Fabulous fun. What I didn’t expect is that both the end-of-time aesthete and the Victorian lady are charming me to death and yes, I am getting into th...moreFabulous fun. What I didn’t expect is that both the end-of-time aesthete and the Victorian lady are charming me to death and yes, I am getting into their romance. I preferred her in his world, though. The back half was him as an innocent abroad in 1890s England, but with more Dickens than fin de siècle. Whereas at the last thousand years of the universe, the parties reminded me of a 200-page party in the single volume I have read yet of Proust (Sodom and Gomorrah): since it’s Moorcock I can believe, deliberately. (less)
I put these Logue Homers on my 'epics' shelf which is *not for modern works* -- to express my sense they are the genuine article. Achilles in his scie...moreI put these Logue Homers on my 'epics' shelf which is *not for modern works* -- to express my sense they are the genuine article. Achilles in his science-fiction armour creates for us the experience Homer's audience might have had. What I adore about Logue's Homer is his inventive fidelity to Homer's artistic techniques. Not that I know Greek (I tried once. I got through the grammar) -- neither did Christopher Logue. I'm a fan of Pope's Iliad and Chapman's, which I haven't finished although I agree it's unbeaten in English. I found these Logues in George Steiner's great collection of translations, renditions and riffs, Homer in English. George Steiner, whom I rather worship, says, "Christopher Logue's fragments out of the Iliad are an act of genius," and describes them as "Logue's transmutations of the Iliad into 'now'..."
Still, years later I dock a star. For the first installment, War Music in the '88 Faber of 84 pages that only has 'Patrocleia/GBH/Pax': death of Patroclus and afterwards.
It is the most tremendous combat description. Fans of combat writing ought to try this, whether or not they think they like poetry.
It has the punchy shortness of modernity:
“Run to the Fleet. Give Wondersulk our news. His love is dead. His armour gone. Prince Hector has the corpse. And as an afterthought, that we are lost.”
It has (best! best! to me now) a faith in the ancient art and is unafraid to follow Homer. Not only in the epic similes but the epic second person. I don’t know enough about epic second person: I just googled it and found this on a blog:
“The narrative shift from third-person omniscient to the second-person address to Patroclus is inherent in the original Greek text. You see these inexplicable shifts all the time in Homer; some translators just gloss over them and smooth the narrative into a single point of view, but so doing causes the text to lose some of its power: how effective is it, after all, that the poet directly addresses Patroclus as the warrior faces his death? The pathos is pumping at that moment, and I think we have that narrative shift to thank.” http://humanitiesteacherman.wordpress...
To which I say, amen. Logue is not a glosser-over, on the grounds that such things are strange in English. If I tell you once, in the heat of the moment, the poet calls Patroclus ‘darling’, that, out of context, might sound strange. But it’s Homer, and gives a vitality, a sense of being present. Need the poet hide his involvement in his story? his suspense at the plot and his emotions?
But that brings me to my but. Does it have a heart? In spite of this tender habit of talking to Achilles and to Hector, neither of them – in this first installment – was likeable, and I like to like my Achilles and my Hector. Nobody in the poem seems to like each other, either, and I’m afraid I didn’t feel Achilles’ grief. It’s easy to despise Ajax, but isn’t he celebrated in Homer, even if he is ‘as thick as the wall’? I am kept at a distance, and that has not been my experience of Homer. Of course, this may be a Logue experience instead – he has every right to part ways with Homer where he lists. Let’s see in the next sections, which I never read. (less)
Guy’s a serious gender-abolitionist. I honestly didn’t find this outdated. It is a bit of a screed, though. There was an elegant running cross-comment...moreGuy’s a serious gender-abolitionist. I honestly didn’t find this outdated. It is a bit of a screed, though. There was an elegant running cross-commentary between the future one-gender humans and daily life at time of writing in Begonia Drive. Crazily, as the book progressed I became more interested in Begonia Drive.(less)
The ‘great man theory’ of history is out of fashion, and I don’t know how often historical fiction, either, sets out to portray greatness – whatever t...moreThe ‘great man theory’ of history is out of fashion, and I don’t know how often historical fiction, either, sets out to portray greatness – whatever that is – in the political sphere. In this book I found myself convinced I was in the presence of greatness, a person I want to call great, and to add to that uncommon experience, she’s a woman.
If any of that sounds easy, I don’t think it is. At a point in this book it dawned upon me that in historical fiction, I haven’t met a great woman before – at least in the world of political leadership and statecraft. That may be down to the hf I read, or not. I avoid hf with titles like Empress, Princess, Queen, Consort or Concubine, because I can’t live in the women’s quarters for fun: therefore I don’t know what’s inside those novels, but I do know that this novel – which I nearly didn’t read on title – bulldozed those prejudices of mine, in seconds flat. In here I found quite an awesome human being. And I thought, it isn’t only that the historical subjects are rare (great stateswomen), but in order to create them on the page, you must have to rigorously do your thinking behind your writing. I sensed a rigour of thought behind the presentation of this woman.
From early on Heavenlight (Wu Zetian) gives the impression that her abilities swamp those around her, and moreover, she has a confidence in this. When, later in life, she finds herself more effective in worldly affairs than her emperor husband, she steps up to the job without… cognitive dissonance. She’s never been a hanger-on of others (who happen to be men). This mentality must have been necessary for a woman who makes herself Emperor of China.
As I understand, Wu Zetian was hopelessly traduced and trashed in the historical sources, so that we can’t expect to recover the ‘truth’ about her. What Shan Sa has chosen to do is salvage her with possible interpretations – possible, and positive. The resultant portrait may or may not resemble the historical person, but again I’ll say, is possible, and even just for that is a useful exercise. For myself, in future, I’m going to have a hard time picturing Wu Zetian any other way than the Heavenlight of this novel.
On style. This is told in intense first person; it’s about her and from her; her feelings for others are conveyed, but not so much the others’ existence in themselves. No doubt our subjectivities are as self-centred as this – it isn’t that she struck me as a selfish person. There is a brevity (one large life in 300 pages): in the middle parts I felt this a skimming-over, but in the late parts this brevity worked as an extraction of the essential or the right lines (the author’s a painter). Maybe that was me, getting used to the style. It had enough exclamation marks to play toy soldiers with... I don’t like to complain of such trivialities in translations from the French, but they got hard to ignore. At times I was plunged into the emotional life of this novel; at other times it failed to engage me. Again, I don’t whether that’s me, and I’ll see what happens next time I read this.
I mentioned that I can’t stand to live in the women’s quarters: here the Inner Palace is a prison and an insane asylum, and that meant I was fine. These women are overwrought, but they are seen to be made insane. It’s fair enough.
I’d note the parallels of youth and age in her sex life. As a young girl she suffers an obsession for one of the emperor’s older wives; when she herself is fifty she is once again infatuated with a fourteen-year-old girl. For years she serves as emperor’s wife; in her widowhood she acquires a young man, and he is kept, for her uses, in such a turned-upside-down way, equivalent to how the emperor treated his concubines… that I think Shan Sa is interested in exploring these matters.
I’m a fan of the use of translated names. Zetian is Heavenlight, and so we notice the light themes that coalesce about her. Children of hers are named Splendor, Future, Miracle. Lucky they are, because she can have little to do with her children, and these names were far more memorable for me than, in my ignorance, the Chinese. It exploits the ironies: Wisdom? uh-uh. Intelligence? a distinct lack of. It adds to the atmosphere and the intelligibility of the world, it tells us about their values. The city Chang’an is Long Peace. Our experience is more real when we know what the names mean, as, obviously, the novel’s inhabitants know. (less)
The History of Genghizcan the Great, First Emperor of the Antient Moguls and Tartars by François Pétis (1622-95), an interpreter of Arabic and Turkish...moreThe History of Genghizcan the Great, First Emperor of the Antient Moguls and Tartars by François Pétis (1622-95), an interpreter of Arabic and Turkish at the French court. Published by his son François Pétis de la Croix in 1710. Translated into English by Penelope Aubin and published in London 1722.
Short novel, read again in an afternoon. Enlists sympathy for its assassin Raven, with his background of a hanged father, a mother who cut her throat...moreShort novel, read again in an afternoon. Enlists sympathy for its assassin Raven, with his background of a hanged father, a mother who cut her throat on the kitchen table and a 'home'. Anne befriends him and he trusts for the first time in his life. A social-conscience tearjerker in the guise of a thriller.
I seemed to be keenest on those he subtitled 'An Entertainment'. The inside of this one explains, "in order to distinguish it from more serious work."...moreI seemed to be keenest on those he subtitled 'An Entertainment'. The inside of this one explains, "in order to distinguish it from more serious work." Hey. I thought his entertainments were great. (less)
This, I swear, was heavily influenced by Dostoyevsky -- no bad thing in my book, although I spent the novel distracted by Dostoyevsky-spotting. Also m...moreThis, I swear, was heavily influenced by Dostoyevsky -- no bad thing in my book, although I spent the novel distracted by Dostoyevsky-spotting. Also my first Iris Murdoch. Not one of her majors I imagine. (less)
Not a perfect book but a creative one, and my style of fantasy -- New Weird if it's called that, or in my private universe I'll call it cultured-from-...moreNot a perfect book but a creative one, and my style of fantasy -- New Weird if it's called that, or in my private universe I'll call it cultured-from-M. John Harrison. With nods to great decadents of the past... I think... (less)