Saturday, August 20, 2016

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984)

Nights at the Circus! It's 1899. There is a woman named Fevvers (dialect for "feathers"), "the Cockney Venus," a large, beautiful, coarse, and intensely mercenary woman who has--or appears to have--a pair of large wings growing out of her back (which indeed allow her to fly). She's been killing it for huge, awestruck audiences all over Europe. For the first third of the novel, she relates her life story (with the help of her foster mother, Lizzie) to Jack Walser, a bemused and skeptical American journalist. It's a digressive, hallucinatory story in which she lives in two separate brothels (although she maintains her virginity throughout), one a combination freak show, until...well, there's no use spoiling the twists and turns.
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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979)

I was surprised by the first few stories here, and not in a way I expected to be surprised: no, I was surprised by how...conventional they seemed. Very straightforward takes on faerie tales, reworked, true, but not notably deconstructing or subversive. The title story (by far the longest one here) comes first, and it's a very faithful retelling of "Bluebeard." Is it set in the twentieth century? Yes. Does it have a straightforward (though admittedly kinda badass) feminist twist in the end? It does. Still. Nothing that amazing. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but...I dunno, if she were a musician, this is the kind of thing about which you'd accuse her of having watered down her sound a bit in a bid for mass-market appeal. Not that I'm accusing Carter of that, probably. But it is surprising. "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" is a Beauty and the Beast story with a happily-ever-after ending. "Puss-in-Boots" is a bawdy, Boccacchio-esque take on the story that likewise ends surprisingly sweetly, and...like that. Huh, I thought. Not that any of this is in any way bad, but it's not exactly amazing either.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Angela Carter, Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (1974)

NOW THIS IS MORE LIKE IT. It's Carter's first short story collection--though not, it's worth noting (or maybe it's not worth noting, but let's do it anyway), her first short stories: she published three in her early twenties that remained uncollected until Burning Your Boats, her almost-complete collection: "The Man Who Loved a Double Bass," "A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home," and "A Victorian Fable." Let's just note that they're the worst things she ever published and move on. As for this collection, in her afterward she says that she "started to write short pieces when [she] was living in a room too small to write a novel in." This was when she was living in Japan, though we should note that she also wrote The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman there--maybe she found more spacious living quarters between these and that (the novel was published before the stories, but of course could've been written after).
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Angela Carter, Love (1969)

Well, here's Carter's fifth (and shortest) novel, and I think this is going to be a similarly short blog post. The book concerns the thorny relationship between a man named Lee, his wife Annabel, and his brother Buzz. Annabel is childlike and fragile, Buzz is unpleasant and kind of thuggish, and Lee isn't much better. They do their prescribed things, and...that's about it.

Look: it's Angela Carter, so it's beautifully written. It's also, I'm sorry to say, the second (and, Inshallah, last) of her books that I flat-out didn't like. this isn't a situation like Shadow Dance, which I think was just generally poorly-conceived and executed; rather, this is just a generally unpleasant novel containing little of interest. Some psychological insights? Sure, but all such things are overshadowed by the fact that all the characters are incredibly unpleasant, and the whole thing is very arid--I mentioned re Heroes and Villains that the book was significantly more brains than heart; well, this one takes that to an extreme. Also, it must he said, the character of Annabel is extremely suspect from a feminist perspective, as the brief characterization above might suggest. There is really nothing to her beyond the above characterization. Did I recognize the allusion, in the name of her and her husband, to Poe's "Annabel Lee?" I did. And somehow, I don't think that helps the novel's case much.

If I hadn't already read stuff she'd written after this, I'd think Carter was losing her touch. But I have, so I don't. Onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (1855)

I reckon Elizabeth Gaskell is the third-best-known female Victorian writer, after George Elliot and the Brontës.  Is it sexist to count “the Brontës” as a single entity?  Well, everyone does it.  Anyway, it seemed like a good idea to read her, and this seems to be her best-known novel.
It’s about a woman, Margaret Hale, the daughter of a pastor at a church in England’s rural south.  Her father, having an extremely vaguely-defined crisis of conscience, feels compelled to leave the church and move to town in the industrial north, where he gets work as a classics tutor.  She’s upset by the grimy social realism, and when she meets the owner of a manufacturing concern, Mr. Thornton, whom her father is tutoring, sparks fly.  They have differing opinions as to the ethics of industry.  There is romantic tension.  And...like that.
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Saturday, July 09, 2016

Firewatch (2016)

Firewatch has a great premise: it's the late eighties, and you're a middle-aged man named Henry who is having serious trouble in his marriage. It's probably not TOO much of a SPOILER--as this is all revealed in the prologue--to say that his wife has been given a devastating diagnosis of early-onset dementia, and is currently residing with her family in Australia. To try to distract himself, Henry gets a job as a fire lookout in the wilds of Wyoming. His only contact is his unseen supervisor, Delilah, with whom he converses via walkie talkie. All this plays out in absolutely gorgeous first-person. It's no secret that this is all deeply influenced by Gone Home; like that game, there's also a strong emphasis on real-looking found objects (though here, you can't freely rotate things to examine them--a bit of a loss), though, given the type of setting, naturally fewer of them than in the earlier game. There's even one explicit Gone Home reference which, if taken at face value, means that OMG FIRE WATCH TAKES PLACE IN THE GONE HOMEIVERSE! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH THIS INFORMATION!
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Monday, July 04, 2016

Literary Update

So the reason I haven't been writing more is because I've been getting resettled and it has been the occasion for much time spent and stress...stressed.  But I wanted to make note of the following: when I read The Buru Quartet, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, I made the following statement, VERBATIM:

according to [Max] Lane [the translator] (in this article), "there has been no public announcement that his writings are no longer banned--they may very well be still formally banned. His works are not introduced, or even mentioned, in high school curricula for Indonesian language or literature in state schools."

WELL.  Here's a piece of information to shed light on that: I was in an English-language bookstore here in Jakarta, and in the Asian section, what did I find but a WHOLE BUNCH of copies of all four volumes of the series.  So...that probably answers that.  And not only that, but they had Jazz, Perfume, and the Incident, about the Indonesian government's brutality in East Timor.  So...maybe one's assumptions about what is and is not the case are wildly inaccurate.

However, one must allow that we are talking about English translations here, and as such, they're only available to foreigners and Indonesia's elite.  It's possible that the translations are the only ones available--although it seems more likely to me to be the case that--unfortunately--most people here don't care enough about literature to keep books like this in print in their original language.  This could serve the government's needs just as well.  I am given to understand that there is no literature taught in Indonesian primary and secondary schools, which is deeply unfortunate if true.  I think my earlier assumption--based on what (white) people had told me--that there's not much quality Indonesian literature may well have been based on unconscious racism; either that, or just the fact that, due to the culture, it goes out of print so quickly.  At any rate, at that same bookstore, there were a WHOLE BUNCH of translations published in a series I'd never heard of called the Modern Library of Indonesia.  It's a fascinating vista that has previously been unknown to me, and I'm really keen to dig into this stuff when I get the chance.