I came to this book by way of translator Merwin's many other marvelous translations. He also translated The Song of Roland, another tale of battle durI came to this book by way of translator Merwin's many other marvelous translations. He also translated The Song of Roland, another tale of battle during the Age of Chivalry. So far in my reading I have yet to hit the great wall of grief and lugubriousness. Right now The Cid is too successful. He is not necessarily a candidate for hubris because he is too well aware of his astonishing good luck, and too grateful for it. But there's trouble ahead....more
Non-stop, rebarbative descriptions of the sex act in a graveyard. An awful slog. For me, Roth is one of those hot or cold authors. This one left me stNon-stop, rebarbative descriptions of the sex act in a graveyard. An awful slog. For me, Roth is one of those hot or cold authors. This one left me stone cold. Hey, if you're looking for masturbatory fodder, this is your novel. I happen not to be. As an alternative I would recommended any of the following: American Pastoral, The Counterlife, The Ghost Writer, or The Human Stain. Certainly the first two here are masterpieces....more
I never was much of a genre reader but at some time in my middle years I was assailed by a love of dystopias. There's nothing like a vivid tale of theI never was much of a genre reader but at some time in my middle years I was assailed by a love of dystopias. There's nothing like a vivid tale of the world ending to truly set me at my ease. It did not occur to me until I read Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millennium why dystopic narratives were so satisfying on an almost physiological level. I realized it was a hardwired need, evolved by centuries of my whack-job millenarian forebears, for apocalyptic solace. These eschatological needs are still within me and going strong. They include a desire for angels as messengers of the apocalypse, an irrational longing for the rewards of paradise, and an overwhelming desire to witness those less pure of heart than myself receive their fiery comeuppance.
Fortunately, unlike my forebears, I have not had to run riot over the Bavarian countryside acting out my delusions by stringing up debauched clerics and those belonging to the so-called hostile faiths, but have been able to sublimate the evolutionary inanities through art. I am happy to report that The Children of Men does at times rise to that exalted level.
Here is a world in which men have gone sterile. You just can't find fertile semen anymore. Some women, denied their customary reproductive roles, have gone bonkers. They end up baptizing cats and dolls and such. (Other women, one imagines, are dancing a jig so tickled are they to never again have to risk another perineum tear.) One thing I liked was the image of the world preparing to go on without mankind. For in the vacuum left by the end of human fertility all the other flora and fauna seem to redouble their efforts.
Our hero is Theodore Faron. A sardonic at times bitter retired professor of history at Oxford--there are no more children to teach--who ran his daughter over in a tragic accident many years ago. His wife never forgave him, then she started banging this rugby player half her age. Theo happens to be cousin to the Warden of England, Xan Lyppiatt, a childhood friend, who is running a thuggish police state. During the first half of the story the state is in the process of redistributing its thinning population to central locations for purposes of making delivery of services easier. At least that's the excuse. The first half is all clandestine meetings of the dissidents and background into Theo's boyhood relationship to Xan.
Then it turns into a road story not without parallels, though fleeting, to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Though, it should be emphasized, this is not a post-apocalyptic world going-out-with-a-bang novel, like The Road, but rather a civilization fizzling-out-with-a-whimper story. Nevertheless there is sufficient violence and craziness and survivalist mentalities employed to keep everyone happy. There is an intimation of the second coming, personal betrayal of the basest sort, and headlong hysterical flight. There is an elegant density of diction that is consistent throughout, and I found that the descriptive sections, especially in the action-packed second half of the book, touch on the beautiful. Highly recommended for thriller lovers. Mandatory for lovers of dystopic fictions....more
Reading the essays here in random order. The ends of the earth are many and a few are described here.
"The Tree on One Tree Hill" provides interestingReading the essays here in random order. The ends of the earth are many and a few are described here.
"The Tree on One Tree Hill" provides interesting insights into the cultural imperialism implicit in the Linnaean system of species categorization. Turns out, Merwin says, that this was a way of acquiring the world, stashing it away for later delectation. Naming itself being "...an act of appropriation, an annexation." I'll have to think about this a little more.
"Snail Song" is in part about the dismal environmental legacy of the Britain and America in Hawaii. Very few, laughably few, indigenous species survive. The unique snail species of the area is on the verge of extinction. Many birds, trees, particularly the unique sandalwood forest, are gone forever. Imagine what the islands must have looked like before the West changed it inexorably.
"Name in the Sand" is the story of Jean François de la Pérouse and his doomed exploratory circumnavigation of the globe in 1785. The mission was underwritten by Louis XVI, guillotined in 1789. La Pérouse was able to send some of the expedition's findings back to Paris by other ships before his own vessels were lost, so there's much we know about the "achievements" of the expedition, as well as the terrible suffering of the crew toward the end. There are many plot twists: cannibalistic natives, the crew's lusty sex with willing native women, machinations at the French court, etc. But then La Pérouse's two ships —the Astrolabe and the Boussole — vanish. And it's more than two years before officials in Paris declare the expedition lost. Then Merwin gives us the elaborate story of what happened. I like the way so many historical threads run together here: both the American and French Revolutions, imperialist expansion, British penal transportation to Australia, etc. Merwin's narrative skills are a delight....more