This one languished on my shelves a long time before I got around to reading it. My loss for putting it off so long. As Doug’s review suggests, any reThis one languished on my shelves a long time before I got around to reading it. My loss for putting it off so long. As Doug’s review suggests, any review of this title is fraught with opportunity for bad puns…and it’s tempting, very tempting. There, again, is a pun—the novel is about temptation, and lust, and longing. The real novel is about those urges left unrequited; the story-within-the-story is anything but unrequited. It is not for the squeamish or prurient.
For my money, this has been a too-easily overlooked title—few reviews, few ratings. By implication, it’s one that doesn’t merit much attention, and that’s a shame as it is an incredible work of fiction. What Dowell does well, he does very well.
The story, the real story, is in and of the frame story. What matters most is conveyed in the frame. The framed story (Miss Ethel’s fictive novel) informs the frame. It’s easy to get caught up in the story-within-the-story; that’s why it works. It’s the bulk of the novel—where all the action resides. BUT the frame is where the reader’s concern for the characters will ultimately prevail.
Miss Ethel’s tale—“lives” and “lies”—is every bit as shocking as the title summary (above) suggests. William Faulkner meets Samuel R. Delany; Miss Emily meets Hogg (from the novel of the same name). If your sensibilities aren’t too prudish, if your tastes run toward the brooding melancholy of the Southern Gothic, this is one to be read, reread, passed on (with appropriate disclaimer), and savored like a sweet potato pie. ...more
David, David, David. How you Wow!* me.** You found your way to me at exactly the right time, and I’m devouring you at a pace McCarthy and Bolaño and
David, David, David. How you Wow!* me.** You found your way to me at exactly the right time, and I’m devouring you at a pace McCarthy and Bolaño and Marías could only hope for. Don’t worry Chuck, Bobby, Javi, I’m still yours, but David has earned his place in your esteemed company. I am most pleased that this group seems to have so little in common—other than me.
But first, the obligatory: a MUCH better review is to be found by JN-M here (read it, Like it, then read it again), if I were to quibble at all (and I won’t), I’d question the difficulty of this novel. It requires a commitment of sorts, but I’m reluctant to call it difficult; I’d say of WM what I said of This is Not a Novel: “Some assembly required.”
With this novel (as with the tetralogy, which for the life of me has a very similar ‘feel’), Markson does what the often-referred to Michelangelo said of sculpting—the artist strips away the unnecessary part (of the novel, of the marble slab), leaving a bare-bones orgy of intertextuality, art history, and philosophy, while telling the tale of a madness-prone, lonely, frequently confused woman you want to know in the worst way—and he does this in a most gentle, often humorous voice that leaves the reader (this reader) sated to a level of perfect contentedness.
Readers may find editions with Afterwords by either Steven Moore here (thanks, Moira) or David Foster Wallace here (thanks, s.penx). I especially liked Moore’s suggestion of a Jack Benny pause between some sentences. Sorry, you pups, if that voice isn’t familiar. DFW’s essay is simultaneously academic and casual; keep a dictionary at hand (not that it will help).
*Except for your poems.
**Not you, Kowalski, or Jonke, (or whoever the hell you are) as spectacular as you must be.
4.5 to 5 stars—for one of those interesting experiments in form, a narrative in parts and pieces, a kaleidoscope story—turn it slightly and it become
4.5 to 5 stars—for one of those interesting experiments in form, a narrative in parts and pieces, a kaleidoscope story—turn it slightly and it becomes something else, a different picture, some variation on what’s preceded and a variation of what will come.
This is one of those novels actually done justice by the summary of its GR title page. Four people staying in a summer boardinghouse, most on a vacation from the city, each with his or her own story, although overlapping with the stories of the other guests.
But, Sorrentino begins the novel with a deception (what fiction isn’t a deception?), that’s clever and misleading. What begins with the story of a child, a child of divorced parents who resents his absent father and invests his paternal need in another guest, sets the reader up for a sentimental story that ultimately isn’t what’s presented. The child, someone who’s hard not to sympathize with, lulls the reader into a story that’s pain-filled, bigotry-filled, hate-filled, lust-filled, pretty much filled with the raw emotions of an unfortunate cast which readers really wouldn’t want to know.
Four sections of the novel, divided into pieces of straightforward narrative from each of the four primary characters’ perspectives, stream of consciousness mosaics, letters from that person to characters incidental or integral, Question and Answer sections posing the sorts of questions the novelist must have kept in mind while writing and which attentive readers ask themselves as they read.
Reminiscent, in a formal way, of Atonement or Beloved, where revisiting scenes with more information further informs the story. An interesting aspect to the story, for me, is that one ends up knowing the main characters the way one knows people one meets on vacations where you’re exposed to other vacationers in closed, cramped quarters, learning about them partially, as they want you to see them and as others who know them better may reveal them, ultimately willing to be rid of them at the first opportunity. Not for everyone, probably, but definitely one for me.
The Short Version: An emotional thrill-ride, novel in stories—stories where the characters rebel, invade other stories, appear under different names,
The Short Version: An emotional thrill-ride, novel in stories—stories where the characters rebel, invade other stories, appear under different names, and cause various sorts of mayhem, confusion, and headaches for the author/narrator(s). Nicholls is correct on this one (is there ever any doubt?) As the stories may be read in any order, there’s probably no such thing as a (view spoiler)[spoiler (hide spoiler)]. Read the Prologue; Mary McCarthy’s Afterword is optional.
The Long Version:
Identity— Sitting with his friend, Dr. José de los Rios, in the Café de los Locos, the author/narrator character-hunts from among the no-longer-needed characters assembled in the café before being set upon by an old acquaintance, Fulano, a character who has had incredible trouble ever being noticed by those he encounters. Fulano is driven to be famous, recognized, to matter. At the suggestion of Dr. de los Rios, Fulano attempts to fake a suicide with the goal of attaining some sort of notoriety. Attempts. The effort backfires in the worst possible way. Following another confrontation with Sr. de los Rios and the author (this is how he refers to himself as a character), Fulano makes one additional stab at immortality. But then…(view spoiler)[no freakin’ way (hide spoiler)]. [It occurs to me that Fulano is almost an anagram for No Alfau—hmm].
A Character— While awaiting the arrival of his host, the author begins a story about Gaston Bejarano, a character known for his rebelliousness and independence; with the arrival of his host, the author abandons said story only to have Bejarano assume control and launch out on his own where he meets Lunarito, during a downpour, and who agrees to meeting Gaston at some point in the future. (Are Gaston Bejarano and Lunarito the same couple seen in the Café de los Locos? No! Surely not. That was Pepe Bejarano fondling the leg of Lunarito). Besides, according to Gaston, he’s a character while Lunarito is real. When the author regains control of the story, he’s faced with a problem: he doesn’t want to make Lunarito a character in his story (he has enough characters), and if he makes her more fictional, she’s no longer the ideal Gaston so desperately wants, on the other hand, he can’t make Gaston more real, because that’s not what authors do—they create characters. For the reader’s benefit, it’s at this point that the author feels obliged to present the story of how he came to know Gaston. It was much earlier on, and through his friend, Dr. de los Rios, who was treating Gaston, who was then generally called El Cogote. [But, wait! Hold on. Wasn’t El Cogote one of the characters at Café de los Locos? Wasn’t he the one whose altercation with a woman was interrupted by a nun—a very attractive nun? Sister Carmela, wasn’t it? And come to think of it, wasn’t the bartender’s last name Baez? The same as Lunarito’s last name?] It was on a visit to see El Cogote that Dr. de los Rios explained El Cogote’s precarious condition (apparently pre-HIPAA), and how as a youth, El Cogote had been separated from his beloved when her father had sent her to live in a convent. Their arrival at the home of El Gogote was met by a fat woman in a red kimono who led them down a dark hall to the ailing man’s room. Carmen, the woman in red, informs them of El Cogote’s delirious ravings over a woman he’d met who’d been murdered, a woman named Lunarito. El Cogote relates a nightmare he’s had, in which he pushes his sister in a room in the family home, the room the entire had always been afraid of, only to find, when the door was opened, that his sister had aged, had the face of Lunarito, and accused him of having killed her. [Dreams? Whaddaya gonna do?] Desperately calling out into the house, El Cogote, pleads that Lunarito appear to him before he dies, and she does, and is the woman in red. It’s at this point that the author is compelled to interrupt his narrative one more time, explaining how Gaston (El Cogote), actually came to know Lunarito; it was through the author’s friend, Don Laureano Baez, and (view spoiler)[ did you really think I’d tell you everything, or did it just feel that way? (hide spoiler)]
[I’m writing these summaries as I read the stories; I hereby promise to begin making each more brief—at least, I’ll try, fearing for losing your interest and the imposition I might be making on GR real estate. Besides, I suspect you’re starting to get the picture on how this novel works.]
The Beggar— In an unusual decision to abandon a career such as his (a never-mentioned career), Garcia agrees to take a position offered him by Don Gil Bejarano [Gil, the beggar from the Café de los Locos? Bejarano? Bejarano? Is Bejarano Spanish for Smith?] as a fingerprint expert [um, you may notice the title of the following story]. With his first payday, then, a month and a half in the future, Garcia must get by on the few coins he has—the most valuable of which he accidentally gives a beggar. In an attempt to regain those funds, he proceeds to call on the beggar (one Don Laureano Baez), where he also meets the beggar’s lovely daughter, Lunarito [surprised?], and totally (view spoiler)[ will you never learn? (hide spoiler)]
Fingerprints— Don Gil Bejarano y Roca (Gil, the beggar from the Café de los Locos?) hopes his brother-in-law, the Prefect, will eventually lend him the money to publish Gil’s father’s monograph and his own articles, in a volume that will conclusively demonstrate that his father (Don Esteban Bejarano y Ulloa) is the single-source discoverer of the individuality of fingerprints. Gil is driven to the fame that a national awareness of his father’s discovery will enable: “The Bejarano family had been always rather obscure and unimportant.” (Fulano-esque?) At the home Gil shares with his wife, Felisa, and children, Gaston, Pepe, Mignon, and Carmen [If Gaston, Pepe, and Carmen (the woman in the red kimono, Lunarito, or Sister Carmella?) were each at the Café de los Locos, was Mignon in the study with a candlestick?] an evening with Padre Inocencio (café denizen?) is interrupted by a visit from the Prefect, who eventually arrests Gil, based on fingerprints verified by Garcia (see above) on a charge of (view spoiler)[you gotta be kiddin’ me. Still checking? Do I need to add a footnote? (hide spoiler)]
The Wallet— When a massive power failure causes a Madrid-wide blackout during a 19— international police convention, all the European criminals are drawn to the city for its easy pickings which causes considerable embarrassment for the Prefect. An argument with his nephew, Pepe, who has recently been expelled from school in England, is salvaged when the Prefect reveals to Pepe that his brother, Gaston, is now a professional pimp (El Cogote!) As they prepare to go their separate ways for the evening, a bet is wagered on whom will get home safely without being mugged. Consequently, (view spoiler)[ Chesses H. Havarti! (hide spoiler)]
Chinelato: I The Ogre— Juan Chinelato (aka Señor Olózaga, and by the way, a giant), after an impoverished life as an orphan in China, lives a very comfortable life in Madrid (except for the pesky boys who taunt him every morning). One day he makes his way to the home of Don Esteban Bejarano y Ulloa (the Spanish discoverer of fingerprints) [Can Chinelato be the hypothetical Chinaman in “Fingerprints”?]
II The Black Mandarin— Two unnamed characters (Dr. de los Rios and the narrator/author?) discuss the life of The Black Mandarin (aka Juan Chinelato, aka Señor Olózaga), the reality of his reputation for bigamy, and his history as a showman extraordinaire.
III Tia Mariquita— Two unnamed characters (one, presumably, the author/narrator) share the story of Olózaga’s last wife—the senile Tia Mariquita, as well as Olózaga’s numerous failed businesses (to include one with Laureano Baez), and his continued pursuit of Lunarito. Both she and her father (view spoiler)[ Good grief, we’re approaching finales, read the damn book). (hide spoiler)] Olózaga’s secretary, Cendreras, has an unfortunate time at the home of Laureano Baez.
The Necrophil— The religious Doña Micaela Valverde, has a love affair with death—in fact, she dies frequently and for longer and longer periods of time. Her physician, Dr. de los Rios, prescribes an abortion, suicide, or (view spoiler)[It’s rainin’ men. Hallelujah! Snap outta it; ain’t agonna tell you (hide spoiler)] Her relevance to the overall story, aside from Cendreras being her third husband and (view spoiler)[who the fuck knows (hide spoiler)]
A Romance of Dogs: I Students— The author/narrator reveals his identity, claim’s the novel’s autobiographical origins, describes schooldays with his three friends—Julio Cavañas (called Cavañitas), Pepe Bejarano, and one Felipe Alfau; he goes on to relate their adoration of Padre Inocenio and Sister Carmela (Pepe’s sister, Carmen). Oh, yeah, couple bad ass dogs torment Gar— [oops, almost revealed the author/narrator, and that woulda been (view spoiler)[Really? Still you look? (hide spoiler)]
II Spring— One author/narrator’s last days with another author narrator. A novel in stories—stories end with the Spring.
Wow! Looking back over the books I’ve read YTD, all those 4 and 5 stars, I can’t really say this is as good as any particular one of them; I can say this may be my favorite to date. This is one I’d actually ask some of you to read. T’were it possible, this one would get a sky full of stars. I liked this one more than Nicholls did; in my defense, he’s merely a pup, a curmudgeon-in-training. Real curmudgeons are profanely sentimental.
Well, let’s see. A Handbook to Literature: NovelNovel is used in its broadest sense to designate any extended fictional narrative almost always in prose. In practice, however, its use is customarily restricted to narratives in which the representation of character occurs either in a static condition or in the process of development as the result of events or actions. Often the term implies that some organizing principle—PLOT, THEME, or idea—should be present in a narrative that is called a novel.
So what do we have?
Plot: √ (Only one? Hard to say.)
Theme: √ (Boy, howdy! In spades. Couple of ‘em.)
Idea> √ (Yeah, a brilliant one; that ‘brilliant’ way, the way the British use the word, that annoys some Yanks, or amuses some Yanks, or confuses some Yanks. Americans rarely use the word; Brits seem to use it as a one-word summary for anything they like, consequently sometimes, to the detriment of another’s probability of sharing said ‘brilliance.’)
Character: √ (several: Reader (who isn't Protagonist), and Protagonist (who’s not the protagonist, except when he is), and a supporting cast, which may number in the hundreds, or perhaps just a few.)
It’s that damned “fictional narrative” part, isn’t it? Isn’t it? √ Most of this book is true. That is, most of the text is comprised of facts—facts about artists (writers and others) most involving the circumstances of their deaths or their anti-Semite-edness, if you will). Fact upon fact. Interspersed with Reader’s thoughts on the book he’s writing and its protagonist, Protagonist. The entire weight of Art History imposes on our seeing Reader at work, imposes on Reader’s work. Names and suicide. Names and death. Names and names and names. This novel lends itself to reading at a break-neck pace, each entry staccato, until one hits you rife with a poeticism that gives you pause.
This was a joy to read. It won’t be so for everyone, I’m afraid; too bad for you. Pace and a sort of humor precludes over-identifying this with Bartleby & Co., this being more entertaining while equally academic. Let’s put it this way, at three-quarters of the way through it, I ordered the other three volumes in Markson’s tetralogy: The Last Novel, This is Not a Novel and Vanishing Point
My, my, my. What to say? What to say? Perhaps, only, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW. If it were a review, I’d be able to recommend it or dissuade a potential re
My, my, my. What to say? What to say? Perhaps, only, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW. If it were a review, I’d be able to recommend it or dissuade a potential reader. I can do neither.
B&G came to my attention via a 5-star, revelrous review by my favorite Scot (who will remain my favorite Scot, at the very least, until I’ve met a second one). I read his review, ordered it immediately (after all, did he not turn me on to B.S. Johnson and Gilbert Sorrentino?) and let it sit on my TBR shelf for an entire year—until I went looking for something that might be read quickly. Its moment arrived, and I read it.
But before reading it, I noticed another GR friend’s review—an ominous 2-star-er, with an advisory “Recommends it for: I couldn't.” Uh, oh. Two well-read GR friends with virtually opposite reactions. Not wanting to be further predisposed, I waited until after reading B&G to read the second review. Oy!
As luck has it, they each reflect my feelings on this one. I liked it, sorta, and didn’t like it, sorta. I liked the character of Billy and his constant bemoaning a life in pain. Oddly enough, a quote hit my feed today, "...and there was nothing to do except to wait and to hurt." — Mark Haddon. I’m a Haddon fan. I liked the odd brother/sister banter that rings true. I liked the author’s style—fast-paced and blistering. On the other hand, I never did get quite accustomed to a comfort level with not knowing what was happening (I still don’t know if there was one Louise or two). And that ending? Someone needs to pay.
So, on this one I’m Switzerland. I can neither recommend or dissuade, praise or condemn, love or hate. In general, I liked it, hence the 4 stars, but that doesn’t mean: rush out and get it. If you really must read it, I’ll say what I’ve said before, get it from the library, or borrow mine (you know who you are).
In a scene from one of the stories a visiting aunt waits to see her nephew in a mental hospital, this sentence: “She got to the hospital early and wai
In a scene from one of the stories a visiting aunt waits to see her nephew in a mental hospital, this sentence: “She got to the hospital early and waited for Johnny in the shabby room with the coverless magazines and the family groups who seemed, like the magazines, to have been badly used and left with their contents exposed.” Very nice. Dowell works a sentence as well as anyone. Some of these stories stand out, at least to me: Singing in the Clump, The Great Godalmighty Bird, In the Mood, and the incredible, uniquely told The Silver Swanne.
The Houses of Children
Stories of childhood, family, and the places we call home.
Wool Tea—A young boy, the Kid, and his older brother each have strong feelings for the notorious Willie T (Wool Tea)—someone whose name, when mentioned, makes parents and other adults apoplectic. What comes around, goes around.
Writings on a Cave Wall—A young boy flees his family, clan, and their meat-eating tradition in favor of recording the clan’s activity on the walls of a cave and becoming a special sort of vegetarian…with a kicker.
Ham’s Gift—Ham, at age 14, realizes that something about him is special and his own, flees the family that took him in as an abandoned infant but never loved, and goes in pursuit of the visions and communication from the gold mountains.
The Silver Swanne—In revolving, dated ‘chapters’ of events echoing through each, Vilet encounters his demon in 1770 while the author of that story encounters his demon in the 1840 while another man encounters a swan trapped on his balcony in 1980. Meta-fictional extravaganza; one of the best in the collection.
By the way, if you like Dowell’s short stories, or if you’re of a mind to, you might prefer something meatier, so to speak, consider Too Much Flesh and Jabez and don’t go gawk too closely at that cover, ya perv.
5 stars seems excessive, while 4 seems an undervaluing. Rock, meet Hardplace.
Okay, ya bastards. I can give fewer than four stars, even when it pains me to do so. I don’t read much poetry—too frequently it leaves me baffled. I dOkay, ya bastards. I can give fewer than four stars, even when it pains me to do so. I don’t read much poetry—too frequently it leaves me baffled. I do have a sense, occasionally, of poetic language; it’s not until that language finds its way into a poem that it escapes my comprehension. At best, I will occasionally think such-and-such a poem probably has some merit, and that merit will be available to me if I read the poem over, and over, and yet again. I’m afraid few of these poems will gain when reread, although some might, and most will be. Troubled syntax me follows. In addition to the poems, this volume includes two reminiscences: one on Conrad Aiken, and one on Dylan Thomas—friends of David Markson whose acquaintance he relished. He makes me want to read them.
One I liked for all the wrong reasons:
BIRCHES Something there is that doesn’t love a frost. Whose words are these? I’m cold and lost. I think I’ll take the road less traveled by. I’ve miles to go, thank God I’m high.
“Christ with castanets,” says Alfau without emphasis; “Cheeses!” as I’m wont to say myself.
It’s hard, for me, to know what exactly to say about Chrom
“Christ with castanets,” says Alfau without emphasis; “Cheeses!” as I’m wont to say myself.
It’s hard, for me, to know what exactly to say about Chromos. Brilliant. Incredible. All the usual predicate adjectives that seem to say so much while saying so little, other than exert with some vehemence that I was taken by the novel, tossed around for a couple weeks, then deposited on this side of the TBRs-Accomplished. In my case, ‘tossed around for a couple weeks’ may be considered warning as Chromos is neither quickly or easily read (well, unless you’re a troublesome Scot who can plow through dense material with the ease of an eel; the aforementioned Scot’s buck-passing review may be read, and should be read, here)
Whatever this novel is, it is not a sequel to Locos—not exactly. All the unruly characters from Locos reappear here although they now live in New York, dead characters are resurrected (all the characters of Locos had minds of their own and couldn’t be controlled by the narrator)—some make only cameo appearances, others reappear with stories of their own to tell, e.g. Garcia, whose novel and screenplay are pushed onto the narrator (who doesn’t appreciate either) and the reader, each provided slowly, in pieces, over the course of the entire novel; they can be as laborious as they are confusing; one the story of the Sandoval family, a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, the other of Julio Ramos, whose most urgent wishes are always granted and always at a cost.
Alfau has an appealing way with words, and a vocabulary that is humbling.
It was an inscription which he had read on a discarded sundial while on his way to Julio Ramos. The dial lay upon the grass at the margin of the little cemetery for Spanish Jews in the New Bowery. Its position was such that the shadow of the indicator did not fall upon the dial but somewhere else where time, if it passed, was not marked.
Time and place matter; motion is an illusion.
As one grows older, one prefers what has been, scarcely tolerates what is and decidedly abhors what is going to be. The greatest virtue of a thing, then, is that it has passed, the greatest defect, that it is yet to come. In one’s opinion things are bad and growing constantly worse. Every coming event means certain disaster. Among the things that are going to be, the vision of one’s death looms as the most execrable, tainting the horizon with the most somber and depressing hues. One sees every future event through funereal shadows, everything appears wrapped in ominous clouds of pessimism, whether it be social changes, new ideas or even the smallest change of routine. One dislikes everything modern, everything new, including young people, because all of these things represent the flow of time, because everything that enters the world is taking the place of something that is leaving it. One becomes a conservative and wants things to stay as they are because perhaps thus one will stay as one is.
This said in 1948—look around, it’s contemporary and all too familiar.
Alfau can be outrageously sarcastic and funny. In a scene where a young girl who aspires to be a poet approaches the poet who lives in her home (and on whom she has a childish crush) she is admonished with:
If I were you I would not write poetry but help my mother around the portería. And by the way, my dear Sappho, don’t call me ‘bard’ anymore, will you do me that favor? I resent it. It is embarrassing, as if I called you Saint Peter simply because you are always at the door.
And again when the narrator describes the writing of Garcia:
This has been done by masters of the trade and Garcia had taken in every stock situation with amazing powers of retention, but he had not put things together right and had used extraordinary discernment in not adding one single touch of originality.
Following a discourse on physics, motion, time and space, the final fifth of the novel is devoted to an incredible party. As it should be.
Recently I told another reader that he should read Locos before reading Chromos; in the Introduction to this volume, Joseph Coates says that Chromos is a jumping off point for reading Locos. Go figure. Not for everybody, but one helluva novel.
One final quote from early in the novel:
After all, reading is not a very good occupation. It is well to read when one has nothing better to do, but life is not that bad.
”Context is ninety percent of verisimilitude. What I mean is that when our good uncle opened that letter from Paris, signed by Franz, full of details
”Context is ninety percent of verisimilitude. What I mean is that when our good uncle opened that letter from Paris, signed by Franz, full of details about life here, it never crossed his mind that it could have been written by someone else. Context—and, naturally, ingenuousness. People believe what they want to believe.”
Briefly: I really, sorta, kinda, totally, absolutely, mostly, maybe-should-read-again, liked it—a lot. Helpful? If not, let’s try this…
Do you like Mysteries?
Neither do I. Not particularly.
Do you like Intrigue/Suspense stories?
Ditto. Not exactly a fan either.
Metafiction? Surprise plot twists? Contentedly complacent about not really knowing?
We are all PoMo.
When a woman checks into her Paris hotel room, she is immediately contacted by Leon, a friend of her fiancé. A conversation ensues. He knows a lot about her. She’s never heard of him. He knows more than seems likely, or prudent. Someone is listening in. Others are listening in on them all—and watching them. The reader is watching all of them—and listening (reading) in. Some matter. Some matter more than others. The narrator’s interest in the reader, suggests he (or she) matters, but questions linger. Transitional chapters advance the plot, frequently addressing the reader, questioning him (or her), misleading him (or her), challenging him (or her) to make sense of it all. Then, WHAM, sorta.
It seems to me the transitional chapters, where the narrator addresses the reader (constantly as a male reader) detracts from the suspense developed in the conversational chapters. They aggravate empathy. They deaden the impact (view spoiler)[bad joke—double spoiler (hide spoiler)]. Dorfman does a lot well. But… Give it a try. We’ll talk.
”Just that your picture was like a dream.” ”A dream? You indulged in an ironic statement?” ”It was a way of surviving.”
Mysterious. Funny. Sad. Confusing. Sadder. Life during war time, saddest.
Memory, wrote Mr. Beattie, presents us with thoughts of what is past accompanied with a persuasion that they were once real. The ambiguity so delighte
Memory, wrote Mr. Beattie, presents us with thoughts of what is past accompanied with a persuasion that they were once real. The ambiguity so delighted my father that with my mother’s permission I was named Memory—a curious coincidence considering this memoir which has seized the lion’s part of my relic years. I write from the new century about the old, my purpose to reanimate planets that have long ceased to spin.
So begins Memory’s recollection of the lives of her family—both parents and their mental disintegration and her mute sister, Etheria, with whom she shared a sororal connection that neither time nor space could diminish—plus a cadre of characters including Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), close friend to both girls and their parents; the fabulously wealthy and selfish industrialist, Radulph Tubbs, with his doomed intent to entirely possess the ethereal Etheria; the crazed architect, Baconfield; the malevolent Hungerkünstler, whose presence haunts all the males (except Dodgson).
The novella, with its lush language grabbed me and ran. I’m very reluctant to call it a fantasy, although it certainly contains the fantastic, because it clings to the possible, envisions the sublime. Dammit, it’s a stunner. The Jade Cabinet is the final part of a tetralogy, each with a theme from the alchemical elements, in this case air. This one soars.
Five stars, unashamedly, highly recommended. I’ll definitely be searching out the other three volumes in the sequence, perhaps even checking out other works by the writer/artist. She’s that good.
Note: This review, such as it is, includes absolutely NO spoilers, as that would be, I believe, impossible.
Another Note: Should you, you glutinous see
Note: This review, such as it is, includes absolutely NO spoilers, as that would be, I believe, impossible.
Another Note: Should you, you glutinous seeker of punishment, decide to pursue the reading of this relatively slim volume, be forewarned that several editions of this novel exist which are drastically different one from another, and do not skip the Afterword to the New Edition, as it contains enough information on the author’s structuring, intent, history, and revisions to render this slimmed-down, abbreviated, and (hopefully) final version the definitive version.
The Review: In a novel rich in language and the timeless classic and romantic themes—slavery, perversion, religion, constipation, and the onanistic nature of writing (especially, the writing of poetry)—all those themes which, deservedly, belong together, Goytisolo weaves an astonishing prose poem which leaves you gasping and ready for the end.
Some gratuitous quotes for your edification:
from now on you will learn to think against your own language
eliminate the last traces of theatricality from the corpus of the novel : transform it into an uneventful discourse : dynamite the worn-out notion of the flesh-and-blood character : replacing the dramatic progression of the story with clusters of text driven by a single centripetal force : organizing kernel of the writing itself, pen fountaining the textual process : improvising the architecture of the literary object not as a tissue of relationships ordered by time and logic but as an ars combinatoria of elements (opposition, alternatives, symmetrical play) on the rectangle of the page : emulating painting and poetry at a purely spatial level : indifferent to the vociferous or tacit threats of the commissar-sergeant-customs officer disguised as a critic : deaf to the siren songs of self-interested functional-content based and petty utilitarian criteria
And one more that compromises my vision and risks carpal-tunnel syndrome:
autonomy of the literary object : verbal structure with its own inner connections, language perceived in itself and not as a transparent mediator of an alien external world : via the act of releasing words from their subjugation to a pragmatic order that transforms them into mere vehicles of almighty reason : of logical thought that uses them contemptuously without considering their specific weight and worth : fulfilling the functions of representation, expression and address inherent in oral communication whose elements (transmitter, receiver, context, contact) also operate (though diversely) at the moment of reading in a fourth (erogenous?) function that will exclusively center attention on the linguistic sign : thanks to that, stripping language of its ancillary miserly purpose : transmuting semantic anomaly into a kernel for generating poetry and at a stroke, combining the polysemic harmony, sexuality and writing : general contempt for the useful procreating serial mode that changes abominable barren pleasure into a figure of speech, the crimine pessimo into existential metaphor : at last resolving, at the end of such a long detour, the secret equation of your double deviation : noproductive (onanistic) manipulation of the written word, self-sufficient (poetic) exercise of illicit pleasuring
I hope you’re satisfied.
The Rating: Four stars, in the hope of returning to the text at some point and being able to add the fifth. Impossible to recommend to more than a couple of you, as I fear the inevitable backlash and being murderously stalked in the Land of Lincoln.