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.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Angela Carter, Heroes and Villains (1969)

Heroes and Villains. A vague title that sounds like it ought to be a short-story collection, dunnit? Well, its not; it's Carter's fourth novel, and it has the distinction of being her only straight-up science fiction novel. Sure, The Passion of New Eve is science-fiction-ish, but it embraces surrealism to such an extent that the "slipstream" label seems to work better. Whereas this one is just up-and-up sci-fi, although, naturally, with Carter's inimitable touch.
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Friday, May 20, 2016

Ann Quin, Tripticks (1972)

SIGH. OKAY, I'VE READ ANN QUIN'S LAST NOVEL. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME, BLOOD?
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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ann Quin, Passages (1969)

It's Quin's third novel. Limping along to the finish line...okay, so this one is about a woman and her lover, who are traveling around the Mediterranean looking for her brother, who may or may not be dead. Well, that's what they're allegedly doing. What they're mainly doing is getting harassed by secret police and having unhealthy (and, in many cases, almost certainly illegal) sex with random strangers. The novel consists of two sections of narration from each of them, the first (mostly--it's sometimes kind of hard to tell) from the woman, freely switching between first- and third-person, and the second from the man in the form of a journal of-sorts, with abstruse annotations running down the left-hand side of the pages. And that's about it. At barely over a hundred pages, this is Quin's shortest novel.
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