I really, really enjoyed this read, though I set out not expecting to like it much (I have always struggled with contemporary North American literaturI really, really enjoyed this read, though I set out not expecting to like it much (I have always struggled with contemporary North American literature - long story.
In some ways it reminded me of early David Mitchell - especially Ghostwritten - but it was certainly its own beast. Warmly recommended....more
1) A couple of years ago Tom McCarthy’s novel C was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McCarthy was rather good at sound-bites. He declared the nov1) A couple of years ago Tom McCarthy’s novel C was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McCarthy was rather good at sound-bites. He declared the novel ‘the Finnegans Wake for the 21st Century’ or even a nouveau roman. This was utter nonsense, of course. I enjoyed the novel a great deal but at its core it was a rather conventional Bildungsroman cleverly disguised as an experimental anti-novel.
2) Narratologists are endlessly fascinated by ‘plot’ – one of the most famous books on the topic is even called Reading for the Plot. Whilst I did read Peter Brooks (who wrote the aforementioned tome) and Mikhail Bakhtin at university, I was never a great fan of narratology. I preferred poetry to prose and if I read fiction, I sought out works that somehow clashed with Brooks’ ideas of ‘narrative ends’ and ‘sequence and progression’.
I just finished reading Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child. It is difficult to call it conventional and as I was reading it, I could not help but think of McCarthy and Brooks.
Hawthorn and Child is a detective novel – that most conventional genre of fiction and one which narratologists love because the genre’s raison d’être is precisely narrative logic and satisfying progression of plot. Yet Ridgway’s novel is also not a detective novel. The recurring characters of Hawthorn and Child are police detectives and we follow them in their job, but we only catch glimpses of plot. A boy was shot. Who shot him? We are never told. The boy says a car shot him. There is a man, Mishazzo, with whom the police appears obsessed. What does he do? We do not know as we only glimpse him driving from one place to another.
And that is what you get with this book. You get stories of the detours, the gaps, the liminal spaces within conventional plot structures. Does that make it sound hard-going? It is not. You leap from one character to another – in a way, Hawthorn & Child can be understood as a short story collection too – and every section/story is exceedingly well-written with very distinct stylistic choices.
For me, the whole book came into its own with the segment “How To Have Fun With A Fat Man” which is so cleverly constructed and written that I read it several times just to savour what Ridgway did. Here he juxtaposes Hawthorn policing a riot with Hawthorn attending an orgy in a sauna. Bodies mingle, mix and become blurred – and so Ridgway’s prose mingles, mixes and becomes blurred. Paragraphs become bilocated in the narrative. It is a dream-like, yet visceral read.
Hawthorn & Child is an extraordinary read. I cannot remember the last time I have been this excited about a book and I don’t think my words do it justice. Word of mouth has been very strong – in fact I first read about it on John Self’s book blog – and I think that is how the book will find its audience. I hope the audience will be a large one. It deserves to be read (and read and read)....more
I do like Andrew Crumey - "Moebius Dick" was a hugely satisfying read, "Sputnik Caledonia" was great, and "Pfitz" was a really good read. Then I try "I do like Andrew Crumey - "Moebius Dick" was a hugely satisfying read, "Sputnik Caledonia" was great, and "Pfitz" was a really good read. Then I try "Mr Mee" and I stumble into a road block. It's not that I didn't like this book because some great books are intensely unlikable. It is not because I struggled with the book because difficult reads are often rewarding. "Mr Mee" just wasn't very good....more
For years I used to live inside my head. I think it is an occupational hazard if you are within academia: you get used to silently arguing with yourseFor years I used to live inside my head. I think it is an occupational hazard if you are within academia: you get used to silently arguing with yourself; to constantly question and explore your own thoughts. My head was (and is) the biggest place I have ever lived. I do not think of myself as an author, but I do think of myself as a writer. My words and thoughts are the most tangible things I possess. Words matter.
A brief synopsis: Room is the story of a young girl who is kidnapped by a loner and kept in a tiny room in his back-garden. She gives birth to a boy and raises him within the small room where they are at the mercy of the loner. The story echoes recent real-life crime cases - Josef Fritzl and his daughter, Natascha Kampusch, and Jaycee Lee Dugard - but is a work of fiction detailing life within confinement and subsequent events. Room has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and has won many major literary awards.
The subject matter is not the problem. Although it would be easy to step into "misery literature" territory, Room sidesteps this neatly by leaving out most of the actual abuse. Indeed, Donoghue is not preoccupied by the grisly details (which may disappoint some readers, I am sure) but instead she wants to explore how human beings respond to extraordinary situations and to each other. She employs the five-year-old boy, Jack, as the narrator of the story - undoubtedly to defamiliarise to an already unreal scenario.
And Jack as the narrator is the problem with Room.
I can understand the lure of using Jack as the narrator as it avoids a lot of sticky situations for Donoghue as a writer (as discussed above) but Jack the five-year-old narrator is wildly inconsistent. He uses abstract concepts like "sarcasm" in context and says "hippopotami" with correct declension - but Donoghue also has him saying "I finded him" and "I knowed." So, the five year old kid can wield correct Greek grammar, but not use standard English strong verbs?
Russian literary critics used to differ between fabula and syuzhet: fabula is what happens; syuzhet is how it is told. Emma Donoghue has a firm grasp on the fabula part of her story, but Jack-as-narrator is a structural (syuzhet) problem that messes up Room in a very big way. It is not just that his language usage is woefully all-over-the-place but the pacing is off, any characterisation is by necessity very flat, and the internal logic has extremely big flaws.
I was thoroughly entertained in the same way that Byron's Don Juan entertained me years ago. Interesting use of narrative levels, wonderfully sardonicI was thoroughly entertained in the same way that Byron's Don Juan entertained me years ago. Interesting use of narrative levels, wonderfully sardonic humour, melodrama (with an exclamation mark) and unapologetic mischief. The novel does not quite hang together but its bumpy structure only adds to its charm. I'm very glad I picked it up on a whim. ...more