Thursday, 14 September 2017

#AMREADING Richard FLANAGAN’S THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH

This is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp working on the Thai-Burma railway. A story of love and death, good and evil, the novel moves back and forth between 1943 and contemporary Australia.

A village overrun by the French: The attack had transformed the Australian defenders into things not human, drying dark-red meat and fly-blown viscera, streaked, smashed bone and the faces clenched back on exposed teeth. When they came upon the broken houses, the dead donkeys and goats, the corpses of their comrades, they smoked to keep the dead out of their nostrils, they joked to keep the dead from preying on their minds.


Fifty years later, Dorrigo is famous and tired of fame. He sensed the coming of a new neater world, a tamer world, a world of boundaries and surveillance, where everything was known and nothing needed to be experienced. He understood his public self – the side they put on coins and stamps – would meld well with the coming age, and that the other side, his private self, would become increasingly incomprehensible and distasteful, this side others would conspire to hide.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

AN ANTIDOTE TO JAMES JOYCE’S FINNEGANS WAKE.


riverun, past Eve and Adam’s, past the whole schmear of history and back and again.  Joyce was forty when he felt the ennui of Solomon --nothing new under the sun. I’m a hundred years old (using a round figure here) and still refuse to believe in the vicus of recirculation. Take the Fall, for example. It hasn’t come around to me yet, and it isn’t inevitable. I knew a man once who managed to avoid The Fall. He was an innkeeper like Everybody in Joyce’s epic, who would not give us his name beyond the normative letters HCE. My man (let’s keep it simple and call him Francis), somehow muddled through and kept upright and wallstrait throughout his life. He left school at the age of ten, thinking once he knew how to count clittering up and clottering down, and  how to read and write (punctuation optional), he knew everything he needed for life, or if there was anything lacking he could pick it up on the way. That little slip (if leaving school can be called a slip) is hardly in the same category as the Primeval Fall unless you turn the classroom into a kind of Eden and reverse the whole biblical story so that not eating from the tree of knowledge is the Great Sin, which I personally believe is true. Starving oneself of knowledge and refusing to ascend from animal to human being is the Great Sin, but Francis can’t be accused of that. He continued acquiring knowledge in his own way and he was human enough, all things considered. Since he wouldn’t go back to school, his mother, Mary, apprenticed him to her brother-in-law who was the owner of a smithy.  In spite of her promising name, Mary was not immaculate, but let it not be said that she abandoned her child to fate. Rather she fitted him out with a new pair of boots to step into his new apprenticeship-life.  The smithy was in an out-of-the-way place. It took Francis half a day’s sturdy walking to get there, by which time his toenails were black and blue, and his heels a bloody mess of oozing blisters because the boots were practically, but not entirely new, having belonged, very briefly, to a child who died of the measles, and whose feet had been a tad smaller than Francis’. This painful state of things was soon remedied by cutting a hole into the upper part of the shoe to make room for Francis’ toes and allow air to circulate very pleasantly on a hot summer’s day. It did occur to Francis that the same hole could become a liability when winter came and the weather turned icy, but he did not wait for winter to come.  He ran away in the month of September because he could no longer stand the drubbings he regularly got from his uncle, and since he had kept the cut-off pieces of leather, he was able to exchange his boots for a solid pair of rubbers after convincing a peddler that the patches might be sewn back on and the boots restored to serve another man with smaller feet. And so he returned to his widowed mother, no longer widowed, who considered both the rubber boots and her son’s return a change for the worse.

(To be continued)

Monday, 14 August 2017

#AMREADING JAMMI ATTENBERG’S ALL GROWN UP.


This is not your ordinary sex and the single woman story. Well, yes, the heroine, Andrea Bern, is single and has sex, but the question consuming her is: At what point can you call yourself a grown-up? What’s the defining element: marriage, parenthood, emotional survival? The answer (s) are both gut-wrenching and mordantly funny.

Everyone is urging Andrea to read the newest book of wistful memories by a single woman, now married. It’s the ultimate how-to-grow-up book. They are like carrier pigeons, fluttering messages. My coworker Nina, the bangles on her wrist clinking, hands me a copy although I have never expressed an interest in reading it. Old college friends go on Facebook and post links to reviews and say things like “This reminded me of you”. Where is my dislike button? Where do I click to scream?

Andrea has a drunk one-night stand with a guy in her brother’s band. He phoned and asked me point-blank if I was an alcoholic and I said, “No. I’m just young and having fun.” Followed by tears, choking-sob tears, and I made sure he heard it. The trouble is: he brother is right, she is an alcoholic.

What does she get out of sex? I kiss him and he kisses me and we laugh and we are close and I believe so deeply in that moment that I tolerate his bullshit.

Then there is the problem of her aging mother partying with aging men. Is that what I have to look forward to? I am furious with her. I had been tamping it down all night and now my anger is a brilliant, pulsing red, fully blossomed…Talk to us, says one man, some loser. Tell us what’s going on with the kids today.

And last not least there is the problem of her job: Whatever thrill I had in perfecting my job is now dead, because perfection itself is boring: it’s only everything leading up to it that’s interesting.

Welcome to middle age, Andrea!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Sunday, 16 July 2017

#AMREADING EDWARD ST. AUBYN’S A CLUE TO THE EXIT.

Charlie has been given six months to live. What’s the best way to use those last months? Spend all your money? Have torrid sex? Find your authentic self? All of the above, and if you are a bestselling author, shock your agent by writing a serious novel.
First then, find your authentic self, but that's not easy when it is buried under your surrogate self, the carrier of some cherished quality, the vehicle for a certain story that needs to be shaped.
Another problem: friends who will not leave you in peace, friends with a psyche like a wildcat prospector, producing eruptions of unwelcome insight.
But at least Charlie succeeds in finding love/sex with Angelique who also helps him to get rid of his money, gambling on his behalf, while he watches the gamblers drifting past like fish in an aquarium.
Yet he cannot find peace and is plagued by thoughts like a cloud of gnats at sunset, made visible by the dying light. In the end, however, his torment is replaced by the congealing powers of resignation and habit.
Meanwhile the characters in his novel take shape: a woman loyal to her husband who is in a coma (are those feelings akin to necrophilia?). The woman and two fellow philosophers discuss the nature of consciousness while stuck in a train stopped at Didcot. What else was there in the end? A man’s biography was the history of what he had given his attention to, and so it seemed worth knowing what attention was, and how it related to other types of knowledge.

Angelique spends all of Charlie's money and departs. He muses whether it would be better not to wait out the six months and to commit suicide instead. It was less upsetting than this limitless white terror, bleaching every object in its universe …It’s always the same story: if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself.