Deepak Chopra’s new book, The Future of God: A Practical Approach to Spirituality in Our Times, is a very poor book for a number of reasons. I want toDeepak Chopra’s new book, The Future of God: A Practical Approach to Spirituality in Our Times, is a very poor book for a number of reasons. I want to enumerate those reasons, but first let me tell you about another book, a very fine one, Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God. (Knopf, 2009, 406 pp.) A scholar of comparative religion, Armstrong writes that virtually all world religions have historically depended on a foundation of silence, or what she calls “unknowing.” This is the silence through which one gets intimations of the Divine presence, and it is based on the sacred teachings.
Armstrong says that there never was a presumption on the part of early theists that they could grasp God. God was beyond human comprehension. Since direct knowledge was not possible the only alternative was what she calls kenosis (Greek “self emptying”). This technique, which she describes, leads one toward the necessary quiet contemplation of God. So religion was not in its early days about "belief." No one was expected to believe in God. In fact, the idea of belief as we know it today did not even exist then, two millenia or so ago. That happened when the scientific revolution came along. The scientific method taught that facts were either right or wrong. Either you could repeat the experiment, or you could not.
Gradually there was a shift from kenosis, from the gentle act of self-emptying for purposes of contemplation of God in silence, to one which began to seek "scientific proofs" for God's existence. For instance, it was at first thought that the incredible detail revealed by microscopes was a sign of the Divine. William Paley, an English clergyman, wrote about this in his Natural Theology.
Then two things happened that threw this new approach to “knowing” God on its ear. First were advances in geology. Geology showed that the earth was not created in six days, as stated in Genesis; rather it pointed to time spans (hundreds of millions of years) almost beyond human comprehension. Then came evolution. Darwin showed us that homo sapiens and his fellows were not created all at one time and set down on the planet in their current form. Evolution showed us that there was no Intelligent Design, for its process (natural selection) was not in any way directed. That is to say, it was a geologically slow and muddled process marked by eons of struggle, most of it futile, not to mention extinction.
So here we are in the present day. The fundamentalists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (or the Koran or the Talmud). Something never required of early worshippers. Somehow it has come to be thought that religion must be match science truth for truth. And religion of course, with its basis in sacred narrative, can never do that.
This brings me to Deepak Chopra’s new book, The Future of God. The book is such a morass, such a muddle of half thoughts and inchoate statements that at first I hardly knew how to begin my review. (I suspect it may have been dictated. Not that there’s anything wrong with diction if you edit and revise, but Mr. Chopra does not seem to have even given this mess a second reading. I surmise it was just dictated, hurriedly, transcribed, and sent to the publisher. After all, why actually work on a book when you know it will sell a 100,000 copies? And Chopra publishes books like most people use toilet paper.)
Chopra attacks those he calls the militant atheists, particularly Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and others. Chopra enters into an insanely outdated mission to lend creedence to Paley’s argument for Intelligent Design. He falls into the very trap that Armstrong laid out in The Case for God. He tries to match proofs with the science of Dawkins et al with regard to God’s existence. It can't be done. I was stunned reading that!
Moreover, Chopra doesn’t understand evolution. If he did understand it he would not need to rail against its seeming Godlessness. For the mechanism of natural selection that Darwin passed down to us does not, to my mind, exclude the idea of a Creator. But because Chopra doesn’t understand evolution, which, admittedly, can be highly counter-intuitive at times, he rejects it wholesale. Just astonishing!
Unlike Armstrong, Chopra does not argue for the existence of God in our daily lives from its basis in the extensive mythical narratives that have come down to us. He’s argues for a God in the abstract, wholly disconnected from its vast narrative core. There’s no substantive discussion of the great books of world religion here. Chopra is a very traditional fellow, extolling divine inspiration and healings, which he takes at face value.
Let me say at this point that I am an agnostic (evolutionist Thomas Huxley's term). I believe in something out there, but I don’t know what it is. I admire normal religious people for their ability to reflect inwardly and live confident and productive lives. (For a moving portrait of such persons see Marilynn Robinson's fine novel Gilead.) So I think the average religious person has an advantage on me in that they have the confidence of faith, while I do not.
At any rate, I cannot recommended this book. If you want a substantive consideration of God in historical context with the great books of revelatory monotheistic faith, I highly recommend Armstong’s The Case for God....more
Comments on my first reading of The Zone of Interest. That a book merits rereading is to my mind high praise.
I never thought Martin Amis would attemptComments on my first reading of The Zone of Interest. That a book merits rereading is to my mind high praise.
I never thought Martin Amis would attempt an historical novel. But he has and it's quite a good one. I found the opening pages thrilling. My problem is not so much with the novel, as with the historical background that informs it. My problem is with historical novels in general, which I tend not to read. About the Holocaust, I've read extensively. So when I came across familiar facts in this novel I found I had little interest in plowing through them again. But I had to do so if I was going to get to the story of the characters, which is fresh and new. So the brilliance of the writing itself--I've always admired Martin Amis' work--was in this instance not enough to keep my interest aloft. My interest sagged and rose as I read. The goodreads star rating system has always been for me basically a pleasure meter. How much did the book transport me? How much did it take me out of myself and absorb me in its dream? In the case of The Zone of Interest I'm afraid the answer is, not much. I suppose I'm Shoah'd out. A special case. I wonder if this isn't really a novel for future generations, which might perhaps join Tadeusz Borowski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen and a few other books as a concise introductory to the era's horrors. For it is, without question, masterfully composed.
Another thing: like most historical novels this one was written in the day and age in which it was written. Please look at the Afterword; as you can see, Amis had access to vast amounts of research and he has arranged events in a way that wouldn't necessarily have been foremost in the minds of those living at the time. I'm not talking about the simple chronology. I'm talking more about what was known at the time. This is what I dislike about historical novels generally. They're too informed about their own historical context. This, for me anyway, ruins suspension of disbelief and undermines the very foundation of the fiction. Now, all novels have an historical context, but not all novels are historical novels. Usually the historical moment is just part of the setting, for the historical novel history is the subject matter, too. I could run on about this, but you get the gist. You might argue: "Well, yes, but the novelist can't unlearn aspects of the history he or she writes about for purposes of giving the proper lopsided view," and I would agree. The historical novel has an epistemological conundrum at its heart.
A recommended overview of recent research into dolphin cognition. The book is really not bad for a popular science title. It's a survey of biologist DA recommended overview of recent research into dolphin cognition. The book is really not bad for a popular science title. It's a survey of biologist Diana Reiss's thirty years of research into the spectacularly inquisitive minds of bottlenose dolphins. She let's go emotionally here in a way that she can't in her scientific papers, and the anecdotes are fascinating. I especially liked the brief history of dolphin-human interactions from antiquity to the present day. Brief astonishing online videos augment the text. The prose is unexceptional but it's the conservation argument the world desperately needs to hear: STOP THE SEASONAL BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN SLAUGHTERS AT TAIJI AND FUTO JAPAN. Please sign the petition at www.actfordolphins.org. Thank you. 請願書に署名してください。ありがとう。...more
Brilliant. A wonder and a joy! It's the mid-1930s and Herr Professor and Frau Mitwisser, being Jews, have fled Hitler's Germany with their big family.Brilliant. A wonder and a joy! It's the mid-1930s and Herr Professor and Frau Mitwisser, being Jews, have fled Hitler's Germany with their big family. Thanks to the charitable Quakers, known for their tradition of religious tolerance, the Mitwisser Family is brought to New York, to Albany, where the professor begins to lecture at the Quaker college. Mrs. Mitwisser is deeply depressed, however, sometimes verging on the delusional, having had to abandon her high-profile scientific pursuits. (She'd worked closely with Erwin Schrödinger). She has now withdrawn from the rest of the family and lies inert in a remote sitting room. Our narrator, eighteen-year-old Rose, answers an ad in an Albany newspaper and comes to work for the Mitwisser. Actually, the ad is hilariously vague as to just what Rose's duties are going to be, but she answers it anyway because she has to get out of her cousin Bertrand's apartment since he's fallen in love with loudmouthed Communist Ninel (Lenin spelled backwards), and Rose has fallen for Bertrand who, though very kind, just thinks of her as a "kid," which she resents.
The Mitwisser household also includes sixteen-year-old Annaliese, three younger boys (Heinz, Willi and Gert) and a toddler daughter (Waltraut). Soon they move to the Bronx because the professor, torn from Europe's great libraries due to the imminent war, has to continue his scholarly study of a heretical group of tenth-century Jews, the Karaites, at the New York Public Library. Interlarded with the story of the Mitwissers and Rose and the Karaites is the story of The Bear Boy. As a child, during the decade of The Great War, this fellow became the model for his father's dazzlingly successful series of children's books. Now in mid-life he's a lost soul who hates his immense wealth and lives a semi-debauched, drifter's existence. That's pretty much the setup, so I'll leave you hanging there. Suffice it to say, the novel's language is rich without being daunting, its plot sprightly, and its structure awe inspiring. I really came to care for these vividly drawn characters, even the cynical Bear Boy, whose influence as patron of the Mitwisser household causes major friction between the professor and his wife. Cynthia Ozick is my new favorite writer. I plan to read everything she's written. Also exquisitely good are her The Messiah of Stockholm and The Puttermesser Papers, both of which I have reviewed....more
The virtue of the book is that Sperber aligns Marx's work with the political issues of his day. For those with practice reading abstract philosophicalThe virtue of the book is that Sperber aligns Marx's work with the political issues of his day. For those with practice reading abstract philosophical treastises, this book should be a breeze. It wasn't always so for me, but Sperber does about as good a job as can be expected smoothing many thorny matters out. ...more
Last winter I happened to read Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings (see review), which is the urtext for Will Self’s new noveSome thoughts on my first reading.
Last winter I happened to read Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings (see review), which is the urtext for Will Self’s new novel Umbrella. In the mid-60s Dr. Sacks famously gave L-DOPA, a relatively new drug mimicking the neurotransmitter dopamine, to dozens of post-encephalytic patients under his care at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, New York. These patients had been infected in 1918 by theencephalitis lethargica virus, or "sleepy sickness" (not to be confused with the Spanish Influenza of the same year). In Umbrella even where references to Sacks’s book do not appear — such as the World War I and present-day sections — it's clear the good doctor's classic collection of case studies serves as the novel's inspration.
Those patients who survived the virus were able afterwards to lead normal lives for many years, sometimes decades, until they were stricken with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease: locked postures that turned them into living statuary (akinesia), hurrying gait (festination), frozen skewed gaze (oculogyyric crises) and so on. These patients did not have Parkinson's proper, but since the virus reduced dopamine in their brains to about 10 or 15% of healthy levels, they experienced identical if somewhat more severe symptoms than actual Parkinson's patients. The only difference being that Parkinson’s is ultimately fatal, while post-encephalitics (“enkies,” affectionately) might live for the rest of their natural span with the symptoms. Such is the experience of Audrey Death, a main character here.
Self takes much from Awakenings that echoes the trials and tribulations of Dr. Sacks’s enkies--and Sacks himself--and inflates it into a grand fiction resembling the inspirational text very little. Here, the doctor, Zachary Busner, a psychiatrist of Jewish birth, is adrift in a vast English hospital called the Friern, known for its ½ mile or so of monotonous corridors. Many of the problems Sacks had in the 1960s — like pulling all the patients into a single ward, studying their hyper-slow movements via speeded up film, dealing with a highly political hospital administration, and other details — are dramatized here.
There are also large sections of entirely new invention in Umbrella. In one, we follow Audrey Death in her pre-war family life and war-time work as as a “munitionette,” preparing shells for the British army. We also follow two of her brothers: Stanley Death, a trench soldier, and the soi disant Albert De'Ath, who becomes a big-time government honcho. Stanley has an aristocratic lover, Adeline, who he must leave to fight in the endless and pointless war. One day he is brought to live amid a society of bisexual soldiers from both sides deep under that gap between the trenches known as No Man's Land. I suspect this subterranean world of tunnelers was in part inspired by Alasdair Gray's dystopic Lanark (see review). Audrey's other brother, Albert, has Asperger's, and is a savant of Rain Man-like propensities, though much higher functioning. Audrey, during her pre-encephalytic days, was a staunch socialist while Albert was a conservative. These divergent political views lead to much conflict between them.
Will Self is an acquired taste. In the past he has regularly made fun of death and unspeakable cruelty with an almost hysterical glee. His talent is certainly great. It has, however, to my mind, at times been exceeded by his ambition. So that no matter how good his books are, and the ones I’ve read are outstanding, he nonetheless always seems to outstrip it (his talent) by way of a stridency of tone (ambition). Subtlety of tone is not in Self's gift. His is always a full throttle, no-holds-barred kind of narrative propulsion. He doesn't dance elliptically around a subject, but always seems to bore to its very heart. This style leaves us with some very naked prose, a prose that doesn’t skirt its limitations, but is on the contrary quite open about them. I know readers who can't abide Self's deeply cynical trickster prose. So I'm happy to report that the cackling satire of Self's earlier work seems in abeyance here, in favor of something softer, something less shrill, more compassionate.
The story is rendered in an almost pitch-perfect Modernist style. I found this astonishing. How does Self pick up Literary Modernism and its attributes (stream of consciousness, abrupt transitions, multiple unidentified intersecting voices, etc.) and don it like a hat? The choice of style strikes me as perfect. I note in my review of Awakenings how Sacks’s, by flipping from main text to footnote and back again, actually introduces a kind of novelistic discursiveness into his text that would not be obvious to those reading his book without the footnotes. It's an almost Moby-Dick or The Whale-like discursiveness. And I can’t help wondering if Sacks's discursiveness did not in part suggest to Self his neo-Modernist approach.
This is a complex book and a single reading will not satisfy those who wish to know it. On first reading I found some 20% of it utterly ambiguous. So I look forward to rereading it soon, though that will probably not render it more "coherent." A stunner and very highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy challenging texts....more
What a hoot! A religion started by a bad science-fiction writer. OMG, the greed, the debauchery, the paranoia, the totalitarian re-education camps, thWhat a hoot! A religion started by a bad science-fiction writer. OMG, the greed, the debauchery, the paranoia, the totalitarian re-education camps, the power trips, the murders, the mayhem, the countless lives ruined, the advent of the petty sociopath David Miscavige. And I thought the history of the Roman Catholic church was scandalous. It is, but the Church of Scientology is giving that hoary institution a run for its money —and it's all about the money of course. The Roman Catholic Church has had two millennia in which to refine its all too pleasant modus operandi. The Church of Scientology has achieved its notoriety in about 1/40th of the time. I think most will agree that that's quite a start. Revelatory stuff. You'll be astonished and appalled. Highly recommended....more
Extraordinary. Erdrich uses a succession of first-person narrators that dovetail with each other beautifully, à la Faulkner's The Hamlet. Each voice hExtraordinary. Erdrich uses a succession of first-person narrators that dovetail with each other beautifully, à la Faulkner's The Hamlet. Each voice has its idiosyncrasies and slightly different vocabulary. The action is centered around the unsolved murder of a family of white farmers in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, that evil was discovered at the time by a group of traveling Indian merchants. Only a tiny babe survived in her crib. The Indians are then summarily lynched by white vigilantes. They had nothing to do with it, of course. Erdrich then shows us how for the next 75 years or so that violent history affects both whites and Indians -- and those of mixed blood like Erdrich herself -- living in Pluto, North Dakota, and the nearby reservation. The non-chronological structure works beautifully. Erdrich writes with a precision about feelings that reminds me of the crucial distinction John Gardner famously made between "sentiment" and "sentimentality." (See his The Art of Fiction) Erdrich's ability to make vivid any given scene seems akin to that of Philip Roth at his best. I make this comparison just to give you a sense of the level of mastery she is operating on here. It's plain she's studied her models well. Extraordinary piece. This is my first Erdrich so I look forward to reading more of her. Her new novel Round House, purportedly the second volume of a planned trilogy that begins with Plague of Doves, received the 2012 National Book Award....more
I have almost completed the entire Sacks's oeuvre, with just Oaxaca Journal and Seeing Voices to go. Oliver Sacks has been one of those life alteringI have almost completed the entire Sacks's oeuvre, with just Oaxaca Journal and Seeing Voices to go. Oliver Sacks has been one of those life altering writers for me. He has changed the way I see the world. The great revelation with this volume for me was just how commonplace hallucinations are. There are myriad reasons why the brain might produce them: sensory deprivation, disease, drugs, etc.--many of them surprisingly benign. Fascinating and highly recommended.
An interesting history of anti-colonial intellectual life in the East during the greatest days of Imperialism. Mishra's new book is one much needed byAn interesting history of anti-colonial intellectual life in the East during the greatest days of Imperialism. Mishra's new book is one much needed by Western readers. It's a necessary corrective. It's loaded with information about intellectuals in the Muslim world, China and India most of whom I have never heard of before. Each of these men--Jamal al din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Rabindranath Tagore and others--possessed insights into the true nature of Western nations' motivations in Asia. They saw the dependence by Eastern states on the West and knew nothing good would come of it. They saw that their own states were weak and predisposed to this manipulation because of aspects in their own cultures, say, favoring authoritarianism or the blandishments of religion. Theirs were not democracies. The populace did not take a personal interest in government, which was opaque and insular. The Enlightenment had caused western states to swing away from despotism toward participative democracy. There was no such parallel movement in the East. There doesn't appear to have been much scrabbling about in dusty archives by Mishra. He does not appear to have a working knowledge of either Arabic or Chinese, and, it seems, has relied exclusively on English-language sources....more
Lionel Asbo is a bad thief. He spends long stretches in jail. He's in and he's out, a recidivist. Lionel's nephew, Desmond, is at fifteen years of ageLionel Asbo is a bad thief. He spends long stretches in jail. He's in and he's out, a recidivist. Lionel's nephew, Desmond, is at fifteen years of age seduced by his grandmother, Grace, thirty-nine. It is Des's guilt about this incestuous relationship, and his fear of what Uncle Li (lie not lee) might do if he finds out, that shapes Des's character in early adulthood, which is pretty much the span of the novel. Fortunately, Gran breaks off the affair with Des in order to seduce a fourteen year old! Right, a younger man. This fellow goes by the name of Rory Nightingale and Lionel does discover his affair with Gran. Of course, Des is both crushed and relieved to hear the news. Then Lionel wins a £140 million state lottery, providing much needed distraction for poor Des. But then Des and his new love, Dawn, have a marvelously described baby: Cilla. (Fantastic description of this baby and much else) which serves only to redouble his anxiety. Martin Amis writes with all the skill and assurance we're accustomed to from so many other fine books, but his style here is as compressed as I've ever seen it. (There are many beautifully compressed pages in Amis. Night Train, to cite just one example, springs most readily to mind.) Amis has always been a great admirer of Vladimir Nabokov, but I think this is the first time he's written a book that echoes that master's peculiarly arch, lean, and very compressed method so well. I speak here merely in terms of narrative compression, mind you, not style. Amis style is unique. As in the unjustly maligned Yellow Dog and to a more limited extent in London Fields, he has a field day with British dialect and slang. He's a master of it, of that there's no question. However, his penchant dialect and slang can really slow down the non-British reader. Agreed, not every book should go down like Simenon, but having to Google a reference every page two can be a drag. If we are to view the novel as dream, these unquestionably enriching quirks of Amis's, it can be argued, slow the dream down, inhibit it. It's too bad, especially in a book that is in every other respect so sprightly, so headlong and fun. I don't fault Amis. He can only write what he can write. However, my own favorite Amis novels have much less of such encryption: Money, The Information, House of Meetings and London Fields. Highly recommended....more
This is a very practical guide to living well. Please don't let the grounding in philosophy put you off. The Stoics were the most useful of philosopheThis is a very practical guide to living well. Please don't let the grounding in philosophy put you off. The Stoics were the most useful of philosophers. What Irvine has done is to distill the teachings of Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius and the others into concise guidelines that can be applied to everyday life. No abstractions heaped on abstractions here. This is lively prose intended to instill a number of basic mental concepts that can bring tranquility--the overarching Stoic ideal--to our lives. A final section showing why Stoicism fell from popular favor and why we should integrate it into our lives is particularly interesting. Read it as an Introduction to the aforementioned authors, or as a refresher....more
I've decided to rate and review these stories as I read them. So far I've only read two:
The first, "Ghosts, Cowboys," is excellent. Watkins's father wI've decided to rate and review these stories as I read them. So far I've only read two:
The first, "Ghosts, Cowboys," is excellent. Watkins's father was a member of the Charles Manson gang -- it is said he was one of Manson's top procurers of girls -- and he testified against Manson at the trial. Now here's his daughter writing a terrific story about the whole affair.
The second story, "The Last Thing We Need," is also exquisite. A Nevada farmer finds some detritus by the side of the road that connects in an odd way with a significant event earlier in his life. As he looks through the items -- photos of a '66 Chevelle, a packet of letters signed M, and two prescriptions for antidepressents-- he writes letters to the address on the Rx bottles to one Duane Moser and begins to piece his life back together. The writing is beautifully spare and moving.
I look forward to reading the remaining stories....more
Author Elaine Pagels includes here discussion of not only John of Patmos's Book of Revelations, so well-known from the New Testament, but also discussAuthor Elaine Pagels includes here discussion of not only John of Patmos's Book of Revelations, so well-known from the New Testament, but also discussion of the numerous revelation texts found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945. These are the so-called gnostic or apocryphal texts expunged by order of Egyptian bishop Athanasius in the 4th century C.E. Because of the range of her sources she's able to give us a picture of Christian revelatory thinking and mindsets through the ages.
For instance, the original "beast" or anti-Christ as conceived by John of Patmos was clearly Rome. John, a Jew, wrote in 90 C.E. This was just twenty years after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people. Once Constantine adopted the faith (312 C.E.) and ended the persecution of Christians, however, the beast was reinterpreted to mean all so-called heretics: Jews, ironically, pagans, essentially any nonconformist.
Pagels also discusses how due to the thematic broadness of much of what John wrote he created imagery that has over two millennia been capable of being projected onto any perceived threat of the moment. The list of examples is extensive, but includes Martin Luther's depiction of the pope as the beast, and the Church's depiction, in turn, of Martin Luther as such. We might also add Hitler as beast, Stalin as best, western sexual and moral laxness as beast, and let's not forget the current favorite: Obama as beast. Recommended.
Let me add that there's a wonderful book by Norman Cohn called Pursuit of the Millennium which I discuss elsewhere that looks at this penchant for flexible interpretation of anti-Christ during the 11th through 15th centuries or so, and how this capacity in turn engendered the most appalling mass hysteria and genocide in central and southern Europe. Cohn's is an astonishing book and I recommended it highly....more
Javier María’s Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 2 is good but it doesn’t match the brilliance of Volume 1. Volume 1 might be a masterpiece. Our narrator JaiJavier María’s Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 2 is good but it doesn’t match the brilliance of Volume 1. Volume 1 might be a masterpiece. Our narrator Jaime Dezas, a Spanish expat who lives in London, does intelligence work, probably for the state but who really knows? We start with him talking (or thinking) about how terrible it is to be obligated to others. He starts with the example of a hypothetical beggar. Better not to give the beggar anything, he says, since once you do you’re tied to that person and his fate forever.
Coming right off the bat as it does, this statement strikes one as overly dramatic, if not lugubrious. But then we must remember back to Volume 1 that Jamie Dezas is suffering. His wife, Luisa, prior to the start of that volume, kindly asked Dezas to clear out of the Madrid house so that he wouldn't cramp her style as she road tests other men. Dezas obliges by moving to London. He goes too far, but that's because he's in such pain....
We have been raised, especially in the US, to believe in this old chestnut of rugged individualism. Think Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. From a distance all blades of grass seem the same, but on closer inspection we discover that each is entirely individuated, singular. Well, you can throw that mindset out the window with the intelligence unit for which Jaime Dezas works. They believe the world is reducible to types. It is a view that bases itself flagrantly on surfaces and does not bother to plumb the depths of people. Dezas sees the "whole group as devoted to fictions." He is alone in this view.
I took about six weeks off between Volumes 1 and 2 to read other things. Please don’t do that. It’s best to read all three volumes straight through. Your Face Tomorrow provides the kind of dense reading experience that I’ve only experienced with Faulkner, though Marías's prose is without the intense rhythmic drive of that southern US writer. María’s writerly gifts, if we can call them that, for he overuses them so much that they become mannerisms, are for digression and delay. He will go on and on delaying getting to the point, digressing digressing digressing ad infinitum or so it seems.
The entire book essentially consists of one night at a London disco where something untoward happens. Jaime and his boss, Bertrand Tupra, in his alias as Mr. Reresby, are hosting an Italian mafioso type and his wife. Dezas is asked to dance by the bored wife and they go onto the dance floor where he is accosted by an idiot countryman, one De la Garza, who is crude and libidinous though high ranking at the Spanish embassy. There is this interval on the dance floor when Tupra calls Jaime back to the table to translate something. What Jaime does next makes no sense but the action of the novel depends on it. Despite knowing the idiocy of this Spaniard he puts the mafioso’s wife in the man’s hands. Go figure? Isn’t he asking for trouble? He is. Is it purposeful? Good question. See Volume 3.
The pace at which the story moves here is reminiscent of late Henry James. This is not a compliment. Please, the reader exclaims (mentally) from time to time, do move this plot along. Most of the story plays out in the handicapped stall of the disco’s men’s room. A scene whose digressions goes on and on to mind-numbing length. I wondered if Marías here wasn’t gleefully dragging everything out to such positively excruciating lengths. I have this image of him sitting before the keyboard giggling and rubbing his hands together. So fed up did I become with the digressions that I began to skip them in order to get to the next plot point. This is something I never do. I am a disciplined reader, but it was either skip the weary digression or throw the book against the wall. I had no desire to skip the digressions in Volume 1. In Volume 1 the digressions were always interesting. They held you. Not so here.
In this second volume the reader is, as Martin Amis once said, stretched like a guitar string and made to twang. Yet one foolishly reads on. And nothing really happens! Everything that is threatened to happen is averted. The story is less important than the mental states of our very articulate narrator. He sees a lot. He sees it from all perspectives. His mind is a whirring circular saw tearing through great meaty chucks of -- perception. He builds up and deconstructs.
My final comment is about Marías's humorlessness. He could use some humor to lighten his prose. But he seems incapable of it. It might be that he sees humor in any form as working against the deep gravitas he seeks to project. This is one way he achieves his distinctive voice. For one thing I will say about him, he doesn't sound like anyone else I've ever read. Moreover, Marías has a downright Proustian gift for parenthesis.
In case you were wondering, I will try to read Volume 3. Let us hope it’s not as problematic as Volume 2.