I've wanted to like Michal Ajvaz. He's Czech. He's into Borges' brand of metaphysical, surreal fantasy. Even after only barely talking myself into lik...moreI've wanted to like Michal Ajvaz. He's Czech. He's into Borges' brand of metaphysical, surreal fantasy. Even after only barely talking myself into liking his other book in translation, The Other City, and reading some lackluster reviews of this one here, I continued wanting to like Michal Ajvaz. After so much wanting to like him, at about page 70 of The Golden Age, I had a very unpleasant feeling, akin to the first time you stick your cute but annoying nephew in a corner for a time out (though he had it coming for a while now): I shut the book and accepted that, despite some fun premises, despite the Dalkey imprint, Ajvaz is just not a good writer.
Show don't tell. It's a tired mantra, but it's true. Even if you dress it up in pseudo-poetic, ambiguously antique language, you're still just telling me a bunch of not-as-interesting-as-Borges ideas, which are too general to have any impact. If you're going to remove fiction from the realm of experience you need to be a pretty amazing thinker.
In Borges' stories the reader is making out fabulous shapes in the dark. A quick flash from the creature's scales as it moves away. In a story like "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" (one of my all time faves) or in his faux book reviews, he puts us a few steps' remove from the actual fantastic subject. He's learned a lot from detective stories. Ajvaz, on the other hand, tries to pour as much light as he can on his not-as-fantastic subject and in so doing he dashes any aura of mystery and wonder it might've had.
Also, if you want a story to be dreamy, don't use the adjective "dreamy" in your book all the time. It's just lazy.
Okay, goodreading public, feel free to hate this review. I feel like I'm writing angry margin notes on a student manuscript and that's kind of disrespectful and obnoxious, I realize. Maybe I'll have something nice to say in a few days. Perhaps I'm just disappointed to find the first dud in my stack of books from the Dalkey Summer Sale.(less)
Usually I'm all: "Kafka this, kafka that, dalkey book, Stacey Levine, something french, kafka kafka kafka" ad nauseam....moreWhat's going on with me lately?
Usually I'm all: "Kafka this, kafka that, dalkey book, Stacey Levine, something french, kafka kafka kafka" ad nauseam. But so far this year it's been mostly cultural criticism and history, even a twinkle-dinkle of poetry (and I don't even know how to READ poetry). I could say I'm having a jolly cross-disciplinary time, but let's be honest: I'm having a literary meltdown.
Part of that meltdown is reflected in the only two works of fiction I've been able to finish lately, which have been Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be? and Fred Exley's A Fan's Notes. These aren't books in translation nor books I'd at first consider experimental. They're near-memoirs. Real as realism gets. They're the kind of book I normally pass over for something more eccentric.
I don't know about you but when I think realism I think safe. And who want's that? I want an author who's going to drive me over the goddam cliff.
Well I have been driven over the goddam cliff, just not the cliff I'm used to, and perhaps that's the thrill. I don't really want to unpack Exley's book. I just want to say, from a guy like me, who has never watched a football game all the way through or cared to, who hasn't born the cross of alcoholism or done time on the funny farm, who has never been in an honest-to-god fist fight, who's never had much of anything to recommend his manliness, whose life is not necessarily in shambles, that this life, the life of Fred Exley, is one all peoples should read and recognize as their own.
That is to say, I get it. I get why Fred Exley puts himself back together long enough to get in front of a TV on Sunday and to bawl his head off for his favorite player on the New York Giants: "Oh God, he did it! Gifford did it! He caught the goddam thing!" It may sound like he's blaspheming, but he's not; he's having a god moment, a moment larger than himself, a moment which offers the possibility of salvation. It's more pertinent now than ever, the revelation Exley had, about the joys and sorrows of living in a world of vicarious spectacle, the joys and sorrows of being a fan. As an unpublished writer snooping around goodreads, I have my god moments, too.
The other thing I want to take away from this book is a caution to myself personally. The book is helped by an elevated, nigh Nabokovian style, which coming from a narrator with stains all over his sweats reads as crooning irony. I couldn't get enough of it. However, the highest irony of all is that this tweedy side, which Exley assumes through most of the book is going to save him, is actually the main problem. It's the illusion that pins him down and that will always pin him down, because he loves it. I have a tweedy side myself, a nice and musty smirking booky tweedy side. I'm thankful to Exley for helping me pick a fight with it.
Probably the best sci-fi novel I've ever read. Seriously.
In Solaris humankind encounters not just something unknown, but something truly unknowable. A...moreProbably the best sci-fi novel I've ever read. Seriously.
In Solaris humankind encounters not just something unknown, but something truly unknowable. And it turns out, after traversing the long abyss of space, we didn't have to look very far, did we? No, we just had to look at ourselves.
Most seductive to me was this novel's setting/main character, a vast intelligent ocean. What if you could see pure thought? What shape would it be? How would it move? What would brainstorming look like? How about an idea? How about a disregarded idea? How about a dream? Lem gives truly satisfying answers to these questions.
A tense, sometimes funny, ultimately sad, but always wordy,love triangle. Two awful people trying to step on the same perfect flower.
Henry James was d...moreA tense, sometimes funny, ultimately sad, but always wordy,love triangle. Two awful people trying to step on the same perfect flower.
Henry James was doing his thing before the whole "iceberg" theory of fiction came about. There's not a lot of "submerged" story. Instead he drops the whole damn iceberg on your lap and points out to you inch by inch its various icy pits, bumps, and fissures. Yes, that kind of detail, which manifests itself in pages and pages blackened with long and winding sentences, can be off-putting to a modern reader and I don't blame a lot of people for not liking him, but on a Sunday morning, in the right comfy chair, with the right, wakeful hot beverage within reach, and if the neighbors aren't breaking down the walls around you that day, you might fall under the spell of his tense, clever plot and the vast psychology of his characters, and really like it. I sure did.(less)
The title story is one of my all time faves. The others are good too. She reminds me of Gogol and Chekhov whilst still remaining herself. Great sense...moreThe title story is one of my all time faves. The others are good too. She reminds me of Gogol and Chekhov whilst still remaining herself. Great sense of humor. Great lambent, stream-of-consciousness style. Dreaminess, a plus.(less)
I ADORED this book. Vila-Matas (or is it better to just call him the narrator?) was so funny, self-depreciating, personable, and wise. He was in tune...moreI ADORED this book. Vila-Matas (or is it better to just call him the narrator?) was so funny, self-depreciating, personable, and wise. He was in tune with ever flavor of irony. I just wanted him to go on and on. Like Paris.
He was a poseur trying to be like Hemingway, who was himself a poseur trying to be like Hemingway. The layers of self-mythology are thick and pillowy here. Where's the truth under it all? Is this autobiography or not? Autobiography, fiction: it's all story. I enjoyed wanting to know and not knowing.
I was so jealous, too. As any good poseur will do the Vila-Matarrator name dropped like crazy. In fact if he hadn't pulled his title from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast he might've considered: The Great Name-Drop. Oh, sure, the other day I was talking to/thinking about/heard a story from someone who knows: Duras, Perec, Queneau, Mellarmé, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Céline, Barthes, Susan Sontag, Gertude Stein, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges, Trotsky, Rilke, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Elmo, Samuel Beckett, The Beatles, The Who, Robert Walser, Walter Benjamin, Céline, Kafka, and, oh yeah, Hemingway, to name a few. . . . Okay, so I added Elmo, but the rest were in there. It read like a Diego Rivera mural of art and thought in the 20th Century. What I'd give to be there myself brandishing my own pipe in front of people's faces to impress them, but not smoking it because I can't afford to.(less)
August 4th 2010 - Today I wore my pockety pair of pants, the better to smuggle this book into the bathroom stall at work and read. I don't care who kn...moreAugust 4th 2010 - Today I wore my pockety pair of pants, the better to smuggle this book into the bathroom stall at work and read. I don't care who knows it! I'm sure Underground Man would identify.(less)
I love Jung. I love him so much I bought the t-shirt. Seriously, for my birthday I got a t-shirt with Jung's big white face on it, and I wear it all t...moreI love Jung. I love him so much I bought the t-shirt. Seriously, for my birthday I got a t-shirt with Jung's big white face on it, and I wear it all the time. He looks pretty serious. I want people to know that Jung is watching them, so behave.
Sometimes I wonder, Am I a Jungian? Not really. But I could be. Everytime I read Jung I feel a greater part of myself converted. I do have a compulsive interest in dreams. Murakami's short stories do strike a chord with me. As skeptical as I am about everything I have to admit that in my heart I'm monk who yearns for a religion.
I love Jung because:
His psycho-gospel is a path of intense personal spirituality. It's an attitude of searching for and claiming a truth peculiar to oneself. It's a cry against the materialism of super-rational modernism. Meaninglessness, he says, is a mental illness. The alternative is a milieu of your own images and symbols and intuitive experiences, that while deeply subjective, serves to make the world a bigger place. Now how could an aspiring writer like me not sign up for that? The individuation process is basically what a novel does.
The seriousness of his play. When Jung got stuck he drew mandalas and built sandcastles. He approached these playful activities with all seriousness of thought. I admire anyone who "works out his own salvation with fear and trembling" by playing games, by trying on costumes, by making up stories.
He considered himself a man of science. I have to laugh at that sometimes. Like when he says things such as, "Astrology is in the process of becoming a science," I have to wonder how scientific his science is. And yet he did shed his dogmas and he did seek to observe the psyche with all objectivity. His psycho-gospel was born from those conclusions. And he was most certainly willing to sacrifice to the gods he discovered behind the curtain. When I think of that, all the rigor he applied the texts of dreams and fairy tales and alchemy and gnosticism and crazy-talk, it occurs to me that he may very well have dedicated his entire life to nonsense; and yet something inside me, rather than being turned off by that, says RIGHT ON!
This is a great book. He loses me at times — he always does — but even when I don't find his conclusions compelling, he, as a character, always compels me. I loved learning that he was a creepy child. I loved the first-hand account of his falling out with Freud. The prologue exudes a wisdom that I can't put a finger on and might function better as an epilogue. It presents, I think, a man reposed in a world of his own making. His world is huge and so he's free to move around it as he pleases. It's well lit too, so he's warm and sure footed and is able to see far ahead.