Friday, 28 September 2012

My Month in Books, Part One (Sep)

1. Charles Dickens — Hard Times

Hard Times opens with the usual Dickens comic brio and sabre-toothed satire. Mr Gradgrind’s pursuit of Facts, Facts, Facts deadens his daughter Louisa’s sense of Fancy and humour, until she relents to a marriage to Mr. Bounderby—surely the progenitor of this Monty Python sketch. As the novel moves into its second half, the melodramatic and laboured Steven Blackpool narrative distracts from the more poignant story of circus orphan Sissy and the Gradgrinds. Steven’s phonetic Lancastrian dialect (which doesn’t apply to his wife Rachael—hmm) is unnecessarily distracting and the social commentary becomes somewhat tedious upon the arrival of the saucy politician. Too much time is devoted to Mrs Sparsit, a bland fallen lady at the mercy of Bounderby, not enough to Sissy. Let’s not forget the phonetically rendered Lisp of Mr. Sleary, or the hysterical (in the wrong way) fate of Stephen. Apart from these complaints Hard Times is fine: the story isn’t dreary, only the individual elements and plotting seemed a little subpar.

2. William Burroughs — Queer

Certain “cult” writing earns this status because the prose is so transparent and simple it instantly appeals to teenage males done with Easton Ellis and Kerouac who want to up their shock quotient before attempting to read Gravity’s Rainbow for the first and last time. Queer fits the bill except, by today’s standards, the book is a little prude in tight Speedos with its danglies between its thighs asking us to love it if we’d only give it a chance. Will Lee is a homosexual-in-training in pursuit of reluctant, disobliging ass that often makes him cry, so unsure is he of his own sexuality. This is a weird piece of tortuousness. But an interesting one.

3. James Baldwin — Giovanni’s Room

Baldwin picked up where Gore Vidal left off in The City & the Pillar. This novel renders Vidal’s effort a tame, breezy vacation at the hotel de homo, sizzling as it does with dirty-realist conflict, torturous identity politics, and one of the whiniest lovers since Courtney Love hooked up with the entire population of Iran. One frustrating conflict—Baldwin wanted to escape the “Negro writer” ghetto, so made his characters (it would seem) white in this novel. Imagine the stink if he’d written about a black man-on-man romantic affair. In escaping his cage he might have bypassed the opportunity of the century. Still, Giovanni’s Room is an audacious, spectacular example of the power of literature to free the repressed, comfort the lost, and nudge the helpless toward some sort of assistance. Love this man.

4. Dennis Copper — God Jr.

An interesting take on grief with computer game ferrets/bears instead of graveside weeping. I didn’t understand why the second part had stand-alone paragraphs on each page, nor did I see the purpose of asterisking off each new paragraph in the other sections. Otherwise, it was a semi-successful experiment. For comment on the content, see Joshua or Nate or Mike or Eddie. The author’s surname reminds me of the prepubescent sitcom Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper which was the highlight of my Sunday morning TV viewing about 9.30 after the sad cancellation of that titan of light comedy, Sister Sister. Oh my tragic youth.

5. Philip Roth — Portnoy’s Complaint

The definitive self-hating Jew novel. A searing literary stand-up performance par excellence. Woody Allen meets Bill Hicks. Explains where the famous inbuilt neurosis in New York Jews comes from. A brutal, universal portrayal of family life. The funniest thing I have read in a long long time. Every young man in his twenties tries at some point to write this novel and fails. Wonderful. Not a work of remarkable human insight and depth, but this is Philip Roth: the psychopathology of sleaze, if you please. (And, in case you’d forgotten the author’s surname, Vintage have clearly printed it on the cover in large letters. ROTH. Thanks Vintage!)

6. Federico García Lorca — Poet in New York

Devastating poems composed during the Andalusian bard’s 1929-30 stay in New York. This edition contains a brilliant introduction and unobtrusive commentaries, plus a lecture (which I read) and letters to his family (which I skipped). My favourite of the cycle is the spinechilling number from Part III, Streets and Dreams.

7. Barbara Ehrenreich — Smile or Die

This Just In

Short paragraphs and emoticons in reviews quadruple reading pleasure. :)

Shiny Happy People

Apparently, forced happiness is crushing the spirit of the American workforce and driving ravenous capitalists to unstoppable heights of self-delusion that contribute to the one hundred trillion dollars or so national debt. :) :)

I Love Your Smile

Millions of unemployed people, many middle-class professionals, have been forced into taking minimum wage jobs, in which any negative comments are met with a swift and firm dismissal. :) :) :)

Happiness is a Warm Gun

In Ehrenreich’s startling book, the spineless manipulative world of corporate blackmailing (Disney oddly absent), is exposed as the contagious ideological malaria it is. :) :) :)

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

The disillusioned and depressed in their millions are forced to feign happiness at the workplace despite the rancid capitalist cancer eating out their souls and then be grateful for the chance to work at all. :) :) :) :)

Joy Unlimited

The American Dream has been a con-job from the start but those forever optimistic Americans are made to see layoffs, poverty, bowls of watery gruel and anal lice as challenge. Lying in a pool of your own piss and faeces in a
Harlem gutter? Stop whining! All you have to do is visualise that tuberculosis away, and you’re cured! :) :) :) :) :)

This Just Out

How fortunate to live in a nation where whining and carping is a national characteristic—no corporate policy will come between us and a long self-pitying moan. :( :( :(


A happier review than mine by Lucy Ellmann
here in The Guardian. :p

8. Roberto Bolaño — The Savage Detectives

I am told this novel made some minor splash upon its publication. I see no evidence to support this claim. I see no particular swelling of interest in this lowly text on Goodreads. I see no ecstatic over-the-top declarations of lust for this novel. No effusive dissertations conveying the message “I totally bought into the hype and splooged fifty times over this book like Ron Jeremy catching his reflection in the pupils of a malnourished Cuban trollop.” I see no substantial body of scholarship agglutinating on the first two review pages alone. I see no pitiful deniers, squeaking their dissenting humbuggery about the overrated and overhyped nature of the prose and so on and boo-hoo, swallowed up in box after box of Bolaño devotees on their knees licking the long-dead man’s Chilean loafers as though hoping to absorb some essence of the punchdrunk poet’s furious pace, first-person range and painful aversion to paragraph breaks. I see no evidence of this whatso— Oh no, wait . . . there they are. Oops.

What of this? A structural sandwich. The bread: a road-trip narrative about a poetry nerd with a penchant for obscure technical words for verse forms and metrical structures that explodes into violence. The filling: an
nth number of first-person interview-style intersecting stories about the short-lived Mexican experimental poetry movement visceral realism. More unreliable narrators than the Bible. More icky sex than a caterpillar’s boudoir. More characters per page than Catch-22. A Mexican Thousand and One Nights of tales, yarns, confessions, digressions, hoodwinks, self-reference, neverending stories and long blog-like rambles. A personally insulting deficit of paragraph breaks. An entertained but infuriated MJ. A far-too-long second part which this gringo abandoned on p481 to move into the final section (which he left on p550 due to mounting boredom). A loquacious universe-sized novel of sprawling scope and ambition that collapses under its own weight but leaves an indelible imprint on the reader’s psyche. An aperitif compared to the five-square-meals of 2666.

No comments:

Post a Comment