Tuesday, 23 October 2012

White Teeth

White Teeth - Zadie Smith

Right at the start of this book we are shown that there will be some darkness in this light comedy of modern metropolitan life in London. We arrive "Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975" to witness the suicide attempt of Archie Jones, recently divorced. Smith loads this one image with religion, marriage and war, three of the big themes taken on in this big, sprawling, comic novel "He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel: scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage licence (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him." The image of the hoover tube which is to form a part of the failed suicide attempt stayed with me, it "lay like a great flaccid cock on his back seat, mocking his quiet fear.."

The overriding theme of the novel is identity, particularly as it is formed in the furnace of cultural expectations. More specifically the competing cultural expectations at play on the second generation, represented in this novel by Archie's daughter Irie, and Millat and Magid, the two twin sons of Archie's best friend Samad, great grandson of Mangal Pande, the sepoy who fired the first shot in the Indian rising of 1857. (The uprising upon which J G Farrell based his comic masterpiece The Siege of Krishnapur). The uprising was a result of bullets being covered in "a grease made from the fat of pigs, monstrous to Muslims and the fat of cows, sacred to Hindus. It was an innocent mistake - as far as anything is innocent on stolen land - an infamous British blunder." And the date, New Years Day, introduces the idea of new beginnings.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami

The darkness which clings to every personality is the door into the unconscious and the gateway of dreams, from which those two twilight figures, the shadow and the anima, step into our nightly visions or, remaining invisible, take possession of our ego-consciousness.”  Carl Jung

I was a latecomer to the phenomenon of Haruki Murakami. This is only the second of his books I have read. And yet I have already started to wonder how much more there is to be drawn from the particular well he draws his water from. He swims in the sea of Jungian archetypes, trusting that the unconscious has a message for us.

The problem with the idea of the collective unconscious is that it can, no matter how strange or bizarre its denizens appear, be strewn with cliches, the collective phrases and ideas worn of the friction and risk that makes great literature.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Woman in White

The Woman in White®- Wilkie Collins

If you like long meandering gothic tinged plot lines, villainous aristocrats and comic 'foreigners' with an edge of threat, this is the book for you. Throw in some proto-feminist comments on the place of women and a few more labyrinthine plots and you're almost there. You can add multiple voices, from diaries, comments written in diaries, letters, lawyers notes, a confession and even straight narrative. It's genesis as a serial in one of Dicken's magazines is betrayed by enough hooks, tantalisers and cliffhangers to keep even the most demanding audience engaged.

Right from the off Collins is busy setting the tone and letting us know some of what we are in for. He also tells us that the story will be told by many narrators. Then there is a humourous interlude where we meet Walter Hartright, painter, and his best friend, the Italian, Professor Pesca, a comic innocent who seems not very far from  Roberto Benigni in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law. But when Walter Hartright leaves his mothers and sister to head back to his room a sense of mystery is introduced as he walks by Regent's Park.   "The moon was full and broad in the dark blue starless sky, and the broken ground of the heath looked wild enough in the mysterious light to be hundreds of miles away from the great city that lay beneath it."

Monday, 1 October 2012

Time Regained

Time Regained

"In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self."
And every writer too, it would seem. While continuing to excavate the sexual mores of society, snobbery, human attraction, the meaning of art etc this volume is where our narrator describes how and why he starts to write. His thoughts and conclusions are, one presumes, close to being Proust's own. The events in the life, he says, are not nearly as important as the perception of the motivating forces that inspire them, for those are the truths of humanity, no different in the drawing room or the hovel, although expressed in a different manner. "Just as a geometer, stripping things of their sensible qualities, sees only the linear substratum beneath them, so the stories that people told escaped me, for what interested me was not what they were trying to say but the manner in which they said it and the way in which this manner revealed their character and their foibles; or rather I was interested in what had always, because he gave me specific pleasure, been more particularly the goal of my investigation: the point that was common to one being and another. And as soon as I perceived this my intelligence - until that moment slumbering, even if sometimes the apparent animation of my talk might disguise from others a profound intellectual torpor..."