Should a writer of Toni's calibre restrict herself with a not-so-grand ambition?
Toni is a master at managing conversations and a writer who reveals hShould a writer of Toni's calibre restrict herself with a not-so-grand ambition?
Toni is a master at managing conversations and a writer who reveals her characters more through these, and occasional interior monologues, than actions. In 'Tar Baby', her characters talk out everything, either with themselves or with others; each conflict inside their hearts is mightily verbalized. And all that is fine. So very fine. Because the conflicts are of import: conflicts around the true culture of white-folk and black-folk; and how these two have mingled with each other through time; and how these two should evolve with time -- whether they should confuse their historical roles to the point of exchanging them, or stay comfortable in the faint trails of the master-slave equation. Amidst all these is a love story that is, Tony seems to propose, flawed in its conception -- a black woman white at heart with a black man truly black. In the denouement, the all-so-predictable failure of this love story coincides with the transmutation of every white-black relationship; and Toni leaves things at that.
Could the novel have been written better? Yes. The prose-poetic content of chapter introductions is a deviation; it becomes an expected frustration the reader faces every time he moves on: a case of the rush of closing a chapter being mitigated by the abstruse verbosity in the beginning of the next. The poetic expression is convoluted and lengthy; its incongruous property being revealed here even more, since ‘Tar Baby’ is primarily a novel of conversation not descriptive prose; and although Toni does exceptionally well in linking the poetry with the plot and the characters (she employs interior monologues and omniscient narrator consciousness descriptions to achieve that), the urge to skip all of that and have the characters 'really talking' is overbearing at times.
Add to that the fact that the main character - Son - the black man roiled in blackness - and understatedly portrayed as a kind of an ideal - is colossally underdeveloped, and quite inapproachable at times. You love him when he is brusque and speaks his mindm, but incomprehensible whenever he acts or talks nice to anyone else. The reader gets a lengthy description of his history; Toni even takes you to his hometown Eloe in North Florida; but you never ever get to know the guy adequately. Hows that!?
And thirdly, what does this novel achieve? Does it bare the cultural divides adequately? The answer can be arrived at through another question. Are the characters really important in the context of the conflicts to be explored?: a rich white man living in Queen of France after retirement; his wife, forced into living there while her heart lies with her son in the US; their servants, a black couple; the servants' neice, our heroine, educated with the white man's money; and the black man, our hero, who somehow swims across the ocean to bump into this melee. Do these characters really encapsulate the symbolisms they are purported to. Actually, no. Why? Because the loose definition of the last (and also the main) character ensures that all the other characters fail to consistently portray their symbolic positions - making the whole cast a little lest purposeful, a little less important.
Tar Baby works, but not throughout—because, actually, it doesn’t try hard enough. And for this Toni has to be blamed—partly in her execution, and partly for not starting out with an ambition and an idea befitting her stature. ...more
In the honorable house of art there is a lounge of love. Under its glittering, enticing settees and sofas, velvet and hessian, under them, lie rottenIn the honorable house of art there is a lounge of love. Under its glittering, enticing settees and sofas, velvet and hessian, under them, lie rotten peels of a strange fruit surrounded by an ancient dust.
In English, this would be: All understood is all forgiven
At certain levels, Nabokov's Lolita is about this. That if we lend an ear to a monster, we may very well end up siding with him. Not completely, of course. That depends on the monstrosities a great deal, which in the case of Humbert Humbert aren't dumb or droll (a word Nabokov might be imagined to use, in English tantalizingly and excessively borrowed from the continent).
Nabokov's novel, and I'm in disagreement with Riku here, is not so much a Post-modernist novel than one in which Modernism lives its moral dilemma. If Modernism was about exploration of inner lives and plot-thin character studies, Lolita is a late-Modernist masterpiece that raises the simple moral question: what if this rigor of Modernism was applied to a monster in the old sense of the word. We have in fact, a romantic monster in our midst, almost like a 19th century European monster, segregated from the History of the continent, and planted by a superb ruse into mid-20th-centruy America. It is through the monster's denial of monstrosity that we chance upon the general depravity of the continent, of what Riku has chosen to call apocalyptic. The Modernist rigour produces a strange effect, we understand HH a bit too well. Here the temptation to harp upon the unreliability of his voice has to be avoided. HH is not so such unreliable as he is unreal. As much as we loathe him, we cannot say that he did not 'love' Lolita, again in the old sense of the word.
Let us spare Nabokov the Oedipal universe of Sigmund Freud, one which he abhors. In a late-Lacanian Post-oedipal universe, Lolita is the focus of drive. From a perspective that knew more about their sexual acts, one could have concluded her to be the femme fatale, in the noirish fashion. But from HH's perspective, if one was to borrow from Zizek, she is the woman in whom he ex-sists. Lolita embodies the death drive. ...more
Oh, the naked ambition of Mr. Jonathan Safran Foer! How urgently he wants to be propelled to the summit of literature; how desperately he desires to bOh, the naked ambition of Mr. Jonathan Safran Foer! How urgently he wants to be propelled to the summit of literature; how desperately he desires to be spoken of in the same breadth as Rushdie, Marquez, Calvino, and other such greats. And how fascinatingly (for the critics) this ambition has made him fall.
"Everything is Illuminated" is the work of genius, a brazen genius - and that is its problem.
Jonathan - lets talk not in not-truths but in truths, as I would have it. You set out to write the best post-modern novel ever. And you knew, or rather, you had learnt, how to do it, and were confident of your abilities. For example, you knew how to play with time; how to include various seemingly disconnected snippets of text, and thus spruce your work hither thither with these inanities; how to use two narrators commenting on each other's work, thus providing a Borgesian mirror-to-a-mirror angle to the whole thing.
But you wouldn't stop at that.
You also set out to write the best holocaust novel ever - one that would be feverishly comic and infinitely tragic at the same time. While conceptualizing the holocaust part, you perhaps figured (not very originally) that the novel's scope would expand enough to allow you to include something of a personal treatise on love (which is basically nothing more than a few exceptional sentences, and massive repetitions).
The problem is Jonathan, what you're trying to do is obvious to the knowing reader, and this hampers his enjoyment to a great degree.
But perhaps, in a freaking post-modernish way, you knew this would happen. I remember a point in your book when another (imaginary) book called "Trachim" - all about love, the narrator called it - was mentioned. And then elsewhere, or perhaps at that point itself - I don't remember - the narrator mentioned the book receiving huge popular acclaim and critical indifference. I can only now see how post-modernishly accurate your insinuations were.
I feel like giving my piece of mind to America and American Literature. And it is simple - If you already rate Jonathan Safran Foer as a great, God save your literature. I've no doubt that he will become one, but he should let himself some time. And be allowed to have the clarity to see his overdoings. I do not know what his second novel is like, and I'm very eager to follow Foer. I wish him the best. He has real potential, the kind of potential that could do to this century what Joyce and Nabokov did to the previous one....more
A novel will always find it difficult to stand firm on the sole pillar of style. Nabokov's attempt to achieve this is exemplary, here not any more thaA novel will always find it difficult to stand firm on the sole pillar of style. Nabokov's attempt to achieve this is exemplary, here not any more than elsewhere. And perhaps the fallout is intentional: All English novels by Nabokov have to feel, in varying degrees, like experiments in style rooted in a dark satire.
Plot-less prose, basically. Some smug verbiage in the garb of all all-knowing narrator. There is no story that one can promptly recite, though I find it worthy to elaborate the novel's key idea (given to us in the very first chapter) as I understand it: When our gaze fixates on a thing, any thing, we plunge into questions regarding its history, and as we plunge more and more the thing tends to become transparent. I cannot really say which meaning the word is intended to connote here, although Nabokov does seem to render it plainly as the optical one in at least two places. My way of understanding this transparency is to synonymize it with an evanescent irrelevance of form, which may mean to say that the history of the object grows in relevance while the form, and even presence, of the object becomes secondary. Understood this way, the 'transparency' is applied to the main character's memory as well. So harshly does he dwell on it to relive his past that it becomes transparent, unknowable beyond what the narrator will reveal to us.
The best part, for me, was when Nabokov illustrated his concept by describing, with a sense of duty that seemed on the verge of obsession, the history of a pencil (for two pages!!) - the pencil (or the kind of pencil) that, presumably, he used to pen this novel.
Frankly, I'm at a loss in trying to pin this novel to a comfortable evaluation. I've pored over it long, and it is beginning to gather the first refractivities of trasparency in my memory. Which is to say, it is not really a masterpiece!...more
A first novel: loaded with all the allusions and insinuations the phrase carries.
Let me compare this novel - because I want to - with another first noA first novel: loaded with all the allusions and insinuations the phrase carries.
Let me compare this novel - because I want to - with another first novel by an American writer.
Which novel? 'Everything is Illuminated' by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The advantage Grushin has over Foer is age, and maturity.
Where 'The Dream of Sukhanov' scores over 'Everything is Illuminated' is in its sincerity to its subject, which on one level of abstraction is similar to Foer's novel: a third generation exploration of politics' (or war's) impact on the individual. In approaching this theme, Grushin's novel does not get lost in gimmickry, a la Foer. Even in phases when the main character's dreams - as may be weaned from the title itself - take over the narrative, a Nabokovian clutch on the plot is never relented. Compare this with Foer's play of jumping from here to there, in space and in time; with the almost insufferable importance he gives to the text itself, compared to the overall pacing and content. Foer just wants you to love him, not his novel. Grushin's energies are directed more at her art, rather than being brazenly attention-seeking.
Foer is more talented than Grushin, but his understanding of the art of the novel is very flimsy. Grushin, on the other hand, knows what she wants to achieve.
Having said that, let me also poke my opinionated nose and spit out an evaluation of 'The Dream Life of Sukhanov'. I didn't like for most parts. And I didn't like it for the same reasons that I didn't like 'Everything is Illuminated'.
Grushin's style is steeped in the Modernist tradition. She explores the current and dream consciousness of her main character with an unflinching desire to arrive at a certain center for her novel. But her desire to dazzle becomes obvious in some passages. It is here, in this similarity with that prankster Foer, that she fails.
She apes Gogol in the scenes of conversation; she apes Nabokov in the sentence. (Although I didn't find where she aped Bulgakov, reviewers smarter than me must have had their reasons to believe so) And whenever she does this act of mimicing, she loses herself.
Which brings me to a bigger question: Why is the new American novelist always crushed with this desire to dazzle? Why can't he or she write a novel, instead of writing a book that is incredibly entertaining? Why, just why, is the art of the novel relegated to a medium of entertainment?
But there is hope. Grushin's novel, by being less successful than that of Foer's, gives us hope. If she can stick to her modus operandi, and arrive at a voice of her own, from which she is not very far away right now, as it stands, she will make a better novelist. Foer, on the other hand, stands a great risk of getting drowned in his success....more
The name 'Carver' is a fit for the writer's name. He does carve his stories well.
'Chef's House' - his first New Yorker publication - had me reading itThe name 'Carver' is a fit for the writer's name. He does carve his stories well.
'Chef's House' - his first New Yorker publication - had me reading it repeatedly, amazed at the poise and spareness of the prose, while ever acknowledging the danger of the story careening to a place I didn't want it to. This is the thing with Carver's stories. They create some dread and then they take you to the source of that dread....more
The book (the term book being used here in opposition to the writer's label of 'a novel') is a deliberation on the possibilities of time. The paradox,The book (the term book being used here in opposition to the writer's label of 'a novel') is a deliberation on the possibilities of time. The paradox, of course, is that none of the daily-life scenarios Lightman uses as illustrations are applicable(we know), just as the possibility of their being true, or even being paralelly true, is of course palpable on a cosmic scale (we don't know). This paradox does two things to the book:
1.) It adds a LOT of magic to everything. Which means that this book demands the reader to let go in almost the same manner that a Murakami, a Marquez, or a Grass may. There is a leap required. 2.) It turns the text into poetry. You have to seek in it not the coherence of a taut fiction but the cadence of good poetry. It doesn't explore any dimension of human existence. The shapes and qualities of time do alter how we live, but in Lightman's work all of it is mere supposition. It is almost as if, by trivializing his subject in this way, his final expostulate is nothing but saying that it wouldn't matter to us how time is because we will be in it.
The poetry of the worlds with the alternate definition of time, mind, is apparent and beautiful to us only due to the contrast it poses to our own conception of time. The ding en sich is both unknowable and out of the zone of our aesthetic. If argued this, we realize that Lightman's book is an impossible book. The only consolation is that Lightman knows that....more
White Noise is a Pre-internet novel, yes, but it isn't awkward when it talks about technology. Like Kundera, Delillo is looking for a key to what mayWhite Noise is a Pre-internet novel, yes, but it isn't awkward when it talks about technology. Like Kundera, Delillo is looking for a key to what may be called Modernity, but American as he is, he lacks Kundera's urge to arrive at meanings, and is instead content with merely the exposition of what he seems to be referring to as an American way of life and death, and the black humor and satire that comes with it.
There are multiple scenes set in supermarkets, all of which are entertaining, even illuminating, and also increasingly relevant with the ever-widening cultural reach of the supermarket (it includes the third world now). It is true, however, that the most enthralling passages are when Delillo is prescient and comes eerily close to talking of our times, or of the near-future of our times, like when he alludes to a surveillance state, or when he talks about the necessity of our existence being captured in our data....more
The subject - visual depictions of the horrors of war, and their utility in the post-modern, hyper-imaged world - and her erudition make a very unnervThe subject - visual depictions of the horrors of war, and their utility in the post-modern, hyper-imaged world - and her erudition make a very unnerving and intellectually stimulating mix.
The arguments remain very accessible. For maximum impact, don't forget to visit every image through google images....more
Netherland is one of the most reviewed novels in recent time. This is because of various reasons.
1> It appears to be a post-colonial novel, almostNetherland is one of the most reviewed novels in recent time. This is because of various reasons.
1> It appears to be a post-colonial novel, almost like a benign Naipaul looking to kick-start his literary career in the post 9/11 world
2> It marks a schism with the post-modern trend, in as much as it takes us back to the pleasures of the modern novel. It is Realism at its lyrical best.
I provide here two comments to substantiate my view
Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books -
"For Netherland, our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition. It seems perfectly done—in a sense that’s the problem. It’s so precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis, as the photograph gifts a nervous breakdown to the painted portrait."
James Wood in The New Yorker -
"The simplicity of the writing here and the choosing of a frozen racial emblem echo V. S. Naipaul, that Trinidadian Indian, and, if “Netherland” pays homage to “The Great Gatsby,” it is also in some kind of knowing relationship with “A House for Mr. Biswas.” These are large interlocutors, but “Netherland” has an ideological intricacy, a deep human wisdom, and prose grand enough to dare the comparison. Less desperately than Biswas, less comically, too, Chuck is searching for a house, a home, and so is Hans, adrift in a New York at once fascinating and a little estranging. O’Neill has Naipaul’s gift for creating unforced novelistic connections in a world of forced ideological connections.
It is a coincidence that both these publications are New York based. New Yorkers are bound to love love this novel, as are players and followers of cricket....more