I fell in love with this story long before I started reading it. As a history/lit major, Shakespeare fanatic and amateur genealogist, any blurb with t...moreI fell in love with this story long before I started reading it. As a history/lit major, Shakespeare fanatic and amateur genealogist, any blurb with the words ‘Tempest,’ ‘blood-lines,’ ‘fairytale’ and ‘colonial scars’ is enough to win me over. As predicted, it turned out to be a very engaging read.
Indigo is set in two distinct places in two very different periods of time. The primary narrative tells the story of Miranda: a tiny twig on a complex family tree of once-glorious, red-headed, cricket bat wielding colonists who settled the imaginary Caribbean Island Enfant-Béate in the Seventeenth Century. The past haunts the grey London streets of Miranda’s childhood; it is ever-present in the stories of her black nurse Serafine, the bickering between her poor, proud parents, and the aura of light surrounding her golden-white sister/aunt Xanthe. Warner then plunges us 350 years into the past, taking us back to the island and weaving a rich historical-mythical tale of its native peoples and their displacement. The novel finally returns to Twentieth Century Paris, where we witness the adult Miranda struggling to make peace with her family’s turbulent past.
This book has a lot of strong points. Importantly, Warner succeeds in tackling serious questions about colonialism whilst keeping her book upbeat, fascinating and completely readable. Her weaving of history and myth is rendered faultlessly and is almost Carter-esque in its delivery. The tone and style of her writing really appealed to me. She is especially good at evoking a sense of place; I was particularly moved by the image of the Chinese restaurants in London (“syrupy mangoes and sticky vermilion pork pieces, as well as ivory pagodas and lacy balls carved within lacy balls, and lychees of mother-of-pearl veined flesh so delicate it would defeat even their nimble carvers’ skills at counterfeiting”...wow) and the almost painfully beautiful description of the luscious tropical island. My only teeny-tiny gripe is that the third section lacked some of the force of the first two – I’d been glued to the page for 200 pages and then felt my attention waning slightly. Minor issues aside, this is a wonderful, generous, entertaining, intelligent book and wholly deserves to be better known. (less)
American Psycho is a four hundred page downward spiral into the sordid mind of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street stockbroker, womaniser and fashionista b...moreAmerican Psycho is a four hundred page downward spiral into the sordid mind of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street stockbroker, womaniser and fashionista by day who rapes, tortures and kills (and does creative things with cheese) by night. It’s a book designed to elicit extreme responses and succeeds in doing so: you really have to love it or hate it; no fence-sitting for this one. Unfortunately I fall within the latter category, but (I hope) not for the standard reasons cited.
I’m not going to complain that 80% of the book is tedious descriptions of clothes, hairstyles, technology and 80s bands. It’s a literary technique, and it works to draw the reader’s attention to the action of the novel. Fair enough. I’m also not going to say that it’s misogynistic, which would be a superficial reading totally ignoring the fact that the whole book is so blatantly ironic. So what’s the problem? Well...the sex scenes. Using rape and violence to critique society’s objectification of women’s bodies/the porn industry is one thing. But I found it really hard to read these scenes and believe that this was Ellis’s sole intention. They were incredibly disturbing without being remotely clever, and gave the impression of being thrown in for sensationalism/shameless publicity-seeking. I.e. thinly-veiled death-porn which added nothing to the plot. I can’t help but feel there would be more subtle and powerful methods of getting the message across.
On that note, I found the whole thing way too...obvious...for my liking. Ellis takes all the clever things that postmodernists do, spells them out in black and white and shoves them down your throat. “Consumer society is evil so I am going to make my characters total assholes who wear nice clothes and talk about themselves all the time.” “Capitalism marginalises people and this is bad so I am going to make my protagonist kill lots of women, blacks and homeless people.” “Postmodernism causes the erasure of identity so I’ll make it that nobody can ever remember Bateman’s name...get it?” It begs the question whether this is postmodern literature at all or just a cringe-worthy attempt to emulate it while appealing to the masses. Probably (b). I’m trying to be a little more open-minded with my reading but this is just such a mediocre attempt to be high brow that I find it really irritating.
Not that I’m saying that I am entirely above this brand of popular sensationalism. I’ll admit that I could hardly put it down and read the sex scenes with the kind of sick fascination that was intended. There were also a couple of very funny moments that had me (almost) laughing out loud: “You know how Luis is about the Japanese...[he] refused to play Trivial Pursuit at Tad and Maura’s last Sunday because they have an Akita.” And Evelyn’s encounter with the urinal cake (toilet humour still gets me). For these scant redeeming factors I’m willing to begrudgingly cough up two stars. (less)
Blood and Guts opens with ten-year-old Janey Smith barricading her front door because she suspects her father (“boyfriend, brother, sister, money, amu...moreBlood and Guts opens with ten-year-old Janey Smith barricading her front door because she suspects her father (“boyfriend, brother, sister, money, amusement and father”) of sleeping with another woman. Once this nasty little incest narrative is established, we are flung into a mish-mash of words, languages, genres and styles which leaves the reader totally confounded and with no idea what is supposed to be going on. A thin plotline can be extricated from this mess: Janey leaves her home in Mexico and moves to New York City, she joins a gang, works in a “cooky” shop, is kidnapped and sold to a Persian slave trader who teaches her to become a prostitute, and finally runs away to Tangier to live in an abusive relationship with Jean Genet. Besides this, we get lots of rude drawings, snippets of poems, some massive plagiarism of The Scarlet Letter, a bit of Persian text, some intricate mind maps, and so on.
Needless to say, on first reading this book I just sat there shaking my head. It is totally nonsensical and at some points, I thought, ridiculous (e.g. Janey’s prison poetry: “Shit smears on my hands I stink I googoo I stink real good I stink when I smear shit across my face.”) By now I have done enough background reading to understand (sort of) what Acker was trying to do. The redundancy of words in expressing Janey’s feelings is meant to reflect the fact that all forms of communication (including language) are patriarchal and thus insufficient...I think. And apparently it is meant to be so crazy and impenetrable so that it can’t be recycled into popular culture (the fate of literature in postmodern society).
All well and good, but the fact remains that the book isn’t accessible by the average reader. Even if this is the whole point, it prevents it from being enjoyable. I can appreciate this book without being able to say I “liked” it. Still, it was about a million times better than Burroughs. I found myself sympathising with and even liking Janey (despite everything), laughing at the thrashing dealt to Erica Jong and learning a bit of Persian. Plus, who doesn’t love a good picture book (even if it’s not exactly read-on-public-transport material)? A well earned two stars. (less)