i thought Angela was handing me a flute full of bubbly champagne but it turned out to be a glass of spicy vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers &...morei thought Angela was handing me a flute full of bubbly champagne but it turned out to be a glass of spicy vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers & sausages. Angela, you vicious trickster. still, i found the taste to be surprisingly interesting. maybe not refreshing or pleasing to the taste buds... but interesting! i quickly finished the whole glass.
Love - a title steeped in so much sick irony, given the novel's cruel narrative and its wintry themes - is about an insane young lady, her beau, his demented brother, the apartment that all three share, and how lives just go on no matter what. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, Hey! it is set in late 60s London (i presume - i think the city is nameless) within that special milieu that exists on the outskirts of many colleges - an artsy, ambisexual, insular, young, messy milieu. it stars: a charmless young miss who comes from money & paints surreal landscapes over all of her walls and who is clearly both bonkers and toxic (our heroine!); a perfectly nice young man who is pleasing to the eye and who just wants to be happy and who has an arsenal of disarming smiles and who ties up and beats his girlfriend when she irritates him (our hero!); an animalistic brother who has decided to continually live in his school of hard knocks and who does eventually call for an ambulance after he finds a person who has tried to commit suicide - but not until he takes a few cool snaps (our villain?). the plot is pretty much the detailing of the strange, disturbing dance between the three. what is Love and what is it saying about "love"? honestly, nothing that i want to know. i don't believe in its perspective!
if you love Angela Carter as much as i do, you will find much to enjoy in this novel. her language is as brilliant as ever, full of evilly sardonic non sequitors and stylized dialogue and lots of surprising bits of characterization and of course imagery that is surreal, hyperreal, unreal, and grimily realistic. the writing is so offbeat that at first i thought all the characters and scenarios were meant to be postmodern constructs and a series of dream scenes. but nope, this was actually a "contemporary" novel dealing with actual characters and their relationships. shudder! i lived in a world like this for a few years and thank God it was nothing like Love's Inferno.
i suppose i should say what i think this novel is about so that this "review" is actually a review and not a book report. but i don't wanna. i don't believe in Carter's analysis of love and relationships. too bitter, cynical, demeaning, etc. well she did write this when she was 30 or so and i was probably prey to the same feelings at that age. wasn't i? i don't remember; i probably was taking too many drugs at the time, much like the characters in this book. but even if i don't agree with Carter's vision, her phenomenal and thoroughly idiosyncratic skill at constructing berserk narratives & her use of language that is full of nuance and spikiness & her ability to tell stories that read like diabolical fairy tales are all entirely in place. and so Love is quite enjoyable. a perverse kind of enjoyable, but hey i find my enjoyment in many different kinds of places.
look upon Angela Carter:
she's beautiful and she looks like she could kill you just because it may be an interesting thing to do. or not, as she may have some gardening to finish up that is even more interesting. ::sigh:: my kind of gal!
my 80s edition of Love contains an amusing afterward by the author. it's not really even an afterward. it is Angela Carter, many years later, showing a bit of affection towards her younger, cynical self, and imagining the eventual destinies of all the novel's surviving characters. the difference between the two Carters is profound. the author of Love wants to turn the world inside out and is high on her own cracked, brilliant malevolence. the author of the afterword is still cracked and brilliant but has replaced that malevolence with a kind of empathy, a kind of kindess, a clear-eyed and unsentimental wisdom. i want to grow up to be that kind of Angela Carter.
my first review of 2013! hopefully not all of my reviews this year will be as long-winded. but the author really deserves me going on a bit. Happy New Year!(less)
BURIED TREASURE ALERT: the works of Paul Scott. he is perhaps most famous for his excellent The Raj Quartet and its 1977 Booker Prize winning follow u...moreBURIED TREASURE ALERT: the works of Paul Scott. he is perhaps most famous for his excellent The Raj Quartet and its 1977 Booker Prize winning follow up novel Staying On (in my opinion, a gentle and wise novel but clearly a lesser work). outside of those classics, it feels like he is practically unknown. i never come across references to him and reviews for his other novels are rather impossible to find. this is a real surprise; his novels are filled with expert characterization, topical & timeless themes (particularly in terms of class conflict, racial tension, and i suppose the always relevant What Makes A Man? and Can Men Ever Truly Be Brothers?) and - because they draw upon his years of experience in India - they are filled with absorbing historical detail. maybe i am making a mountain out of molehill; although i often feel like i am living in my own personal version of the UK, i actually am not... so maybe his name has more currency over yonder.
The Corrida at San Feliu is written with the seriousness of intent and all the confidence, depth of emotion, and ironic humor of a master-class writer. it is a rather short novel, and overall may be considered a minor work. but ah, the riches buried within!
i've been avoiding giving a synopsis of Corrida because it is hard to give a quick description of all the things going on in this little book. its size is compact - but it is larger on the inside than the outside. i suppose, in a long-winded nutshell, you could say it is about some of my favorite literary themes... the gap between reality and true understanding, the distance between individuals, the way we humans mold our memories and perceptions to better deal with the troubling things in our lives, the way we fool ourselves, how the past will always haunt the present and impact the future. it is about a man who is not just at an impasse in his life, he is breaking down, a slow-burning kind of collapse. it is about the power of storytelling and its dangers as well. it is the story of a man and a woman and all the possible, potential permutations of that relationship. it is about a relationship ending. it is about new ways of seeing old things and the flexibility of perspective. it is a tale of death and of love. it is about how you can't go home again and how that home - whatever "home" even means - maybe never existed in the first place.
the structure is purposely distancing. it forces the reader to pay attention, to take their time in getting to the heart of this novel's reason for being. the first section is a straightforward biography of an imaginary writer. that is followed by four very short tales: the first appears to be a little fable about an ill-conceived leopard hunt in africa, the second is about an ill-fated romance in India, the third is about an arrival of a couple at a Spanish villa, the fourth is about a version of that couple arriving at an Indian estate. the second half of the book (sequentially, the sixth "tale") gets to the heart of the matter. a man and his much younger wife are in Spain. he is a writer and she is a trophy. he feels distance between them; he is obsessed with a possible affair she may be having. he thinks upon his life and loves, his family, his wife's past life, the people who have haunted them both. full of dread, he thinks upon the bullfighting at the San Feliu Corrida. characters appear and reappear, they live throughout all the tales in the book, they change and transform and are given different motivations, different outcomes, different perspectives. the narrator's grasping & unimaginative uncle becomes a vindictive leopard hunter in one tale. a virginal young woman is a cold but rather sad object of lust in one story and then her story is retold in another tale... we get to understand her frustrations and anger from different angles, her motivations become clear, her story becomes a genuine tragedy. we see the main couple in question in different forms: young, old, full of hope, full of fear & resentment, glamorous & beautiful, sad & deeply flawed, haunted by their past, looking to their future, locked in stasis. we see all the possibilities of a relationship ending, of life ending - and why this must inevitably come to pass.
the novel ends with a long passage regarding a bullfight at the Corrida. i must admit to having a good deal of trepidation about this sequence. personally, i'm of an opinion that bullfighting is about as tasteful & interesting as fox-hunting. or hunting children. but nevertheless, i stuck with it, and was rewarded with profundity. the narrator imagines the confrontation between bull and tormenters from all angles: from a young bullfighter, from an old one, from the lady that the bullfight is dedicated to, from the bullfighter's assistants, and - most tragically, most empathetically - from the bull itself. and it not all about supplying multiple angles, telling different tales. everything exists on both the level of story and in how these perspectives reflect the lives of the novel's characters. this passage - well the novel itself as a whole, the way that actions and perspectives and meaning change, flow into each other, become interpreted as story, become transformed... it is all such a remarkably multi-leveled accomplishment.
here is a relatively minor passage concerning a relatively minor character... note the fluidity of perspective, the collapsing of time, the startling movement from a life about to happen to sudden death and finally a terribly unknowable portrait of futility and sorrow:
Alone with Leela he said, 'Will you be my wife?' And she replied, 'I will be whatever you want me to be,' and knelt in front of him so that he experienced a sensation of being both mocked and worshipped, and wondered whether God too was alive to the ambiguity of such gestures. She had her mother's, not her father's bones. The creamy, only slightly tinted flesh was stretched fine, almost transparently over them. It seemed to Craddock that like so many Indian women she was built for burning. Dry and brittle in the body she would be gone in the first lick of flame, all except her eyes through which so far she had seen nothing of the world; through which, now, looking up at him, she conveyed to him something of her great, untapped capacity for living. Through those eyes he was aware of a similar capacity in himself and of immense reserves of energy.
All my life, he thought, I have conserved, stored up against an occasion of expenditure on some act I could be proud of and thankful for. He made her rise and keeping hold her small hands kissed them, as six months later, far away in their place of exile of their short marriage he kissed them as they were clenched, cold, sickly-sweet smelling, in the room where she lay dead of a cup of milk into which she had poured powdered glass, as if only the most agonizing end could adequately settle the reckoning of her brief encounter with the cruel world beyond the walls and garden of old Lady Brague's embattled, haunted bungalow. To die she had put on a simple cotton saree, made a pyre of the European clothes she had tried so hard to grace, and set light to them. The ashes, like her body, were cold, the bungalow deserted, the servants fled, the Mahwari Hills silent behind veils of mist that had melted on his eye-lids as he climbed the path calling her name and getting no answer, so that entering the darkened room he was already aware of the need to weep.
as far as my love for genre fiction goes, college did a number on me and for many years i scorned my old high school loves of fantasy, science fiction...moreas far as my love for genre fiction goes, college did a number on me and for many years i scorned my old high school loves of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. silly me; i'm glad i came back to my senses. during college, only a couple authors escaped my new-found scorn - one of them being the amazing Robert Aickman. pre-college, i enjoyed his sinister tales of uncertain, indescribable menace. in college, i found to my surprise that Aickman was a literary horror writer, and both my snobby new self and my buried-deep genre-lover rejoiced. i could appreciate him with a complete absence of guilt; if my postmodern buddies happened to notice his books on my shelf, i could defend him with ease. his stories were multi-leveled: they existed as menacing tales of horror - but they were also ambiguous, psychologically adept metaphors and analogies for life in all of its strange, unsettling complexity. nowadays, snob years long behind me, i enjoy him for both his literariness and his ability to weave a scary tale filled with dread.
but it is that literariness that really sets him apart. if you are a reader who wants your horrors to be straight-up and visceral, look elsewhere. Aickman crafted stories that are elegantly written, slow-moving, rich in nuance and detail, short on blood and shocks. he crafts - simultaneously - old-fashioned, shivery ghost stories and subtle, cerebral tales that muse on our fears and uncertainties. he is the obvious antecedent of Thomas Ligotti.
The Swords could be about a sadly inhuman and monstrous marionette who plies her abilities in tawdry sideshows and in the sex trade. it could also be about the fear of sex, the literal commodification of flesh, the dehumanization of women.
The Real Road to Church could be about a lonely woman who purchases a home that lives on the path of the dead. it could also be about a life lived without living - and a second chance, a chance to reinvent that life, and live.
Niemandswasser could be about a haunted lake. it could also be about the decadence and emptiness of aristocratic life, a shallowness so complete that it almost assumes its own kind of sad, meaningful depth.
The Hospice could be about a comforting retreat - comforting as the womb, comforting as the grave - in which our predictability-loving hero finds himself terrifyingly ensconced. it could also be about the logical end result of such predictability, a hell that pretends to be heaven.
The Same Dog could be about a vicious animal, perhaps even a kind of were-beast, one that takes captive our protoganist's first love. it could also be a literalization of how paths part, about how life moves us apart, how time changes everything, always.
Meeting Mr. Millar could be about a residence haunted by a living ghost and by a company of beings whose terrible motives remain tantalizingly beyond reach. it could also be about, well, growing up - learning that life is full of terrible things that we will never truly understand.
The Clock Watcher could be about a strange bride, a loving cipher whose existence seems to rely on her enslavement to the many ticking little cuckoo clocks that are brought into her home. or it could be a mordantly comic parody of the supposedly uber-efficient German character. it could also be about the deep gaps that exist between us all, in marriage, in our own understanding of the people around us.
so if you are new to Aickman, don't come to him expecting easy answers. expect to have to think about the purpose and meaning of why you are being supplied certain details, why stories are being framed in a certain way. Aickman does follow the traditional format of horror short fiction. a few pages are devoted to developing the story's protagonist, perhaps more pages than is typical. then the disturbing ambiguity begins, the horror unfolds... and then the tale ends. Aickman endings usually have little resolution and are almost always without an explicit explanation of what the reader has just experienced. that lack of explication is a hallmark of Aickman's style. but just as important are all of the details, important or seemingly incidental, the offbeat bits of dialogue, the disconcerting moments when the reader learns something that seems to come out of nowhere but yet somehow fits into the theme of the story being told.
i'll use "The Swords" as an example. the narrator, an impressionable traveling salesman, starts his narrative with an off-putting but perhaps often true generalization on the nature of sex, the first time, and all subsequent times. but then there is much odd detailing of the mysterious flophouses that the narrator must stay at, places he's led to by an ambiguous uncle, places teeming with squalid sexuality. these flophouses actually have nothing to do with the horror itself. later, there is a creepy conversation with a shop owner, who practically drools at the prospect of the young man before him having sex - he wants details, he wants it described to him. again, this conversation has nothing to do with the thrust of the narrative. and yet both the flophouses and the conversation have everything to do with what i think the story is about; they are there to further illustrate the story's implicit meaning. although they have little narrative purpose, they are still all of a piece. mysterious events are continuously detailed that have little internal logic but which make perfect thematic sense.
a last word on the story Pages from a Young Girl's Journal. this is in many ways an atypical Aickman tale - a journal account of a young lady's travels abroad, encountering a mysterious stranger, embracing his vampiric nature, becoming something new and terrible. the story's horrors are clearly delineated; the reader is made to understand exactly what is happening. it definitely shows that if Aickman had been of a mind to write straightforward horror, he could accomplish that in spades. it also illustrates a key strength: Aickman's skill at establishing a character. throughout all of his stories, i was continually impressed by how each protagonist was uniquely differentiated and by the depth of their characterization. they lived and breathed. but back to "Pages". although this was my favorite story of Cold Hand in Mine, i'm glad that this was not the direction that Aickman chose to go in most of his tales. i like the uncertain resolution, the creeping ambiguity. it is a pleasure not having things explained, to have to figure things out on my own. i love being able to approach his stories on whichever level i choose.
Sigur Ros: () DJ Spooky: Songs of a Dead Dreamer Andrea Parker: Kiss My Arp(less)
(view spoiler)[message 24: by mark 27 minutes ago i can't narrow it down, that's an unfair demand! nor am i lurker. but hey, i'm awake at 3:18 am so...more(view spoiler)[message 24: by mark 27 minutes ago i can't narrow it down, that's an unfair demand! nor am i lurker. but hey, i'm awake at 3:18 am so that's reason enough:
Absolute Beginners The Raj Quartet Little, Big Thin Red Line Catcher in the Rye (sorry, haters)
message 25: by karen, future RA queen (new) 12 minutes ago at least two of those are out of print in this country, so tell me why i should be jealous/ go on, what's so great about thoooose books?
message 26: by mark (new) 3 minutes ago OUT OF PRINT, WTF?! that is very upsetting. which two?
i ramble on and on and on about Absolute Beginners, Little Big, Thin Red Line, and Catcher in my reviews for those novels... so i'm feeling rather shy all of a sudden about rambling on and on and on again about them.
but The Raj Quartet! no review... so now i can really ramble on, yeah! but first let me pour myself a glass of 3:42am wine. perhaps it will get me back to sleep (unlikely).
message 27: by mark (new) 55 minutes ago okay wine sounded terrible all of a sudden, so some microwave hot chocolate instead (very classy). here goes...
1. do you like to read extensively detailed, dense, dramatic historical fiction that does not stint on characterization or slow-burning narrative action? do you like to read about colonial india, specifically colonial india during the troubled handover from the british raj back to indian control, and then of course the horrible partitioning? i do. but why exactly? well, let's see...
2. do you like to read about class systems and their impact - on a systemic level and on an intimate, personal level as well? i sure do. class is the basis of so many, er, classic english novels, but there is just something so drastic and of course so racially-based as the class system of colonial india. the class system becomes so palpable, so real, so almost on the verge of breaking down because of its inherent, disgusting unfairness when race is brought into the mix. class in literature that depicts colonial india is also powerful to me on a personal level. i'm not sure i can explain this in words that are inoffensive. i'm a person who loves classic english (and early american) literature. i eat it all up. and yet there is always a side of me - and i acknowledge that this may be due to my mixed-race status - that shouts at the back of my mind when reading those novels: ohyouthinkitssohardyouspoiledupperclasstwit/ youneedlesslyresentfullowerclassknob you'restillwhitewhitewhite andsohavesomanymoreautomaticadvantagesmorethanyou'lleverrealize, justshutthefuckupwithyourwhiningalready! i don't get that voice when i'm reading about colonial india. class analysis within this subject is stark: you are brown or you are white, that determines your class, and in the end it doesn't matter what your level of education is, how much money you have, whatever... there will always be an automatic divide based on where you were born and what color your skin happens to be. that starkness makes it so much more relevant to me. and on top of that, the author also explores intragroup class distinctions within the races depicted.
3. do you like to read about tragic romance? this one has one of the best examples of its kind. the lovers are so warmly, honestly depicted. what happens to them is so disturbing... and it reverberates to inform the rest of this epic and nearly all the major characters within it.
4. do you like your historical novels to relate history on a personal scale? do you like to see how great events impact folks who are not movers & shakers but simply caught up in a grand design not of their making?
5. do you like old-fashioned villains but yet long for completely realistic, three-dimensional characters who have understandable motivations as they continue to do the horrible things they do? can the two be combined? Raj Quartet has a couple outstanding examples.
6. do you want to read the perspective of older folks, flitting in and out of potential senility, considered useless by the younger generation, dreamy and strange and not-quite-getting-it? this novel has my favorite example of the kind. she is not idealized. she is not a fountain of wisdom. she is heartbreaking.
7. do you like poetry in prose form? for such an elephantine undertaking, one full of extensive historical detail and given wide-screen scope, The Raj Quartet is written by an author who knows how to turn a phrase. a looooooong phrase. Paul Scott is an amazing writer. he knows how to construct sentences that make you pause and wonder at how language can convey the most ambiguous of feelings, the beauty in a tiny detail, the strangeness of a foreign setting, the way a place can actually look and feel and smell and taste.
8. do you like strong women? good, so do i. this book is full of them. sometimes they are heroes, in one case a villain (such a black & white word, but it fits), but mainly they are just people who are trying to do the best they can. they are not "strong" in a wish-fulfillment sense of the word. they are strong in a way that is real, that is brave because of their personal and historical context, that is worthy of respect because of their need to define themselves according to their own personal context.
9. do you like intricate narratives? say no more, this is royalty as far as intricacy is concerned. as a reader, you better pay attention. characters come and go, but they are not dropped. actions impact actions and those actions, that impact, unspools in all directions, ever-widening but sometimes submerged, sometimes leading to a dead end, but always connected in a way that is so complex and so subtle, so small and so large.
10. do you want an excellent BBC adaptation of your favorite english novel, preferably in miniseries format? hey, you got that too. watch this AFTER you read the series though, well at least that's the way i did it and it was awesome. so awesome that i put off breaking up with a pretentious asshole simply because we hadn't finished the miniseries yet and he owned the, um, vhs tapes. he was trying to "educate" me. i waited to break up with him until after the last episode. well, i guess i was the asshole in that case.
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Staying On won the Booker Prize but I just don't get why it got the prize instead of any of the books within the The Raj Quartet. it is basically an a...moreStaying On won the Booker Prize but I just don't get why it got the prize instead of any of the books within the The Raj Quartet. it is basically an addendum to that amazing piece of literature. still, a nice addendum.(less)