Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ann Quin, Three (1966) we have Quin's second novel. It's about a middle-aged couple, Ruth and Leonard. A young woman identified only as S was boarding with them, but she committed suicide by drowning (which, I must sadly note, is what Quin herself did seven years later. Out of all possible suicide methods, why do people choose drowning? It seems like it'd be one of the most unpleasant). The narrative shifts around through Ruth and Leonard's quotidian life, and S's fragmentary recordings and journal entries (the other two also have brief journal-entry sections). They're very abstruse and impressionistic, revealing bits and pieces about her parents and a possible love affair &c.

it is of course hard to tell in a situation like this whether I just didn't get it, but I found this novel pretty darned thin. There just doesn't seem to be much there there, and, while there is ample evidence that I'm a big fan of experimental writing, here, it doesn't feel meaningful. Okay, so one of the major features of Three is long paragraphs full of undifferentiated dialogue from both Ruth and Leonard and stage directions, with no dialogue tags. But does this actually contribute to anything other than making the text look avant-garde? In his introduction, Brian Evenson provides what I suppose must be the best and only possible defense of this:

As one begins to read a given sentence one is not always certain at first whether the "I" speaking is Ruth or Leonard. The resulting effect is to slow down the reading process, demand that one constantly step back and reread, re-envision what one has begun to think. This inflects a certain tentativeness on the narrative process, further destabilizing the reading experience.

I'll just say that, while this may well be the intent, I did not find it an effective technique. It did not noticeably slow down my reading pace, though admittedly, that may be me being a bad reader. I don't know, though! I think I'm a pretty good reader!

(On a side note, let me say that even if I don't think much of this exegesis, Evenson--whom I'd never heard of 'til looking him up just now--seems like an interesting writer whom I may check out at some point.)

I'm afraid the evidence is growing that I just don't like Quin as much as I wish I did. Berg way okay but not fantastic, and this one struck me as somewhat less than okay. I'll finish reading her output--her last two novels are supposed to be more unglued, which could be to the good--but I'm not super-optimistic.


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