This was a tough one to rate. It is my first time reading DeLillo, and I confess that this does make me want to read him more, despite my low rating.
This was a tough one to rate. It is my first time reading DeLillo, and I confess that this does make me want to read him more, despite my low rating. His writing is beautiful, built of rhythms and allusions, foreshadowings and call-backs. So why did I rate it so low?
From the start there was something in the speech patterns of the characters that annoyed me. Almost every sentence is fragmentary, unfinished. Yes, people speak like this often, but not constantly. At first I thought DeLillo was going for this sort of stilted realism, even though to me it sounded stagey and fake, like an amateur dramatic performance of a Pinter play. In retrospect, though, this style fits in with the style of the rest of the book. Everything about the book hints at more going on than is foregrounded - as should be the case with literature, of course; that is one of the things that raises it above ‘ordinary’ fiction - but I have no idea what. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; ambiguity can be a wonderful tool and I had decided when I finished this book that if the ambiguity stayed with me and made me think and question what I had read I would go back and up my rating, but it hasn’t. I won’t say that it is a novel about nothing - it is about loss, obviously, and communication (or the problem of it) and, no doubt, other things, but it seemed to me a fairly empty exercise. One thing that seemed appropriate was the description of Lauren’s performance as the titular Body Artist. It seemed like one of those avant-garde pieces of performance art that certain cultured people coo over and pretend they see profound meaning in, but is really vapid and pretentious, which seemed a nice parallel for the book itself. ...more
This is an darkly atmospheric and episodic tale, as we follow the separate travels of a brother and sister around some uncertain part of the AmericanThis is an darkly atmospheric and episodic tale, as we follow the separate travels of a brother and sister around some uncertain part of the American South, probably in the late 19th Century. She is searching for her lost new born child and he follows, searching for her. The land is a harsh, unforgiving wilderness and the people who inhabit it often as harsh as the climate and as poor as the soil. Alternating episodes deal with encounters of the siblings on their travels. The sister, Rinthy, tends to accept hospitality from people on the way and be treated well, while her brother, Culla, more often than not stumbles into situations where he falls foul of suspicion and the pointed finger of blame for for crimes for which he is blameless - unless it is perhaps reward for his refusal to accept hospitality as he journeys, or the act he commits that sets both of them on their journey.
McCarthy weaves the tale with dazzling language, flights of metaphor and simile that bring to life the harsh world of the book. He does not worry that the language of narration is nothing that the simple, illiterate main characters of the novel could compose - or even, probably, comprehend - but merely chooses his analogies for their power and vividness (although, very occasionally, he overstretches, such as "as unfamiliar as android visitors from an alien world", which is just too far from the setting to sit right). The high language and episodic, picaresque narrative give the whole tale the feel of parable, and this is reinforced by the third storyline, the dark, murderous trio of men who occasionally cross Culla's path, setting up the eventual meeting and denouement. But if the tale is a parable, it is not one that is straightforward or easy to understand, but dark and murky, filled with uncertainty and uneasiness and thoroughly disturbing.
There is one lighter moment, oddly. On one of the occasions when Culla is falsely accused of a crime - indeed, the one for which the outcome appears most serious - the whole event quickly takes on the air of farce and, despite the imminent danger, I found it close to laugh out loud funny amidst the sombre tone of the rest of the novel. McCarthy is a writer of quite stunning power, and I'm just sorry I left it so long to make his acquaintance....more
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a sparse, spare, bleak book. The narrative follows a man and his son – who are given no names and described only as 'the
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a sparse, spare, bleak book. The narrative follows a man and his son – who are given no names and described only as 'the man' and 'the boy' – on their journey of survival across a USA blasted by some unnamed catastrophe. It is a setting familiar from post-apocalyptic science fiction films, books and, latterly, computer games and, as such, much of the setting is familiar. Whatever the disaster was, it is absolute; there seems to be no life of any kind, plant or animal, other than the few straggling survivors of humanity. Trees are dead, the sky is cold and dark – perhaps a nuclear winter, although the lack of life also suggests the possibility of some chemical poison. While in many a post-apocalyptic tale this would be important, here what has happened is an irrelevance; the characters do not consider it any more than McCarthy invites speculation. The world has ended, and the man and the boy must deal with the aftermath.
There is another major difference from the usual end-of-the-world fare. Whether the cataclysm is an act of man or god, weapon or nature, disease or the dead rising from their graves, these settings usually share a certain glorying in the devastation, a kind of survivalist pornography. This is not a world in which McCarthy is interested. There is no glory here, no battling against the odds. Any survival at all is tenuous and fraught.
And yet at the book's heart there is a thread of hope, a glimmering skein of gold in the darkness. What the novel seems to be about is a man raising his son in a world beset by depredation and despair, trying to instil morality and goodness and hope while realising he has to trust the child's own judgement; if he lies and tries to hide the evil around them he will lose the boy's belief in him. He tells the boy constantly that they are the good guys, and yet what is the boy who believes this to think when they are unable – or unwilling – to help other people? To what lengths can or should the man go to protect what is most precious to him? After all is said, is the parent sometimes protecting a child from their own fears and perhaps hiding them from hope rather than giving it to them?
There is horror in this book ( if no plants grow or animals live, what is there to eat? ). The tone throughout is sombre, the protagonists are filled with fear and living on the very brink of oblivion, reminiscent of the worst depredations forced on refugees everywhere. McCarthy is simply one of the most beautiful wordsmiths in the English language, his spare prose deceptively simple, sometimes delivered in an almost child-like grammar - “He stood and got hold of the door and swung it over and let it slam down and he turned to grab the boy but the boy had gotten up and was doing his little dance of terror” - interspersed with complex language and frequent pieces of almost painful beauty, and with a deftness of tone and pace that is simply unmatched. Something in McCarthy's style makes me think of Dylan Thomas at his very best, flowing and easy and poetic and beautiful, crafted with such care that the hard work is made to disappear and leave visible only the grace of the prose and the imagery....more
As I Lay Dying languished ostensibly 'currently-reading' shelf for some months as I hadn't got to grips with it; while I could recognise the quality oAs I Lay Dying languished ostensibly 'currently-reading' shelf for some months as I hadn't got to grips with it; while I could recognise the quality of the writing I was, frankly, struggling; partly it hadn't gabbed me, but mostly the difficulty of both the voices in which each chapter is written (the individual slants on the broad Mississippian dialect) and piecing together the story from these separate viewpoints was an impediment. Perhaps I am just getting lazy in my reading.
I returned to it last week, starting again from the beginning, and perhaps this is what helped things fall into place. While still not an easy book (and who says books should be easy) I was now able to both appreciate the writing and 'get' the book enough to enjoy it.
It tells the story of Addie Bundren's death and her family's efforts to transport her body for burial to the town of Jackson, in accordance with her wishes. Told from the points of view of the various characters - the several children of varying ages, her husband, assorted other people variously connected to events and, a couple of times, from Addie herself - the tale builds a complex and partial narrative, revealing secrets, ulterior motives and a web drives and agendas such as those behind all human activity and relationships, simple country folk or otherwise.
In the end, we are left with little resolution and more questions about this family than we had at the beginning, although perhaps this in itself a suitable conclusion as we step back out of their lives....more
Air takes place in the near future, in a poor village high in the remote mountains of a fictional central Asian republic. Just as the village gets itsAir takes place in the near future, in a poor village high in the remote mountains of a fictional central Asian republic. Just as the village gets its first joint TV and internet connection, a global test takes place for a new technology that allows every human being on the planet to access the web directly without the interface of a computer or machinery or any kind. Publicity for the test – only heard in the village at second hand from the nearest town – says that this technology, Air, will change the way everybody lives. In the few minutes that the test is active life is changed forever for Mae, fashion guru to the women of the village.
This allows Ryman to examine the impact of technologies that are often talked about as having the potential to level the playing field, to more easily bring information to those that have not had it in a world where information is the basis of power and wealth. One one level he uses this to do the classic science fiction job of using the future as a mirror for the present – the Air technology representing the effect of the World Wide Web – and how claims of empowerment are often made false by the forces of established commerce and unthinking cultural imperialism.
Ryman, however, goes much further than this. He uses the events to create a conversation between past, present and future, and explore the complex relationship they have in all of us, ultimately suggesting that if in our headlong rush into the future the we lose sight of our past it will leave us as impoverished as as if we dig in our heels and refuse to accept progress at all.
For me, this book reinforced just how good a writer Geoff Ryman is. The sense of place and culture he evokes is superb, quite alien no doubt to most readers and yet rendered utterly real and personal by the well drawn characters and their social interactions. He makes huge themes approachable by exploring them on a personal level, as they affect small, everyday lives. This is also excellent science fiction, although it does not necessarily fit with Ryman's recently stated aim of making a science fiction that was meticulously realistic “hard SF”; there is something archetypal about it, something mythic. In this collision of past, present and future, of East and West, of Have and Have-nots, Ryman has given us a fable for the cyber age....more