The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Sunday Salon: Super duper tired

Posted on: December 9, 2007

3:29 PM: Hello, hello. I’ve started on Sunday Salon much later than usual on account of the bad exam papers I had to mark last night. I could not even entertain the idea of doing the relatively thorough reading diaries you are used to getting, so things will be mellower (more mellow?) today. I’ve finished Trading in Memories (couldn’t wait for you, sorry) but I may mention a few highlights. I really had a swell time with it. Unfortunately, I haven’t had such a good time with a novel for over a month now. The ones I’m on now aren’t bad, mind you, there’s just no unalloyed joy, so I’m tempted to pick up a safe bet next, like the latest Murakami novel.

Today I’m reading on the informal materialist brain model and how that can help form a proper foundation for neuroethics; about a young black woman’s life in Jamaica at the turn of the 20th century; and I’m on this weird book’s third page. Don’t worry, you’re only going to hear about the last two. 😉

As you can see I’ve had a string of books or short fiction excerpts with some relation to the Spanish-speaking world. All except the Bolaño included some magic realism elements which I’m now becoming rather weary of. I never thought I’d long for the social realistic Spanish fiction I did for A-levels — or really anything that didn’t involve people turning into salamanders, disappearing or hiding under tortoise shells. This is unfair to Desire and Its Shadow by Ana Clavel, so I will try to be fair minded, especially since it’s a LibraryThing Early Reviewer copy. I’d put it aside except that I feel obligated to review it as soon as possible. (It’s about a month now since I got it, no rush.)

I am not at all sure about the translation. Only three pages, mind, but it reads a bit too literally. I can see what it would be saying in Spanish but as an English translation the meaning becomes…fuzzy. For example:

Then she thought about Lucía and her words when she’d invited Soledad to follow her into the vase: It’s a matter of your most secret desires. Come on, we’ll go together.” And as Soledad had a long history of desire, longing shone before her.

“Shone before her”? Hmmmm.

The other novel is Banana Bottom by Claude McKay, a Jamaican writer more popularly associated with the Harlem Renaissance. I am intrigued enough by Tabitha Plant aka Bita, the main character, who lives in a rural farming village in the Jamaican hills. After a horrible incident, the local white missionaries adopt her when she’s 12 (or thereabouts) and eventually send her to England to get a refined education, as part of their project in elevating the “natives”. Most of the novel deals with Bita’s readjustment to home life with her instinctive preference for the “peasants” lifestyle (a class she’s no longer a part of) against the love and obligation she feels for the Craigs (missionaries). And despite her love of home she is still restless and eager for knowledge.

Bita is something of a Fanny Price except worse, I’m sorry to say (and I liked Fanny), because she doesn’t even resist the Craigs’ arranged marriage plans for her. She’s something of a contradiction because, unlike most Austen readers’ popular take on the wimpy Fanny, Bita is shown, through occasional rebellious moments and her internal monologues, to have a somewhat charismatic, endearing personality. Because of it I persuaded myself that her meekness was simply the calm before the storm. But McKay intruded and in a most perplexing plot twist, removed the obstacle from her path with the help of a goat.

Just the oddest thing. I’ll let you know more as the day goes on. I still want to do that big Roger Mais piece but I feel as if I should read more Jamaican novels in order to get a better sense of what came before and around the same time. (I really need to find a woman novelist.) McKay’s novel is very, very different from Mais’ and Andrew Salkey’s in how he writes about the rural areas and the people, much of it due to McKay’s obvious Marxist leanings, which don’t gel very well with his subjects, IMO. But later, later.


2 Responses to "Sunday Salon: Super duper tired"

You have piqued my interest in the Mckay novel – do post more.

I agree with your comments on that translation. How frustrating.

I shall, barring any frustrating mental blocks. As for the translated novel it gets even more frustration as there are periods when Jay Miskowiec improves and then inexplicably devolves back into ham fisted phrasing. I’ll see how it goes.

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