
Notes are private!
Oct 31, 2012
Oct 01, 2012
Sep 13, 2010
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY?
This seems to be a real Marmite book (love it or loathe it, with no fence-sitting), so I'm going to mix my metaphors:...more THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY?
This seems to be a real Marmite book (love it or loathe it, with no fence-sitting), so I'm going to mix my metaphors: I bit the bullet, to see which way the wind was blowing and was surprised to find myself sitting on the empty fence. I was very undecided about stars, but there are many much better books I've given 3*, so this gets 2*, even though there was, on reflection, more to it than I first thought. The quality of the writing is not sufficient for 3*.
Overall, I think it’s poorly written (exacerbated by the way Donoghue tries to use unusual language for specific effect), but it is something of a page-turner, it’s quite a quick read (unless you overempathise, get depressed, and need a break) and it does contain some interesting ideas, especially in the second half about aspects of coping with “freedom” (though I am unsure how many are taken directly from news reports and interviews with former captives, and how many are her own).
The situation is well-known: a twenty six year old woman, “Ma”, is living with her five year old son, Jack, in a tiny locked room. She has been there since she was abducted aged nineteen, and the story is narrated by Jack. They have daily visits from their captor, who brings meagre supplies, though they do have a TV and half a dozen books. Jack thinks reality is everything in their room, and that everything “in TV” is pretend.
The first half of the book is set in Room (yes, with a capital letter and no article (“a” or “the”), like most of the few objects in their lives), and the second half is on the outside. It is clearly influenced by the recent news stories of Natasha Kampusch and Jaycee Lee Duggard etc, and that potentially prurient aspect did hold me back from reading this book for a long time.
LANGUAGE AND WRITING
Right from the start, I found the narration annoying - not because it's by a 5-year old, but because he's such an unconvincing 5-year old. For example, he has a very good vocabulary for his age (fair enough), and yet there are a few really basic words that he seems not to know (instead of "a man" or "the woman" he refers to "a he" and "the she" - except on one occasion when he unaccountably gets it right), and he often gets irregular past tenses and word order wrong, in the way that children younger than five often do (“I winned”, “we knowed”, “I brung”, “why you don’t like” and to a driver, “may you go us please to…”). Furthermore, he repeatedly makes these errors despite his mother's diligence in correcting his grammar and the fact he watches TV.
It’s almost as if you can see Donoghue weighing up the need for Jack to be intelligent and insightful enough to tell the story in an engaging way (which, to a large extent, he does) with the need to tick certain boxes to make it clear he is just a small child. Similarly, we’re expected to believe that Jack points out “a dog crossing a road with a human on a rope” and thinks someone lighting up is trying to set himself on fire, even though he’s had TV and a mother who has tried to teach him about the (fictitious) world.
The fact Jack is still breastfed is not surprising: it’s comforting for both of them. What is surprising though is that the word itself seems to be taboo (instead, he talks about “having some”, without ever saying what), and yet he’s happy to use the words “penis” and “vagina”, and is open about bathing with his mother. That may sound like nit-picking, but it’s an example of the sort of thing that frustrated me. I just didn’t feel Donoghue had really thought it through thoroughly. If you’re going to play with language to make your point, you need to be able to do so convincingly.
The book is in five sections, though really it falls more naturally into two: inside and outside.
The relationship between mother and son is touching and the book opens by establishing the routines and rituals of their restricted life, including the almost liturgical way they say “good night” to all their (few) possessions: “Good night, Room… good night, Rug” etc. The creativity required to raise a child in a confined space with such limited resources are impressive, too (they blow their eggs, so the whole shells can be threaded to make a snake, and do PE using their limited furniture as gym props).
Initially, and in some ways, their life doesn’t seem as bad as you might expect, and even the first appearance of their captor (“Old Nick”) is relatively benign. That reflects the way Ma is raising Jack in the most positive way she can. Of course, we know something of the real horrors of the story, and they are discussed, though never in graphic detail, in part because Jack’s comprehension is limited, and in part because of Ma's success in shielding him from the nature of the situation.
I thought the escape was badly done, but much better is the when, leading up to it, Ma has to explain to Jack that what he’s seen “in TV” is real. They go through a confusing process of “unlying” as she tries to prepare him for what might follow an escape.
Once outside, it’s superficially about the practicalities of adjusting to the real world, but really it’s questioning the nature and price of freedom. I found this part had more interesting ideas, but contained more implausibility of plot (though I’m no expert in such matters) and very flat new characters. In particular, the method and speed with which the police locate Room was absurd, and also some of the logistics, practicalities and oversights of those charged with their care and settlement on the outside were dodgy, such as the first planned trip for these traumatised celebrities being to a museum with an uncle whom Jack had only met once!
WHAT IS FREEDOM?
The reader roots for Ma and Jack to escape, and they do (no spoiler – the book blurb tells you). Hooray! But of course they soon discover a new form of captivity: medical/psychiatric, hiding from fame, and so on. And this is where it gets interesting and starts to feel more plausible. Jack’s only knowledge of outside is from occasional TV programmes, and Ma’s is from seven years ago, when she was a carefree student, rather than a traumatised mother. Jack has to discover the world, and Ma has to (re)discover a new version of herself; she tells Jack, “I know you need me to be your ma but I’m having to remember how to be me as well”, to which he replies, “But I thought the her and the Ma were the same”. Similarly, having more, can leave one feeling impoverished: Jack is puzzled when Ma cautions him to be careful of something her brother gave to her, “I didn’t know it was hers-not-mine. In Room everything was ours.”
Some of the things they struggle to cope with are not ones that would initially have occurred to me (germs, sunburn, stairs), and one effect is to make it almost as if Jack has acquired Asperger’s syndrome: he can’t filter the multiple stimuli of a busy world; doesn’t understand social conventions, etiquette, and privacy; is confused by relationships and pronouns (“The ‘you’ means Ma, not me, I’m getting good at telling”); takes common idioms literally (such as “I’m afraid so” and “get his act together”, but surely some cropped up from Ma and TV?); doesn’t like being touched or having to wear shoes; is borderline agoraphobic; increases his counting-his-teeth stress-relieving tactic; is uncoordinated from poor spatial perception; and feels insecure without routine. Jack asks, “But what’s the rule?”, to which he is told “There is no rule.” That’s a liberating idea to Ma, but scary to Jack. He misses Room and his few possessions because it’s all he’d ever known; Ma, understandably, wants to leave it all behind both literally and in even from conversation and memory. When he has nightmares, the doctor says “Now you’re safe, it’s [the brain] gathering up all those scary thoughts you don’t need any more, and throwing them out”, but Jack disagrees, “actually he’s got it backwards. In Room I was safe and Outside is the scary.”
Another aspect is how Ma’s family react. The girl they knew – and thought dead – has been replaced by someone similar, but different, and they have Jack to contend with. Ma loves him unconditionally, despite his parentage, but if you were her mother or father, how would you feel about this constant reminder of what happened?
To sum up, this wasn’t as prurient as I feared, and it was very thought-provoking, but it could have been SO much better.
Notes are private!
Sep 12, 2012
Sep 20, 2012
Sep 12, 2012
Mar 06, 2007
I didn't enjoy this, not just because Golder is such an unsympathetic character, and not just because I'd heard good things about Nerimovsky's writing...more I didn't enjoy this, not just because Golder is such an unsympathetic character, and not just because I'd heard good things about Nerimovsky's writing that seemed unjustified, but because I constantly felt uncomfortable with the ways Jewish people are portrayed - even though I'm not Jewish, but Nemirovsky was. Also, the sections about finance and commodity trading, though not extensive, were somewhat tedious.
Anyway, this short novel concerns the very wealthy, self-made (more than once) David Golder, in the 1930s, and his selfish, shallow, and avaricious wife and twenty-something daughter. They're all as bad as each other!
The pressure of providing for their lavish lifestyle, though enjoying few of the benefits himself, takes its toll on Godler's health, and there is a painfully vivid section describing his physical collapse.
There is heartbreak at the core of the book, but it's hard not to feel it is deserved. I don't mind a book with unsympathetic characters, but I like some light and shade.
The descriptions of Jews are invariably harsh (and red hair is mentioned oddly often, though I don't know if that is significant), even when quoting the speech or paraphrasing the thoughts of Jewish characters. And if that weren't bad enough, the whole thing is based on longstanding negative stereotypes, particularly about the Jewish affinity for money and meanness. It doesn't pretend that all Jews are like that - and yet there aren't any in this book who are appealing characters.
Overall, a strange, unpleasant and slightly boring book.
Notes are private!
Sep 05, 2012
Sep 12, 2012
Sep 05, 2012
Jan 01, 2009
May 06, 2011
Mieville is the sort of author I expect and want to like, but I didn't feel the love with "The Scar" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). This...more Mieville is the sort of author I expect and want to like, but I didn't feel the love with "The Scar" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). This second foray into his works was far more rewarding, and my third, Embassytown, was even more so (there are some interesting parallels, too, which I've outlined in my review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).
I enjoyed the concept, the wordplay, and the impossibility of categorisation: it's a detective story, but it's set in a world that is not exactly dystopian or futuristic or fantastic - but it isn't quite realistic either!
One of the characters sums it up nicely, "There's a series of random and implausible crises that make no sense other than if you believe the most dramatic possible shit. And there's a dead girl." It is self-referential in another way: a book called "Between The City and The City" is mentioned several times. Very meta. ;)
The title relates to a divided city that operates as separate cities, but it's not like Berlin, Budapest, Belfast or Jerusalem because (view spoiler)[the two cities (Beszel and Ul Qoma) occupy the same geographical space. Instead, the separation is psychological and sensorial: citizens of each learn to unsee, unhear and even unsmell anything from the other city. If they don't, they invoke the vague but terrifying wrath of Breach. There is also the mythical secret place/power of Orciny. (hide spoiler)] It is this brilliantly weird central premise that makes the book so good. If you don't know about it when you start reading it, the clues are gradually built up, but knowing it, as I did, didn't spoil my enjoyment.
Ultimately, the division is maintained by consent, like the Emperor's New Clothes: "It's not just us keeping them apart. It's everyone in Beszel and Ul Qoma... It works because you don't blink. (view spoiler)[That's why unseeing and unsensing are so vital. No one can admit it doesn't work. So if you don't admit it, it does. (hide spoiler)]" Mind you, there is very limited political freedom in either city (UQ is a one-party state and in Besz, dissident groups are monitored - and both cities are under the mysterious power of Breach), so the idea of consent is somewhat moot.
MURDER MYSTERY & THEMES
This situation creates a variety of intriguing and sometimes amusing complications and paradoxes which hamper police operations. The impetus of the story is the discovery and subsequent investigation of a woman's body, and uncertainty about which domain the crime occurred in. There are disputed zones - shades of Rumsfeld's "known unknowns" and even when authority is agreed, the normal difficulties of solving a crime are compounded by the complexity of the two cities. (view spoiler)[It's difficult to get witness statements from people who are used to unseeing people and things, and who are ever fearful of accidentally seeing what they should not. There are even "Places that no one can see because they think they're in the other city". Chasing criminals without breaching is comical, but crucial. (hide spoiler)] "Smuggling itself is not breach, though most breach is committed in order to smuggle."
These issues raise all sorts of questions about the nature and power of the state and its police (one of the cities - maybe both? - allows only one political party), and particularly about the relevance of intent in determining whether something is a crime. "Because you may not see the justice of what we do doesn't mean it's unjust" (neither does it mean it is just).
COP DRAMA TROPES
I'm not really a follower of detective stories, either on the page or on screen, but Mieville tips a hat to many of the clichés of the genre: good cop (Borlu)/bad cop (various, fluctuating, minor), the sparky relationship between partners (Borlu with Corwi and later with Dhatt), following hunches, breaking the rules for the greater good, messy love life, a few car chases and so on.
The chapters are mostly short and punchy, and each ends with a revelation or cliff-hanger (or both). Yet it doesn't feel hackneyed, perhaps because the setting is so startlingly original. In fact, Mieville confronts the risk of cliché head-on, saying of one character "His fidelity to the cliché transcended the necessity to communicate".
WORDPLAY AND WRITING STYLE
Mieville has fun with neologisms and a few existing but esoteric words. At times he explicitly defines them when context and etymology make that unnecessary (e.g. gudcop and mectec), which is irksome, but nevertheless, some of the words are good. For example:
* Grosstopically: (view spoiler)[Two locations, each in a different city, but occupying the same geographical space in other terms. (hide spoiler)]
* Topolganger: (view spoiler)[When grosstopical places look alike. (hide spoiler)]
* Alterity: (view spoiler)[Alternative, a grosstopically equivalent place, "A Besz dweller cannot walk a few paces next door into an alter house without breach". (hide spoiler)]
* Insiles: Sort of the opposite of exiles.
* Glasnostroika: Glasnost + Perestroika, and the cities have echoes of central and eastern Europe.
* Gallimaufrians are mentioned: perhaps a nod to Dr Who?
* Cleavage: The reason for there being two cities - in both senses of the word: "was it schism or conjoining"... "split or convergence"?
* Crosshatching: A whole new meaning to a familiar word.
As in The Scar, there are a few awkward or ugly sentences that I had to reread, but far fewer. A couple of examples (for my own reference more than anything else):
"He came to UQ, from where he went to B, managed I do not know how to go between the two of them - legally I assure you - several times, and he claimed..." Just adding a single comma would make all the difference.
"Unlike for my distance viewing of the night, up close the walls blocked off the site from watchers."
There are others that are convoluted in a clever and amusing way, though: "I couldn't help fail to completely unsee"!
I think my only quibble with the story-telling is the quantity of rushed explanation and exposition towards the end, rather as Goldfinger or another James Bond baddie would do.
* A dead body: "skin smooth that cold morning, unbroken by gooseflesh... like someone playing at dead insect, her limbs crooked, rocking on her spine... Her face was set in a startled strain. She was endlessly surprised by herself."
(view spoiler)[* "Architecture broken by alterity... The local buildings are taller... so Besz juts up semi regularly and the roof-scape is almost a machicolation... laced by the shadows of girded towers that would loom over it if they were there." (hide spoiler)]
* "Those most dedicated to the perforation of the boundary... had to observe it most carefully."
* At an archaeological site, "Security guards, keeping safe these forgotten then remembered memories".
* "the explosive percussion of the bullet into the wall... Architecture sprayed."
* There is an unreal, almost supernatural quality of Breach (and their forces have a distinctive and intimidating gait): "The soundlessness was enervating... he was a cutout of darkness, a lack... clothes as vague as my own... Their faces were without anything approaching expressions. They looked like people-shaped clay in the moments before God breathed out." And yet it turns out that Breach uses cameras to watch the fringes (shades of Peake's "Titus Alone"), when I was expecting something less tangible.
* "Students might stand, scandalously, touching distance from a foreign power, a pornography of separation."
* A helicopter is "percussion in the otherwise empty locked-down sky".
* "Schroedinger's pedestrian... That gait... rootless and untethered, purposeful and without a country... He.. strode with pathological neutrality."
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE CITIES
I didn't get hung up on which real world cities might have inspired this (I doubt there would be a simple answer). However, I was interested in the ways in which they apparently differed, the "intense learning of cues" required of all children (and the few tourists). "We pick up on styles of clothing, permissible colours, ways of walking and holding oneself." Some colours are actually illegal in one city, and one is more diverse (view spoiler)[(UQ has more Asians, Africans and Arabs, and it has spicier food, whereas Beszel has a more potato-based diet) (hide spoiler)].
As a reader, one has to learn these cues very gradually. Even half way through I didn't have a very clear picture of the different appearance, culture or politics, other than that (view spoiler)[UQ was somewhat richer, more technologically advanced and with better archaeological sites (hide spoiler)].
Their languages use different alphabets and it is heretical to say they are the same, and yet they are mutually intelligible.
Borlu, the hero and from whose point of view the story is told, is from Beszel, but I would rather live in UQ.
MISSED A TRICK
The book mentions fracturedcity.org - twice - but it just redirects to http://www.randomhouse.com/!
GOOD BOOK TO PAIR THIS WITH
I read this in the middle of reading Alistair Reynolds' "Century Rain" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). Neither is typical of the author's works, but both are noirish detective thrillers, featuring archaeologists and set in two versions of a city, albeit a very different sort of separation. Reading one enhances enjoyment of the other.
An interesting Q&A with China, here on GR: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/5..., including references to TC&TC.
Notes are private!
Jan 17, 2013
Jan 30, 2013
Aug 20, 2012
May 17, 2011
How can a novel about language leave one speechless? In a good way, I hasten to add!
This was the third Mieville I’ve read, and they are all very diffe...more How can a novel about language leave one speechless? In a good way, I hasten to add!
This was the third Mieville I’ve read, and they are all very different in style, content and my liking (or not).
The core idea of this one is language: how minds shape language and how language shapes minds. Wonderful as it was, I can see reasons why some people would hate it, or find it too weird, or just not sci-fi enough. If you don’t delight in polysemy and are not interested in the difference between simile and metaphor, this is unlikely to be the book for you.
Because of the tantalising style of storytelling, drip-feeding the reader snippets about things from the trivial to the fundamental, it’s definitely a book worth rereading, and that is especially true on the subject of language, to which I’ve devoted a whole section of this review (which I will doubtless need to rewrite after a reread!).
The plot is to some extent secondary, but it is the reminiscences (going back to childhood) of a woman from Embassytown who travels, comes back and becomes enmeshed in the extraordinary Language (capital letter) of the alien Hosts.
The first section left me exhilarated but reeling. It was so vague and yet specific, nearly familiar, yet also strangely different, and in such an enticing way. It hints at all sorts of weirdness that I couldn't quite put my finger on (odd units of time and some odd typography in the pages ahead) and others that I couldn’t even get my head around (what are “alien colours”- related to Douglas Adams’ Hooloovoo, a “super intelligent shade of the colour blue”?). Even the names and numbers of the sections were hard to fathom, making the reader as disoriented as an ambassador in an alien land.
This teasing bafflement continues throughout most of the book: Mieville doesn’t pad with early exposition, so the reader is fed occasional snippets about what things mean. Sometimes I wondered if I’d missed something, particularly things that were clearly fundamental to the book (e.g. what was special about the Ambassadors, what the Hosts looked like, and what being/performing a simile means) but as I read on, and gradually learned more, I realised that was just part of the style of the book.
Having just read Mieville’s The City & The City (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), I was also struck by parallels: there is lots about borders, separation, boundaries, outsiders, the strange duality of the city ("the Host city, where the streets changed their looks... not quite a hard border but was still remarkably abrupt, a gaseous transition.") and one character is "cleaved", when cleavage is a significant aspect of TC&TC.
SENSE OF PLACE
Embassytown is a trading outpost used by humans from Bremen and Earth (Terre) in the future. It is on a planet inhabited by the Ariekei, more respectfully known as Hosts. They have a unique Language (view spoiler)[that requires two simultaneous voices from one mind (hide spoiler)], and the Ambassadors are the translators. The Hosts are also experts at biorigging, so many aspects of the city and its technology are appealingly bizarre, giving a very strong sense of place, even though some aspects are left to the reader’s imagination.
The immer is more amorphous concept of space or outer space, and Avice’s first experience of it is “impossible to describe”. “There are currents and storm fronts in the immer” as well as borders, but the usual laws of physics, and even direction, don’t apply. For instance, “in the first one [universe]… light was about twice as fast as it is here now” and some places are closer together in the immer than in the everyday. “The immer’s reaches don’t correspond at all to the dimensions of the manchmal, this space where we live. The best we can do is say that the immer underlies or overlies, infuses, is a foundation.” Also, “People get lost in the overlapping sets of knownspace.”
Avice is an immerser (traveller of and in the immer). She isn't a fluffy, girly sort of woman, but I would have little interest in reading about her if she was. Even so, she came across as plausibly female to me, which is not something all male writers can achieve.
She wasn’t especially endearing, and in the middle of the book she was often faffing around, trying to find out what was going on, but not actually achieving much. In particular, there are some key plot points where she relies on hearsay (“I wasn’t there but that’s how I was told it happened”), which is brave decision on Mieville’s part, though I think he just about retains her credibility. Despite those instances, she is central to the story, mainly in her childhood, and then towards the end of the book.
Given that the Host’s Language is thought and literal truth, the most obvious theme is the nature of truth and lies and the question of whether we make language or language makes us. See the section on Language, below.
I don't think we're meant to have a clear idea what the Hosts look like: it's all about language/Language, rather than judging by outward appearance. Mieville drops little clues throughout the book, but it takes a long time to build up a picture, which remains somewhat fuzzy, but utterly alien. When newly arrived crew stare, unashamedly, at the Hosts, Avice recounts a theory that “no matter how travelled people are… they can’t be insouciant at the first sight of any exot race… our bodies know we should not ever see [them]” (Of course, the vagueness is also a teasing tactic, which entices the reader to keep reading, and avoids distracting from the main force of the story.)
Related to that is Ehrsul: an autom who is Avice’s friend, albeit they rely on “all the exaggerated intimacies of our friendship”. Scyle can never quite think of her as human enough to be friends with her, whereas Avice pushes any doubts to the back of her mind. Maybe an autom who is TOO realistic is more unsettling than one that is clearly not human? On the other hand, “She only ever used one corpus, according to some Terrephile sense of politesse or accommodation… having to relate to someone variably physically incarnate would trouble us [humans]” and her apartment is decorated with pictures on the wall, so that visitors feel relaxed and at home. Would Ehrsul pass the Turing Test? The fact she runs on Turingware suggests she would, but perhaps it would depend who tested her, which then questions the whole nature of the test itself.
Other aspects of what it is to be human touch more on Brave New World, and Soylent Green. In the latter case, the Hosts’ natural “last incarnation was as a food store for the young.” Having given that up, they “respectfully shepherd the ambulatory corpses until they fall apart”, despite their “dignified mindlessness”. The former (view spoiler)[ relates to the way Ambassadors are bred: identical twins, raised to be able to think, act and, crucially, speak, as one, as that is the only way to be understood by the Hosts (hide spoiler)].
Colonialism and all the socio-political and practical issues around it are central, though not my main area of interest. I saw many echoes of (view spoiler)[the Opium Wars, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_wars) (hide spoiler)] a particularly shameful episode in British colonial history. I suppose the main difference is (view spoiler)[that the Language Ariekei were addicted to (albeit a corrupted form) was something previously regarded as unequivocally good. Does that change the ethics of addiction, drug-pushing, treatment (“they might not be addicted any more but they’re not cured; they’re changed”), and do the means justify the ends? (hide spoiler)]
IDEAS ABOUT LANGUAGE
This is the heart of the book, but so hard to do justice to, but I’ll attempt it.
The Hosts’ language (called Language) is the most important to the story, and it is wonderfully strange: it must be spoken simultaneously in two voices by a single mind: “The sounds aren’t where the meaning lies… it needs a mind behind it”. The Hosts themselves have two means of vocal output (cut and turn), but it’s more of a challenge for humans to utter it in a way that the Hosts even register as speech, let alone understand.
The other distinctive feature of Language is that it is an utterly concrete and literal language: lies and multiple meanings are not possible: “For Hosts, speech was thought” and “Words don’t signify: they are their referents. How can they be sentient and not have symbolic language?”
Side-effects of the strangeness of Language are that the Hosts have no system of gestures nor of writing (Mieville accommodates the duality by writing simultaneous words above each other, like fractions).
However, it’s not quite so straightforward or static as that sounds…
The Hosts use similes to express things that are not literally true – the catch being that the similes themselves must be concrete and must continue to be true. (“The man who swims with fishes every week” has to swim with fishes every week. If only the simile had been in the past tense, his life would be much easier.)
Avice was a simile (“You speak Language. I am it”), but others were examples and topics, and later, Avice declares, “I don’t want to be a simile any more. I want to be a metaphor”.
One puzzle is how the Hosts know they need a simile, let alone define it, before they have it in Language?
Similes are the thin end of the wedge where truth is concerned: “Similes start… transgressions. Because we can refer to anything. Even though in Language, everything’s literal… but I can be like… anything… Similes are a way out. A route from reference to signifying.” It’s a relatively small step from “You are like x” to “You are x”. A metaphor is a step further: a lie that is the truth.
The Hosts can understand lies, and they also have a Festival of Lies, where they entertain each other by trying to lie. I was reminded Lister, in the comedy sci-fi, Red Dwarf, trying to teach the mechanoid, Kryten, to lie –using fruit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB-NnV...).
There are several tactics to lying; they tend to be incremental and often use similes: collaborative, going slow, going fast.
But does lying have a moral cost – does it inevitably lead to evil? And what is “evil” in a non-religious place where some barely have a concept of the word?
The ideas of Sapir-Whorf underlie much of this: “Without language for things that didn’t exist, they could hardly think them”, with “hardly” being the crucial get-out. What about Hosts who lose the power of speech? “If they can’t speak, can they think? Language for Ariekei was speech and thought at once.”
Do we make language or does language make us? As the book progresses, some Hosts have a strong desire for the former: “We want to decide what to hear, how to live, what to say, what to speak, how to mean, what to obey. We want Language to put to our use.” Avice realises “Their longtime striving for lies [was] to make Language mean what they wanted”.
Another way of looking at it is whether “Language is the continuation of coercion by other means”, as one character claims, or whether it’s cooperation, as another claims.
OTHER LANGUAGE-RELATED IDEAS
Other odd languages are fleetingly mentioned, such as Homash: “They speak by regurgitation. Pellets embedded with enzymes… which their interlocutors eat”. There is also mention of “Tactile languages, bioluminescent words… Dialects comprehensible only as palimpsests [a favourite word of Mieville’s] of references to everything already said, or in which adjectives are rude and verbs unholy.”
The quirks of Language affect the writing of the book. In particular, are Ambassadors singular or plural? The answer is both, even in a single sentence, for example, “Ambassador JasMin was in earshot and I made a point of asking them…”. This makes sense, the more you understand about them.
The vagueness of some things, and the neologisms (see below) only added to the appeal for me: maybe I became a little addicted to Language?
There is a wonderful passage describing the joy of a Helen Keller moment, when one who lacked the power of communication suddenly “got it”.
A trivial surprise was that in a largely non-religious future society Christian-based swearing continues in recognisable form, “Jesus Pharoahtekton Christ”, whereas I’d expect the words to have morphed a little (like “crikey”).
Finally, I’m not enough of a linguist to be sure of the truth of this, but it’s thought-provoking: “Sometimes translation stops you understanding.”
Most of the coinages are thrown at the reader early on, and there is no glossary (this isn’t one either). However, the meanings are usually clear from context and common-sense etymology:
Shiftparents, voidcraft, exoterre, biorigged, immerser (versus landstuck), plastone, bookware, newsware, alt reality, sidereal, monthling, basilisking (I love that one), oratee, augmens, datchip
Floaking: “the life technique of aggregated skill, luck, laziness and chutzpah”.
Trid: This seemed to cover quite a lot of things, but all involved a video player/display.
Miab: An acronym (view spoiler)[ Message In A Bottle, i.e. cargo from afar. (hide spoiler)]
Floak is my favourite, and I think Mieville is fully aware of its appeal and the perils of overuse: ‘”Did they tell you I can floak?” I said. “I wish I’d never told them that fucking word… they just want the opportunity to say ‘floak’.”’
I also like the fact that "exot", which refers to exo-terre (of or from Earth) conjures strong implications of "exotic".
• “Like all children we mapped our hometown carefully, urgently and idiosyncratically.”
• “Its surface sheened with the saft that evanesced out from its crystal shielding in threads that degraded to nothing.”
• “It was an insinuation at first, composing itself of angles and shadows. It accreted itself from its surrounds, manifesting in the transient. [Things] spilled toward and into the swimming thing, against physics. They substanced it. Houses were unroofed as their slates slipped sideways into a presence growing every moment more physical, more suited to this realness.”
• Someone flirting was “using augmens to make his face provocative, according to local aesthetics.”
• “the gluttony of the architecture… the frantic eavesdropping of the walls.”
• Because the building are biorigged, and thus alive, when demolition happens “construction site like combined slaughterhouses, puppy farms and quarries”!
I read this in part because of Betsey's review, focusing on the fact it's about language: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
An interesting Q&A with China, here on GR: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/5...
And here is a video of him talking about the book:
Notes are private!
Feb 13, 2013
Mar 05, 2013
Aug 20, 2012
Jan 01, 2011
Jul 04, 2011
This tells a riveting and complex saga with profound insight, plenty of intrigue and dashes of wit. From the first dozen pages, even the first few sen...more This tells a riveting and complex saga with profound insight, plenty of intrigue and dashes of wit. From the first dozen pages, even the first few sentences, I was drawn into a love affair with the writing of this book. I read large chunks more than once because the writing is breathtaking, but leisurely: I wanted to capture the craft and jot down many quotes (see the end of this for a long selection).
Having finished, I still love it, even though the quality was not quite maintained. It is a story told in five parts and spanning a century. The first two parts are superb (and have echoes of Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) and Byatt's "The Children's Book" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...)); the third is good, and the last two are too different to fit well with what’s gone before, and the ending is unsatisfyingly abrupt. It's not so much that the later sections are bad as the fact they just didn't "fit" the rest of the book and suffer in comparison with what precedes them. It almost felt as if they were there to bang home the themes of truth, memories, aging, changing mores etc, just in case we didn't notice them in the earlier sections. It's another way in which it resembles "The Children's Book": the best aspects are stunning, but it is also very flawed
Although Hollinghurst is well known as a gay writer (both himself, and his books), and this does feature gay relationships and illustrate how attitudes have changed over the last hundred years, it felt like a family saga, rather than a gay book.
The key character appears to be a budding poet, Cecil Valence. He enters the story in 1913 as the wealthy university friend of middle class George Sawle. All the characters in the coming hundred years and 500+ pages have some sort of connection with him, but really it is George’s sister Daphne who is the pivot of the tangled stories. And they are tangled: there is a web of relationships, with lies, suppressed longings, and secrets, so one is often unsure who fancies who and who knows what about whom.
Subsequent sections are in the mid 1920s, mid 1960s, around 1990 and the present day (2011/12). The first two sections have a strong sense of place: the Sawle’s suburban home, Two Acres, and then the Valence’s enormous Victorian estate, Corley Court. These sections have strong echoes of “Brideshead”, yet don’t feel plagiarised. In later sections, the characters and plot are rather more adrift.
I enjoyed the deliberate obfuscation of the sudden time jumps at the start of each section, e.g. not being immediately sure who labels such as "husband" and "dead brother" applied to, or who “Mrs Jacobs” was (not always the most obvious one). I just didn't enjoy the characters, style and milieu of the later parts quite as much.
The Valences and Sawles are the main characters – along with their respective homes (again, like Brideshead). A new wife “felt she wouldn’t have chosen it, felt it had in a way chosen her”.
The changing zeitgeist and the aging and maturing of the characters are generally very good: insightful, amusing and plausible.
The opening word (“she”) refers to Daphne, a central character throughout, though not always the most important. As she says of herself in old age, “I never pretended to be a wonderful writer, but I have known some very interesting people.”
The contrasts between what people say, feel, mean and are thought to mean by others are clearly but delicately marked, especially in the first section, when Daphne is juggling sibling rivalry with the first stirrings of attraction, whilst still very naïve about such things. Other characters have things to hide (relationships, drink, money problems). Daphne often “felt again she was missing something, but was carried along by the excitement of making [adult] conversation”.
Class difference, deference, aspiration and the consequences of social mobility (up and down) are obvious themes that affect all the characters. Is “unthinking social confidence” the same as being a snob? One woman had “a slight bewildered totter among the grandeur that her daughter now had to pretend to take for granted” (so much summed up in that pithy sentence) and another “hadn’t been born into [X’s] world, even though she now wore its lacquered carapace”. At the other end of the spectrum, a humble bank clerk feels socially awkward from knowing, via people’s financial circumstances, that they may not be all that they seem.
TRUTH and WRITING
More importantly, several characters write (poetry, biography, memoirs, criticism). Questions of “what is the truth?”, “who knows what?” and the way we edit our own and other people’s histories weave through the book and are pertinent to all the main characters, especially those burdened with secrets (whether their own or those of others). Memoirs are “not fiction… but a sort of poetical reconstruction”. Are such edits usually unconscious, and if not, are they justifiable? They certainly make it hard for biographers, one of whom complains, “People wouldn’t tell you things, and they then blamed you for not knowing them.” Then he realised “The writer of a life didn’t only write about the past, and that the secrets he dealt in might have all kinds of consequences in other lives, in years to come” – and this aspect is perhaps the dominant theme of the book, creating a Russian-doll like structure of nested histories.
The subtle dynamics of covert relationships are carefully drawn, especially early on, managing to create a degree of ambiguity and at the same time, giving the reader the feeling of being “in the know”. Later on, there is additional dramatic tension from the characters’ own doubts about some things, and even the reader’s doubts about which characters know what: George was “amused by its [a poem] having a secret and sadly reassured by the fact it could never be told.”
I feel as if this ought to be a major theme, and possibly Hollinghurst would like it to be, but it never felt like a big deal to me. Yes, several characters are gay or bisexual, and some are secretive about their desires, but the desire and the secrecy seemed more pertinent than the sex of the people they were attracted to. Having sections set in different periods does illustrate how society has become more accepting, but maybe that's just society growing up?
AGING and MATURITY
The main characters span a variety of ages, which presents a challenge that Hollinghurst rises to. In particular, the Edwardian Daphne’s teenage desires and anxieties are wonderfully done. When offered a cigar, “She really didn’t want the cigar, but she was worried by the thought of missing a chance at it. It was something none of her friends had done, she was pretty sure of that.” So she took it “with a feeling of shame and duty and regret”. Whether it was a cigar or something else, I’m sure we can all empathise with Daphne’s mixed emotions. Similarly, being in on (partial) adult knowledge isn’t always what one wants or expects, “the joy of discovery was shadowed by the sense of being left behind”. Pondering her first kiss, she “savoured the shock of it properly… With each retelling, the story… made her heart race a fraction less… and her reasonable relief at this gradual change was coloured with a tinge of indignation”.
Several characters drink too much, though some are more aware of it than others: “the tray of bottles, some friendly, some over-familiar, one or two to be avoided”.
The opening chapter is particularly entrancing: it captures the anticipation of the forthcoming evening, coupled with the evening light, in a series of subtly beautiful images about relationships, awkwardness, and ease, presaging all that is to come. There are wonderful images and great insight throughout. It might be thought to be overwritten, but I enjoyed the detail.
Who is the eponymous "stranger's child"? For a while that question niggled (it's a phrase from Tennyson), and there are one or two candidates, but later I felt it didn't really matter, and was perhaps just a metaphor for each child's uniqueness, and, in some respects, their unknowability.
• “Something of the time of day held her, with its hint of a mystery she had so far overlooked… It was the long still moment when the hedges and borders turned dusky and vague, but anything she looked at closely… seemed to give itself back to the day with a secret throb of colour.”
• “The slight asperity that gave even her nicest remarks an air of sarcasm.”
• Jonah was only 15, had never acted as a valet (or even observed one) and was told to “unpack… and arrange the contents ‘convincingly’. This was the word, enormous but elusive, that Jonah had had on his mind all day… gripping him again with a subtle horror.” Later, he had “The strange feeling of being intimate with someone who was simultaneously unaware of him.”
• Even the legitimate offspring of a respectable dead father can feel it a social handicap in Edwardian times: “He felt a twinge of shame and regret at having no father, and for ever having to make do.”
• Outrageous letters were like “Pompeiian obscenities, hiding just out of view behind the curtains and in the shadows of the inglenook.”
• “Records were indeed marvels, but they were only tiny helpings of the ocean of music.”
• A 16-year old “picked up her glass and drained it with a complicated feeling of sadness and satisfaction that was thoroughly endorsed by Wagner’s restless ballad.”
• For some reason, this tickled me, “… said Daphne experimentally”.
• A couple had “their little myth of origins, its artificiality part of its erotic charm”.
• “The remark [a compliment] seemed to have curved in the air, to have set out towards some more obvious and perhaps deserving target, and then swooped wonderfully home.”
• “His feelings absorbed him so completely that he seemed to float towards them, weak with excitement, across a purely symbolic landscape.”
• A woodland pond was “a loose ellipse of water”.
• He had “a very particular way of looking at her… of holding her eye at moments in their talk, so that another unspoken conversation seemed also to be going on… She felt a certain thrilled complacency at the choice he had secretly made.”
• “moaning with a lover’s pangs, as well as with a certain sulky relief at this tragic postponement.”
• “spread some butter on her toast, though really her smothered anxiety had squeezed up her appetite to nothing.”
• Of a somewhat back-handed compliment: “her involuntary German air of meaning rather more.”
• She “held back, with a thin fixed smile, in which various doubts and questions were tightly hidden.”
• A dining room “with its gaudy décor, its mirrors and gilding” was “like some funereal fairground”!
• People who had loved and feuded came together to share memories of someone who had died, “submissively clutching their contributions. A dispiriting odour of false piety and dutiful suppression seemed to rise from the table and hang like cabbage-smells in the jelly-mould domes of the ceiling”.
• Tact required a “courteous saunter around an unmentionable truth” and “a mist of delicacy had obscured the subject”.
• “The dark oak door of the chapel loomed, seemed to summon and dishearten the visitor with the same black stare… Chapel silence, with its faint penumbra of excluded sounds.”
• They “looked more like colleagues than a couple” because “their hands seemed somehow locked away from any mutual use”.
• “Bland evasiveness had slowly assumed the appearance of natural forgiveness.”
• He “turned to her with that unstable mixture of indulgence and polite bewilderment and mocking distaste that she had come to know and dread and furiously resent.”
• After one character’s boorish outburst at a children’s party “a collective effort at repair had been made”, one couple “having an ideally boring conversation about shooting to show that things were under control”!
• After dinner, there was “talk of a game. Those who were keen half smothered their interest, and those who weren’t pretended blandly that they didn’t mind.”
• “It was the most unapproachable room in the house… dark with prohibitions. His father’s anger… had withdrawn into it, like a dragon to its lair.”
• “His features seemed rather small and provisional.”
• “The front door was wide open, as though the house had surrendered itself to the sunny day.”
• “At this indefinable time of day… The time, like the light, seemed somehow viscous.”
• A lodger’s room: “Nothing went with anything else. They had the air of things not wanted elsewhere in the house… the brown wool rug made by Mr Marsh himself at what must have been a low moment.”
• The PE teacher “dressed in sports kit at improbable times of day, he was adored by many of the boys, and instinctively avoided by others.”
• “In the deepening shadows between pools of candlelight, the guests… conversations stretching and breaking, in an amiable jostle… like a flickering frieze, unknowable faces all bending willingly to something perhaps none of them individually would have chosen to do.”
• “eagerness struggling with some entrenched habit of disappointment.”
• Daphne’s copious bag had “the family trait of being shapelessly bulky – too bulky, really, to count as a handbag. It admitted as much in its helpless slump.”
• “The upstairs windows seemed to ponder blankly on the reflections of clouds.”
• “The perfect but impersonal dentures that gave their own helpless eagerness to an old man’s face” – the same man with “the eagerness and charm, the smile confidently friendly but not hilarious, the note of respect with a hint of conspiracy.”
• “Her sense of humour is really no more than an irritable suspicion that someone else might find something funny.”
• A house heaving with clutter creates “a worrying sense of the temporary grown permanent” (a lesson for me).
• “The air of mildly offended blankness, which is the default expression of any congregation.”
• “X and his computer lived together in intense co-dependency, as if they shared a brain, his arcane undiscriminating memory backed up on the machine and perpetually enlarged by it.”(less)
Notes are private!
Jul 31, 2012
Aug 11, 2012
Jul 31, 2012