I wanted to like this book so much more. I wanted it to have the same poetry and effect as Neil Bartlett’s Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall. I was noI wanted to like this book so much more. I wanted it to have the same poetry and effect as Neil Bartlett’s Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall. I was not overwhelmed; I was not even whelmed; I was under-whelmed.
The Celibate is the story of a novice priest who suffers a nervous breakdown at the altar one Sunday. In fact, he is dealing with a subjugated sexuality and the advances of another, more radically gay, novice priest. The church, fearing for the unnamed young man’s sanity, sends him to a psychiatrist – thus begins chapter after chapter of first-person stories to an unseen and silent doctor. Get it; it’s like a Catholic confession – 300-some odd-pages worth….
Actually, it’s not necessarily a bad idea. The execution just sucks. The monologues are long and self-indigent and boring. The priest gets wrapped up in homeless gays and hustlers, one who in an act of self-protection commits murder and is not assisted at all by the priest. Feeling guilty and searching for forgiveness, the priest falls for another hustler and ends up being peed upon by the hustler and his unknown boyfriend as a form of repudiation and absolution. This leads to an attempted suicide and then to an affair with an AIDS worker who is also a radical queer. On top of leaving the priesthood, the priest helps with a man dying of AIDS, the priest also refuses to bottom for his ACT OUT lover, and then he slowly wakes up to his social and sexual freedom. …yay…
Oh, and he was once Jewish, but by himself and with a message from Jesus, became a Catholic. Oh, and he was born rich. Oh, and for a while he led street tours on Jack the Ripper, and later he led tours on the Plague (these two themes have something to do with the priest’s own struggle. I get it - the plaque/AIDS connection is obvious. Less obvious, repressed sexuality – like the priest’s – is also an aspect in serial killers’ lives. However, I found it hard to believe that this specific priest ever had a chance of becoming a madman. This seems added for drama).
Are you getting a picture of the ridiculously self-indulgent plot and drama and happenstance all over this book?
On top of that, the young priest elucidates every story, loading it with Christian imagery as if he were being graded on an essay in seminary. The author also loves getting a little scatological and gross with sex, as if this priest would have no problem whatsoever describing being peed on or having butt sex for the first time to his unresponsive doctor. Also, his narration is delivered with a snobby, self-important intellectualism that made me want to punch him in the trachea.
Ever since I read it in the late 80s, I have loved this rambling, indefinable book, which may make me a hypocrite. But I’ve learned human beings are nEver since I read it in the late 80s, I have loved this rambling, indefinable book, which may make me a hypocrite. But I’ve learned human beings are nothing if not contrary in taste. I tell people I dislike science fiction and fantasy books, and that I have very little taste for gory horror (as opposed to psychological horror, which I love). Weaveworld wanders around a LOT in its 700+ Odysseus-like pages, but there’s something phantasmal and strange about this mystical world Clive Barker has created that just sucks me in.
That being said, the long and complex Weaveworld isn’t pure science fiction or fantasy. It has moments of horror and moments of pure human drama. The story also has a sense of the mythological about it, borrowing from and twisting old Celtic and Druid stories into an entirely new invention. In the Old World tales, witches and wizards could sew up their corners or portions of the earth, making them invisible to others.
In Weaveworld, a whole magical landscape has been sewn into a rug to guard it from humans and supernatural creatures that would destroy it. Two people find out about this rug just as forces are coming together to unweave and undo it. One is a woman with buried witch-like powers; her grandma has been guarding the rug for decades. Another is a man – the grandson of a poet – who finds in the threads an escape from his dreary, aimless life. Together they wander our own world and the undiscovered world of the rug several times, trying to save the creation from its apocalypse.
Clive Barker (yes, he of Hellraiser and Books of Blood) creates a whole planet with mythical creatures, epic battles, political and social themes, and plenty of the gory horror he’s known for. That being said, each element is held in decent perspective; even the grisly parts seem less cruel and more fascinating and magical than he’s rendered in his other books. In many ways, Weaveworld is a horror writer’s nod to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as to mythologist Joseph Campbell. Because Barker is such a good writer, his book is an elaborate weaving from many other sources and styles, yet Weaveworld still maintains the author’s signature style. ...more
Well, I haven’t read as much in February, because I wanted to knock out some longer books. Gah, it DID feel like a task after a while.
The Great and SeWell, I haven’t read as much in February, because I wanted to knock out some longer books. Gah, it DID feel like a task after a while.
The Great and Secret Show (1989) is a 600-plus page Clive Barker novel. Like much of his writing, it’s a combination of fantasy and horror. Some of his work – Weaveworld and Imajica – I love. This one just felt padded as Hell. There is a good 200-page section where people face great evil only to have it give up because they lock themselves in a bedroom. (???) Evil doesn’t really return for 204 pages…
TG&SS is about people searching for an alternate universe that is populated by creatures physically, mentally, and spiritually evolved from Earth. A man, Jaffe, first finds out about Quidity, this alternate universe, in 1969, in the US Post Office’s Dead Letter office in Omaha. Jaffe uses what little he learns to get money and power to learn more. He hires another man, a scientist named Fletcher, to create the mystical substance Nuncio that will speed up their evolution and allow them access to this secret world. Jaffe and Fletcher war over the created Nuncio, and they both are transformed. They battle for a long time in spirit form, and then they get tired. Their worn-out spirits rape four girls in order to create allies and soldiers to fight for them. The kids of these girls – who were also fathered by humans the girls were compelled to copulate with – then meet. Then there’s more war and stuff.
There are TONS of side characters who are transformed by Nuncio to know about the secret world Quidity, and the Ephemeris surrounding it like a sea. They also are either good or evil to varying degrees. There are also other humans caught up in the mix.
Barker is a great and interesting storyteller, but this is epic for epic’s sake. Small human dramas are filled in between in order to cover up the stuffing. The human drama does lend itself to the larger, metaphysical fantasy, but only barely. Both sections feel overlong. Many chapters feel like we’re spinning our wheels. Once we get to the end, it’s quite clear that many, many well-written pages were unnecessary to succinct, clear storytelling.
TG&SS is supposedly one part of three books. The second book, Everville, was put out in 1994. I also read that. The third book has never been finished. I suspect it’s currently probably 2146 pages long and about half finished. ...more
I just finished rereading Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, a book I pick up every couple of years or so. This time I read it because of the new moI just finished rereading Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, a book I pick up every couple of years or so. This time I read it because of the new movie version movie (the one with Emma Thompson as the Lady Marchmain Flyte). As a critic, I get to see a pre-screening of the new movie on Tuesday; I am taking Dr. Steve. Also, I am a huge fan of the original, very-literal British miniseries from 1981 (it is the first thing that brought Jeremy Irons to international attention, and it had the excessively handsome Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte.). I don’t know exactly when the new movie is coming out.
Speaking of coming out, it’s impossible to speak of Brideshead Revisited without talking about the strong homosexual themes. Then again, you also have to talk about the pressure of Catholicism and its attendant guilt. Finally, there is the sense of social climbing, of coveting and envy, that defines the story’s narrator, Charles Ryder.
The story is about an upper middle-class boy, Charles Ryder and his integration into a rich English family. After years at boarding school and summers with only his absent-minded and oblivious father as family, Charles meets Sebastian Flyte their third year at Oxford.
They immediately fall in love, though Sebastian pukes in Charles’ room.
Sebastian is described as a pretty young man, the son of uber-rich Catholic aristocracy. Sebastian throws wild parties for his obviously gay friends (there is no hemming about Sebastian’s friends being fairies), and gets drunk repeatedly. He travels to Venice and the Continent and generally lives an extremely privileged life.
He also carries around a teddy bear names Aloysius, which he speaks to as if it were a naughty child. He’s 19 and at college.
Sebastian and Charles start a thinly veiled romance – one that has been alternately argued to be sexual or simply a romantic phase by young men. Charles is taken in by Sebastian, his effete friends, and his rich lifestyle, and they are quite open with their affection toward each other. I personally think they have repeated sex, the references to their love for each other, the moments of nudity, and the open discussions of homosexuality are too numerous to ignore.
However, as Charles becomes more and more entrenched with the Flyte family, Sebastian grows bitter and drinks more. He tried to keep his life with Charles and his Catholic family separate. Sebastian possibly understands his romance with Charles is being taken over by his family. Perhaps Sebastian realizes his Catholic guilt will also kill his relationship with Charles. Slowly, Sebastian becomes a virulently self-destructive drunk, as the family communicates to Charles that they don’t mind their childish relationship, but that it is a phase that will need to pass. Charles also comes to understand the strength that the orthodox religion has on the family as he watches Sebastian slowly drink himself to death.
Over the course of the novel, Charles transfers his affections to Sebastian’s equally unattainable sister, Julia. Charles blatantly admits that he finds Julia and Sebastian very similar in looks and temperament. God knows, the family’s vast wealth and glamour are also draws for Charles; it’s as if Charles will do anything to be a part of the Flyte family. He is a bit of a cipher, a mirror, a quiet man who attracts people because they are able to project upon him exactly what they wish him to be. Charles is a fascinating, longing narrator – there is a bit of The Talented Mr. Ripley in his envy and in his personal blankness. He lusts after Sebastian’s life, but also after Sebastian as a great, flamboyant and handsome man.
However, there is such a sense of denigration from that first romance of Sebastian’s and Charles’, and it runs through the entire novel and even into Charles’ and Julia’s romance. The sense of lost innocence along with Sebastian’s deterioration from overdrinking is tragic. Charles admits that, in love, “Sebastian was the first;” he admits this openly to Julia and others. An entirely different sort of destruction happens in Charles’ and Julia’s romance. Both loves are assailed by Catholic guilt.
Charles is an agnostic. His lack of religious knowledge and his criticism of Catholic hypocrisy is at first one of the things that attracts Sebastian to him. But it’s also the thing that dooms Charles’ relationship with the family.
The mother, Lady Marchmain Flyte, is very pious – separated from her philandering husband (who lives with his mistress in Italy), but refusing to divorce the man for her Catholic beliefs. She is a strong and spiritual patriarch whose guilt and religiosity inspire hatred from her husband and children. Yet, Lady Marchmain doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, and there is a sense that she is an earthbound saint whose kin hate over their own deep senses of guilt – guilt over their own sins: their homosexuality, alcoholism, infidelity, and apostasy from the faith.
It’s a frustrating novel. I sense author Waugh’s latent homosexuality, and there is a strong sense of his gross envy of the travels and money and wondrous things and parties and balls of the upper class like his narrator Charles does. Finally, there is the strong sense of Catholicism. You could either say the religion and its guilt-ridden patterns doom the Flyte family. Or you could say that it is the only moral compass that these people have and that God is waiting to pull them back into His fold, even after their darkest sins and self-destruction.
The reclaiming of faith among the bourgeois and the over-privileged is the theme I think Waugh thought he was writing about. But there is a sense of such loss over their Bohemian innocence. And there is a palpable sense of guilt and shame that the Catholicism brings on – there doesn’t seem to be much mercy in Waugh’s God. Everything just slowly gets worse and sicker and more depressed. Perhaps that’s why I see the novel as a supreme and beautiful tragedy. Even though Charles comes to respect the spiritual belief and even attend to it some, I am still struck by the decay, the corrosion, the purification – of the beautiful house Brideshead and of its family, the Flytes.
As a gay man and being from a Catholic family (although the Flytes are wealthy and we are white trash), I love this book, even as it frustrates me. ...more
Well, everyone has to start somewhere. This is Cather’s first novel (and if you know me, you know I adore Cather). In Alexander’s Bridge, Cather is trWell, everyone has to start somewhere. This is Cather’s first novel (and if you know me, you know I adore Cather). In Alexander’s Bridge, Cather is trying to ape contemporary Henry James. It’s so obvious that it’s a little painful, even though Cather already has her amazing sense of character and place well intact. Her story – her plot – is awkwardly romantic, and she tries to be just a little too urbane (something she gave up for her next novel – her fist success – O’ Pioneers!)
Alexander is a famous bridge architect who’s married to a charming Canadian lady but still in love with a British actress. Alexander starts an affair while building and correcting bridges throughout the world. If you know James, you know it’s no surprise that almost everyone knows of the affair. Also, you know the architect that will have to learn something about his manly hubris through combined symbolism of his romantic endeavors and his bridges.
Part of what’s sloppy here is that the first chapter is told in first-person, from the perspective of Alexander’s old college professor. The rest of the short book is told in omniscient third person. (I hate sloppiness of narration like this. If you switch voices, there has to be a clear, strong reason for this.)
Another problem, as I mentioned, is the urbanity. Cather spends so much time describing wallpapers, furniture and knickknacks. She sets clothing to moving within metropolitan settings, but this process doesn’t tell us much about the people inhabiting those clothes.
Still, because I am such a Cather fan, it was worth a read. It’s always cheering when you see that someone you admired didn’t start out the legend she became. ...more