What I find so charming in literature is the ability of writers to immerse themselves wholly in their stories while simultaneously stepping back and s...moreWhat I find so charming in literature is the ability of writers to immerse themselves wholly in their stories while simultaneously stepping back and surveying it, perhaps even mocking it or engaging in a self-critique. And sometimes they come off as pretentious or orotund, these snatched winks at oneself, or a pat on the back, or a sentient anatomisation of one's technique deliberately meant for the reader's consumption -- but ultimately I believe that this dual bystander-participant consciousness is a clever way of provoking thought, and is perhaps even the counterpoint to the ubiquitous "show, not tell" mantra.
In Jeanette Winterson's The Passion -- the chapter The Zero Winter, to be precise --, Villanelle's husband steals her heart and locks it up in a dark old house in Venice that is all filthy decrepit charm. She asks Henri to retrieve it for her, and tells him it's in a jar somewhere. And Henri thinks, "Was she mad? We had been talking figuratively. Her heart was in her body like mine" -- which, if you notice, is probably going through your mind at the same time, thus certifying this as Winterson directly acknowledging and speaking out to the reader, equating Henri's thoughts with ours.
And yet the heart is not in her body; later he steals it back and she consumes it and finally regains a heartbeat. This segment was a delightful bit to read because Winterson's fiction is chock full of fantasy worlds and celebrated exaggerations that are, as we have been so used to assuming, completely normal. But now she has temporarily extracted Henri from this lofty realm and put him in the same position as the reader, thereby instructing us, look at this ludicrous situation, this woman being alive without her heart in the most literal of senses. In this manner she is questioning the demarcation that stands between her own notions of fantasy and reality; this is where her consciousness, in tandem with Henri's, meets the reader's, an tacit little wave to the reader.
So who says everything has to be implied? There's this common misconception that artistic merit can only be found in the subtlest of works that actively provoke questioning on the reader's part; everything else is deemed loud and bawdy and egregious, for the simple and often flawed assumption that literary value increases in direct proportion to how much thought or analysis it stimulates in the reader (stimulation in this case provided by careful subtext). Hence I appreciate it when writers subvert this belief in new and unconventional ways, telling us, well, I'm going to tell you manifold things, and you're going to contemplate the source of these things, and we're both going to go down a different road together.
And: "My passion for her, even though she could never return it, showed me the difference between inventing a lover and falling in love. The one is about you, the other about someone else." Earlier on Villanelle talked about being a boatman's daughter; all boatmen can row a boat, but none can swim. They live on the water but not in it, she said. I think spectatorship makes us think without ever offering the privilege of physical involvement, like how sometimes I finish a maths paper and check it and think I am a student checking a paper, when instead I should be thinking I am a teacher and what is wrong with this answer, in which parts is the solution erroneous?. Dust your hands off, take a step back, forget everything so you can learn it all over again. I suppose it is an art we all have to master sometime.(less)
Interesting and genuinely humorous in parts. As a student, I'd be lying if I said this book were unrelatable, because what is relatable to one undergo...moreInteresting and genuinely humorous in parts. As a student, I'd be lying if I said this book were unrelatable, because what is relatable to one undergoing the common stresses of formal schooling if it be not the means and ends of education itself? Taking one star off, however, for the bits that came off as merely witty for the sake of being witty. (You know what I mean—the self-assured pat on the back, the pretentious little jibes. It happens sometimes; academia makes a fool out of all of us.)(less)
The narrator is everything here, his narrative arrogant, self-conscious. He is predisposed to a debilitating fixation with his own sly tactics and imp...moreThe narrator is everything here, his narrative arrogant, self-conscious. He is predisposed to a debilitating fixation with his own sly tactics and impossibly cognisant of everything to do with the protagonist, predicting the latter's wild jaunts, prefacing the future with warnings -- and then, realising his own inability to nip circumstance in the bud, leaps forth and defends the poor man with a king's generosity. The luxury of being able to tell the story over and over eventually wears him out, and the more he deliberates, lounging in this excess of knowledge, the faster the protagonist as a mere literary construction collapses under his weight.
I read this book for the H3 Literature paper I was writing, and after about eight months of writing extensively about it I feel like I've exhausted all my words. I can't possibly put it all down again. It's a fascinating book, a narratively eclectic one. It's very American, like you'd expect Fitzgerald to be, and for all the talk of Gatsby being Fitzgerald's masterpiece and one of the Great American Novels, I actually preferred This Side of Paradise for its raw unpolishedness.(less)
Elaine Risley talks about how, even under all the duress imposed on her by her bully, she refused to wilt, refused to tell anyone or speak up, the ost...moreElaine Risley talks about how, even under all the duress imposed on her by her bully, she refused to wilt, refused to tell anyone or speak up, the ostensible cowardly victim. Yet she says doing so conversely gave her the power of unspeakability and of silence, that quiet, unwavering resistance dependent only on the self. She almost dies in the cold and later claims it's empowered her further. Even in your partial demise it's you, you, your heart, your head, that narcissistic element of the individual springing into being -- not necessarily denial or stubborn subversion but an experiencing of the rarest kind of self-belief that takes one beyond the trials of the short term to a higher plane of existence, of consummate confidence in the self. She is willing to wait, looking through that glass eye, for the future, for the "later", but not because she can exact revenge -- it is, ultimately, that desire to see the final success of her self-confidence. Ah, if only I'd had this as a reference guide for all those times I was bullied as a child...(less)
There is an interestingly-sketched male-female contrast in the novel -- the first locale being Willey Water, a lake whose bed is reached by descent, s...moreThere is an interestingly-sketched male-female contrast in the novel -- the first locale being Willey Water, a lake whose bed is reached by descent, suggesting the female, the womb of luxuriant plant life, and the opposite locale being the Swiss Alps, reached by ascent and representing the male, the primal seat of unconsciousness. Diana Crich drowns in Willey Water; Gerald freezes to death up in the Alps. It's all a very cleverly ironic -- yet fitting -- reunion of sorts, dying in one's spiritual home, inadvertently aligning oneself with a stereotype, and really, this is why Women in Love is frustrating and inconclusive for some. Not only because Lawrence's characters self-contradict, second-guess themselves, fluctuate (and in my opinion, remain extant but ultimately conceptual, psychologised -- with the help, or lack thereof, of Freud -- vehicles) -- also because Lawrence very placidly offers the story of male-female relations up for grabs, for us to tell, but we are incapacitated, sometimes mocked by the characters themselves and their oftentimes ironic, self-destructing choices, choices we think would be easy to construct a valid argument out of but turn out to be confusing and infuriating. With Lawrence's characters, it's all very "Do as I say, and do as I do -- even though what I say and what I do are the opposite of each other".(less)
So I love Ondaatje, right? But I didn't love this. Far from it, actually; this collection was a bit of a letdown. He receives lots of praise from read...moreSo I love Ondaatje, right? But I didn't love this. Far from it, actually; this collection was a bit of a letdown. He receives lots of praise from readers and critics alike for his "poetic" prose, but that poeticness ironically doesn't translate in the actual poetry he writes. Unlike his prose, wherein he has time to deliberate on an idea, carefully prodding and poking at it and drawing a thought out with his supreme mastery of language, his poetry is unfortunately rather flat: it's soft-edged, not quite there, not as well-placed and precise as his prose. I mostly liked the prose poetry in this collection, but as for the poetry alone, it feels as if he hadn't had the time to properly elaborate on or extensively explore the ideas within the individual poems -- something he's usually so adept at when it comes to novel-writing. The limits of poetry, perhaps? It certainly shows (well, at least in my opinion).(less)
I often struggle to appreciate Steinbeck's dry, long-winded prose, his dissertations on the arid American landscape, his general lack of pace. Even hi...moreI often struggle to appreciate Steinbeck's dry, long-winded prose, his dissertations on the arid American landscape, his general lack of pace. Even his narrative honesty and relative objectivity can be a bit offputting if you're in want of more fervour. But with novellas it's a different thing altogether, and in Of Mice and Men the comparatively pithy story is built up and unfolds with just the right amount of suspense and tension. Steinbeck's clinical candour and ability to avoid showing self-gratuitous attachment or favour to any one character work heavily in favour of the story's direction, and it really is the ending of this book that puts the seal on it, in a that's-how-it-is manner, complete with nonchalant shrug and downturned lips.(less)
Before reading this, I hadn't read anything else by Palahniuk. I only picked this up because I'd really enjoyed David Fincher's movie adaptation and w...moreBefore reading this, I hadn't read anything else by Palahniuk. I only picked this up because I'd really enjoyed David Fincher's movie adaptation and wanted to experience for myself the source of all that crude, ingenious hilarity.
Fight Club (as in the book) was absolute shit. Poorly written, bad character voices, flat and uninteresting to the point of boring. I couldn't believe that the book and the movie were one and the same (if somewhat different stylistically, as was to be expected), with the same premise and characters and plot. I never compare books with their movie adaptations because to me they're standalones that contain their own quirks and features, but the book was so dull and lifeless that I couldn't help it. I'm not sure if it's just Palahniuk's prose style, but it bore this reprehensibly juvenile, artless, maybe even downright stupid quality to it -- as if the book itself had been the shoddy novelisation of an original movie. If this is the best Palahniuk can do, I'm not sure I want to explore anything else he's written.(less)
First and foremost, I'd like to clarify that I really, really enjoyed Metamorphosis (5/5 all the way), but not so much the other stories in the collec...moreFirst and foremost, I'd like to clarify that I really, really enjoyed Metamorphosis (5/5 all the way), but not so much the other stories in the collection, thus the poor rating. As I was reading the story I couldn't help but think of, well, myself. In between putting The National's High Violet on repeat and procrastinating, I've come to realise how much I hate myself. And not in that sentimental, romanticised manner, that age-old self-conscious lust for psychological self-deprecation -- it's a more shallow, physical kind of irritation. I look in the mirror and am disgusted with what I see, physically. I don't know if it's got anything to do with what's within, but I hate my face, it depresses me, everything so embarrassingly personal it would be almost blasphemous to externalise this self-awareness. Talk about the self's angle of the self, the over-perceiving and over-imagining of our own bodies, like in Metamorphosis. How much of it, really, is born of Gregor's mind? What if it's all his subconscious filtering the external world through the corrective lenses of the self, his morphed, animal self, a selective reading and mapping of the body, a heightened awareness of bodily functions and processes? By overworking the mind you overwork the body itself and mind and body collapse into an infinite line of worry, paranoia, worry. It's all very fascinating, to be this unknowingly capable of forgetting the very image held there in mirrors and photographs that waits there even as you walk away, remodel yourself, come back, forgetting the multidimensionality of yourself.(less)
A tree. A vast, empty landscape. A couple of people standing around, passive-faced and disinterested. Maybe a moon, hanging silvery-white and half-pre...moreA tree. A vast, empty landscape. A couple of people standing around, passive-faced and disinterested. Maybe a moon, hanging silvery-white and half-present in the night sky. That's what came to mind as I raced through this play. Rid of cultural touchstones, of any actual signs of life or nature apart from the characters themselves, we begin to question the solidity of knowledge (of facts, of the past or future) and experience and existence. What exists, and what doesn't? What if it's all in the head?(less)