Posted January 17, 2008on:
It is too bad someone out there isn’t willing to pay me to simply read and analyse literature…School work, friends and books have absorbed my time and left little space for my blog. I thought I would give you an update and sound out on what’s on the horizon.
Six books already for 2008 and although one was a complete waste of time to the point where I was offended that someone thought it deserved to be published, the rest were more rewarding. I’m not sure what’s happened but I find myself very reluctant these days to pick up any fiction that does not defiantly declare its difference, its need to exist, its importance, not in any political or necessarily moral sense, but through its quality of power and excellence founded in…what? Essentially, what pulls me into most books is a strong “voice”. I don’t mean realistic, life-like characters, although that’s nice too, but an individual writer’s distinctive way of cohesively constructing and conveying her vision. Influences may be detected (although I have read too many interviews in which authors admit that critics and readers detect influences of writers they had not read at the time) and precedence found in centuries old works but none of that overwhelms the writer’s intangible….DNA? spirit? vitality?
I sensed very, very little of that in After Dark which was why it was such a disappointment. It read like Murakami was writing in neutral. He’s been at it for so long and he truly does have some talent so flashes of that appear but only flashes. That was what I found missing in Melusiné by Sarah Monette. Did I tell you that she linked to my grumpy Christmas commentary on it? (Boy, did I cringe when I saw the link in my referrals.) Some individuals in comments felt I had missed the point without mentioning what it was (which they were under no obligation to do), that I needed to look deeper (for what? again no answers), and one shuddered at how I could be so unfeeling towards a character who had been physically and psychologically abused to the point of insanity (or something close to it).
Well, the weak character depictions — with the exception of a smart alecky thief who suffered from being so typical — were another problem all together. As I said, I’m a cruel reader who will not react to an imaginary situation as automatically as I would to a real one and get very annoyed at writers who trade in on shocking situations for impact without working for it. (I don’t think that Monette intended to do this, incidentally, she’s simply not a great writer.) My main contention, at the end of the book, was that there was nothing remotely distinctive about it. Any high school graduate with a decent imagination who had read a fair number of fantasy novels could have churned out the same ol’ wizard and thief and guilds tale, complete with some cheesy D&D dialogue.
I finished Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys in three days. I intentionally avoided that book for a long time. I first heard about it in high school and dismissed it out-of-hand, even then rather scornful of writers who wrote sequels, prequels, and other variations on classics. In 6th form I learnt that it was considered a classic, which made me pause and become more defensive about my avoidance. Look, I love Jane Eyre, it’s the best book evah, and I’m not going to read anything that besmirches my beloved Jane and Rochester, so phooey! Later, I scaled down to mild indifference. There was nothing and no one pointing my attention to Rhys so I didn’t have to think about it.
Then I started my quest about learning more about my national and regional literature. I was more assured now and felt neither one way nor the other about it. I’ll read it and see what I will see.
I turned the last page, my centre of mass shifted, something that always happens when a work has more than justified its existence — in one sense, it justified and confirmed mine as well. That should have been an euphoric feeling but I was also sorrowful. The best thing happened — I’d read another great, great work that confirms why I read fiction, specifically novels. And the worst thing happened — my perspective on Jane Eyre had changed forever. Each book by a different author inhabits its own world of course. It’s only that I’ll never be able to read about Brontë’s poor, monstrous Bertha Mason without wondering what, to Brontë’s mind, brought her there to that Thornfield attic. Rhys showed one possibility and it moved me, almost unbearably.
I hope I’ll be able to post more thoughts on it. At the moment I’m trying to squeeze out my last thoughts on that damn Clavel novel so that I can get rid of it.
I’ve started Steps: Selected Fiction and Drama by Gabriel Josipovici. It only has two novels, which frame the collection, the first being The Inventory, his first published one. It’s too early to say anything much except that it’s frickin’ hilarious. Sometimes I wonder if I have a strange sense of humour when critics provide such rich, intellectually hefty detail on a book, and all I can think when I start to read it myself is, Why didn’t anyone tell me it was so funny? Tease. I’ll be sure to mention my experiences with the collection as I go along even if I can’t quite manage a proper review the way I couldn’t with Goldberg: Variations.
And tonight I borrowed Sarah Hall’s Electric Michelangelo because I’ve been asked to possibly review her latest, The Carhullan Army aka The Daughters of the North which is the American edition’s title. (Why are they different? I don’t get it.) I had to borrow it because I’d long since bartered my copy away at a used book store. Amanda A. only you know what I will go through. For a second time (and third and fourth time, for I’ll reread the new one before writing the review)! I must be nuts. Truth be told I’m hoping that the new one will be fantastic or at least a magnificent…heck, I’ll settle for a non-disastrous failure. (Specifically, Hall, no barely pubescent boys shooting batter all over nipply women, please.)