this post is about books
January 15, 2011 § 14 Comments
i just finished reading beatrice and virgil, yann martel’s latest.
what i loved about life of pi is the calm sense of reality that pervades the blase, matter of fact narrative of a boy and a tiger lost together on the high seas. so it picks up these elements – a boy, a raft, a tiger, a man-eating island – makes (patently unlikely) compatriots of them, and stitches everything together so elegantly that you think, well of course, why shouldn’t this happen?
i mean, why stop with just pushing the envelope when you can deny the existence of it? great idea!
so then he wrote beatrice and virgil. it’s supposed to be a sneaky allegory of the holocaust, featuring one donkey and one monkey alone in an unidentifiable country called ‘Shirt’. if that is supposed to intimidate me, dude, your last book’s protagonist was called ‘Piscine Molitor’. you are clearly attracted by weird for the sake of it. well bring it on, i say.
and he did, and dear god forgive him, it was so bad. it was so unutterably clumsy. it is a very thinly disguised apology for a writer’s block and borrows desperately from a hundred classics to try and make up the difference. i challenge you to read the first fifty pages and not have “waiting for godot! this is waiting for godot!” bouncing endlessly off the inside of your skull.
if you read the book, it tells you why the allegory had to be such a roundabout one. it is an excellent reason. unfortunately it is the last instance of clarity anywhere in there.
i went back to the catcher in the rye, i’m re-reading it. i read it once before, and for a hundred reasons, remember desperately wanting to ‘get’ it, but i really didn’t. the thing is an instant stereotype, a handy little cliche, but i never knew how to use it, because i simply could not understand it.
now that i’ve re-read it, i don’t think it is possible to ‘love’ the catcher in the rye. me, i can see myself having an awkward, slightly shifty-eyed companionship with this book; if i smoked, maybe we’d silently share a cigarette in the cold.. but then we’d stub it out and we’d leave. and maybe tomorrow, we’d do it again.
see what i mean?
i think i finally understood.
i recently gifted someone hemingway’s the sun also rises. i never liked his short stories, we read them in school (maybe that was the problem), but i really liked this book. but you know how the books you like really depend on where your head is at that point in your life, and at that point – late high school, yeah, i know – i was feeling very subversive and very unhappy and trapped and reckless, and so i was predictably, obviously attracted to on the road (jack kerouac).
so there were both these books on purposeful directionless-ness, just different enough in the details to be both great reads – and that made me feel free.
i think it is perfectly possible for me to write my autobiography in book titles.
p.s – that boy said “so what do you like to do?” i said “i read, sometimes i write” and he said “oh i would read if i didn’t have better things to do like having fun with my friends”
can we bring eugenics back into fashion?