The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Reading update

Posted on: January 17, 2008

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.)

17 Responses to "Reading update"

I’ll be interested to know what you think of Electric Michaelangelo as I possess it but have heard such mixed things about it. I can see I must one day read Wide Sargasso Sea – but perhaps not just yet…

Ooh – I hate it when authors notice that you’ve written something less than enthusiastic about their baby. At least she didn’t comment and try to discuss it with you🙂

Yes, Wide Sargasso Sea has a way of settling into the depths doesn’t it. I will never be able to read Jane Eyre the same way again – but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I like layers in my fiction.

Am being just as finicky with my reading at the moment and frustrated/bemused/perplexed why certain books get published and then even win awards! The writing is what matters because a truly great writer can tell an already worn-out set of events and make it all new, unique, enlightening…etc etc.

Looking forward to more from you on Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s one of my favourite books of all time: moving and beautiful and deeply sad.

I’ll be very interested to see what you make of The Carhullan Army — it’s fair to say the style is nothing like the writing style of The Electric Michelangelo. Where are you reviewing it for?

i loved jean rhys so much when i was younger–i love how you described your reactions.

so did i miss your reactions to so(u)seki? i thought ‘i am a cat’ was a riot.

you say ‘It is too bad someone out there isn’t willing to pay me to simply read and analyse literature.…’ have you applied for any jobs to do so?

Imani: What an impressive reading pace you’ve got… here I am lamenting being under so much pressure from work that has me “just” finishing my first book for the year a few minutes ago… Tell me what your secret is, please… being paid to read… uhm, a little advice: teaching is an incredibly rewarding life… I can’t believe they pay me to teach literature and writing, really… you must consider it at one point… cheers… your blog always looks so nice… I love the new illustration! JCR

Obviously we have different opinions about Sarah Monette’s writing, but I don’t think you missed the point at all. Everyone interprets what they read differently, and to pretend that the only reason people might disagree on the quality of a piece of fiction is because one of them is somehow not reading it “correctly” is childishly simplistic, to say the least.

litlove I was one of those who panned it; did not even finish it the first time through and yet I’m still intrigued about her latest. I’m too open-minded is the problem and after I’d decided this year would be “Caution 2008”.

As for the Rhys, yes please, at least acquire a copy, perhaps from one of those temptingly cheap third-party Amazon sellers…;)

Miss Cee! Long time no see. Yes, yes, it took me many minutes before I could pluck up the courage to click on the link to her post. Very relieved that no one at all, neither the writer nor her fans, came over to argue.

Verbivore oh, I don’t mind layers, it’s just that I don’t know if I’ll find the romance so satisfactory knowing how dear Bertha will end. Sigh. Not that I don’t think that the experience of another fantastic novel wasn’t worth the trade.

Charlotteotter you described it perfectly! I’ll no doubt reread it again, maybe make it a double treat with Jane Eyre…or Windward Heights by Conde. We’ll see.

Niall you don’t know how happy you’ve made me! Completely different…? What a relief. I checked Amazon for an excerpt but the publisher had (wisely?) passed over that choice, so I was imagining all sorts of horrible, horrible things.

It’s for Open Letters Monthly. Did Strange Horizons review it? From the synopsis it seemed pretty SF.

lotusgreen have you read any of her other novels? The ones published before Wide Sargasso Sea were covered in the introduction and I was disinterested in most because they all seemed to be about victimized women…except Good Morning, Midnight which I do plan to read because the woman in that novel sounds like she had more gumption than the rest. And maybe Quartet too since that was her first and I’d be interested to compare how she wrote then.

I reviewed the Soseki for The Quarterly Conversation. Have not managed to get around to his other novels, I’m afraid, but I do mean to!

As for job searching, no I have not, because after about a month in that post I’d probably sigh, “Ah, I wish someone would be interested in paying me to study brain models and neurophilosophy…”😀 Literature is an interest that’s easier to pursue outside of an institution.

JCR I’m a fast reader (when I’m in the mood) and very few of the novels I’ve read so far have topped 300 pages.

Ahh, I’ve been going back and forth about the teaching literature thing. I don’t know if that’s what I want to do, really.

Poodlerat much better that you said that than me.😉 I was too relieved that her linking to me did not result in angry, blustery comments on my post.

I think I know what you mean about voice — for me, I don’t really care if a book is fiction or nonfiction — what I really want is someone interesting talking to me.

She links to pretty much all the amateur reviews she can find, whether positive or negative, AFAIK. A lot of people love her books, but you’re definitely not alone in liking her.

The myth of the “incorrect reading” really annoys me, because it’s been used against me more than once.

Best of luck to you! LOL

Yep, SH reviewed it, and very positively:

Her novel is the real thing: hard, unrelenting, and unforgiving, even disturbing, yet still tender and, in parts, lovely. […] Hall writes her with a devastating plainness, which turns out to be entirely admirable, as she develops a narrative style that is both disconcerting and fluid. In this it is entirely different to The Electric Michelangelo (2004), Hall’s previous novel about a tattoo artist, which was short-listed for the Booker prize and so ornately verbose as to be Baroque. Though showing enormous talent it was not really to my taste—too much ornament, not enough substance—while in contrast The Carhullan Army, its stylistic opposite, seems perfectly conceived.

Dorothy yes, that’s maybe what I meant. And if that’s the case then I’m willing to follow the writer wherever she takes me.

Poodlerat ahh, I see, so I wasn’t a special case. (Good to know!) I initially got the book because so many were enthused about her book. I first read about it on-line on a blog in tag surfer.

As for those “incorrect readers” I hope you gave them the smack down.😀

Amanda, that’s right, laugh at my misfortune.

Niall ok, now I’m really intrigued since a) I’ll likely not want to throw it across the room and b) about the only end-of-the-world stories I ever read were in the Bible. Thanks for linking me to it.

i read i think all of her novels but do not remember anything about them but a sense of gloomy humidity and passion. just perfect for a teenager, which i think i may have been at the time.

Thanks for your thoughts. One thing we’ve noticed is banks and also financial institutions understand the spending patterns of consumers plus understand that a lot of people max out and about their credit cards around the vacations. They correctly take advantage of this kind of fact and begin flooding the inbox along with snail-mail box with hundreds of Zero APR card offers shortly after the holiday season ends. Knowing that if you’re like 98% of all American open public, you’ll hop at the possiblity to consolidate consumer credit card debt and transfer balances towards 0 annual percentage rates credit cards.

It’s onerous to search out knowledgeable folks on this topic, but you sound like you realize what you’re speaking about! Thanks

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