Friday, May 20, 2011



Finished! Don't have much to say at this stage, other than that it was kind of good to read a really long novel (or in fairness five mid-length novels) again. Middle section's too repetitive though, innit? I mean I realise this is like a formal strategy on Bolano’s part, the sheer numbing, desensitizing pileup of corpses and how it eventually strips away even the reader's most prurient instincts, but for me he's made his point/achieved his effect around murder 700 and we could have done without the next 400 or so.

So...not blown away as I was when I read The Erl King and I do think that the open ended and “suggestively allusive” text that hints at some higher order of connection and interrelation between the disparate events is a bit of a clich├ęd, po-mo cop out.

Reader: What did all that mean?






Writer: Well, what do you THINK it meant?






Reader:*Blather*





Writer: Well if that’s what it means to you, perhaps that it IS what it means, ho ho….* author disappears in a flash of smoke-and-mirrors,*

Now I don’t want to suggest that this sophisticated and kind of “texturally correct” Barthesian/Derridian writing strategy of conferring ultimate authority on the reader allows for any old poorly thought out, random “weird” bullshit to be stitched loosely together and passed off as some intense commentary on the Late Capitalist condition/ Lacanian whatnot/ Eliminitive hooha, BUT if you’ve ever written a long narrative you’ll be aware of the way seventeen different directions/meanings are constantly fizzing away in your head at any point as you plow forward wondering how you’re going to tie this all up into a meaningful whole, and consequently when you watch, say “Donnie Darko”, your tendency is to think AHA! so you couldn’t find anything to hang all these multiple levels/cool “scenes” and ideas on, no overarching formal or thematic principle, and now you're going to try a bit of sleight of hand by going “ahh, yeah, but isn’t like an a-b-c narrative and like a “meaning” and like a “conclusion” just so old-fashioned, don’t we want like an open text that the reader can enter at any stage, that liberates them from linearity and into the play of multiple meanings and interpretations?” To which I say, maybe, but let’s not try to polish the turd of your shoddy, incomplete work with the increasingly threadbare rag of post-structuralism because it looks pretty old and overdone in itself that kind of approach, looks like a handy get-out-clause.*







Any other recommendations bookwise, by the way?**

























*In all fairness you would have to say that Christopher Nolan is a great plotter, a great architect even if he's not thematically my cup of tea. This is probably due to the influence of Christopher Priest who I haven't read enough of, but who I suspect takes some of that looseness and independence of meaning you experience while writing and constantly uses it to switch the readers assumption back and forth.




** UPDATE, Yeah, I've just gone and bought Don Quixote....tried to read it a few times several years ago and and kept getting distracted by other stuff. It was never excatly the right time (same with The Possessed.) while I was in the bookshop, which has a really unusual range of stuff actually, I spotted a couple of novels by Steve Erickson, who I read pretty intensively in the 90s, and his newer stuff looks really intersting too, so depending on how long El Quijote takes me I reckon I'll get up to speed on his latest stuff.




errr.. anybody read any later Mailer, "Harlot's Ghost" and what have you? What about "Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson?

18 comments:

Alex Niven said...

Difficult to recommend much in the way of contemporary novels, because as you know, the good ones aren't getting published!

Some people liked Tom McCarthy's C. It was credited as a return to a kind of experimental modernism. I've only read bits but heard him give a talk at a conference last year and he sounded suspiciously suave and careerist, so I'm inclined to say the hype is just that - hollow PR approbation. But could be worth persevering with?

I did quite like The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst: stately Jamesiana on the surface but ultimately quite devastating about Thatcherism in a nuanced, if rarefied, way.

Other than that, there's a large amount of horrible novels out there ...

Alex Niven said...

oh, and Jonathan Franzen's new one is SHIT

Benjamin said...

I liked Harlot's Ghost - but then I like spy novels, inc. the ultra-pretentious Your Face Tomorrow trilogy by Javier Marias. Nazi Literature in the Americas is my favourite Bolano, but perhaps after LVT I shouldn't say that..

carl said...

"suspiciously suave and careerist,"

yeah...i saw Zadie Smith was a fan and then read something like he'd taken out a full page manifesto ad in the guardian or something and this made me deeply suspicious.. in fact the first thing i thought was "Damien Hirst"... I made a mental note to avoid him..

never read Franzen..looked at it, couldn't face it.... Safren Froer...not for me i suspect...

@Ben...I'll give Harlot's Ghost a go then! don't know Marias, I'll check him out...

yeah...

getting back into novel-reading...good..

W. Kasper said...

I interviewed Tom McCarthy about ten years ago. He came across as someone who took his English lit exam answers very, very seriously (side note: he wanted to "revive the manifesto as an artform"). Wasn't surprised when they edited the interview down to bare minimum. He just kept firing off the usual suspects (Nietszche, Burroughs yada yada) and undergrad concepts without much to link them. He had a cheerful intensity (and the right contacts) that let you know he'd find green pastures soon.

BTW Franzen is shit.

steve57 said...

loved 2666, HATED that cover... every time I picked it up I ground my teeth at the dreadful layout.

Tree of Smoke - it's ok, didn't live up to the hype for me, but then I'm the kind of loser that's read far too many (true life) books about 'Nam' to have an objective opinion.

W. Kasper said...

PS. For 'metaliterary' stuff that doesn't love the smell of its own bum too much, I'd recommend Alasdair Gray. 'Lanark' is a modern classic, and would be a good lead for Scotland. Very clever, very direct and full of ideas.

carl said...

Yeah i fancy a bit of Lanark too...

interviewed Tom McCarthy eh? your a dark horse Kasper...i have occasinally had the right contacts too and have taken it as a matter of utmost principle not to use them!

anyone read The Northen Clemency?...read the opening paragraph yesterday...a pretty uninspiring start...

hollinghurst IS a brillaint stylist tho isn't he...very tempted to get back into him...

i have got Banville's last one.. had it in hardback for about a year but started it and felt kind of weary...over-familiar...

agree that's a dreadful layout on 2666..what would you recommend steve57, as this blogs longest-running commenter

Michael said...

Don Quixote would be a good one to read after 2666, Cervantes is more than a match for Bolano in the pomo structural high jinks. Lanark's a bit of a beast I think, no way a great novel, more of a spectacular oddity. Very Glasgow though, fusty victoriana mangled by a bit of modernism.

W. Kasper said...

I agree to a point, but you forgot class consciousness, sexual frustration, and flights of magic realism/sci-fi as 'autobiography'. My kinda book!

Greyhoos said...

I've only read some of Franzen's essays, never his fiction. The prose just looked to me to be as flat and dull as the Midwestern flood plains from which he hails. Just not enough juice, there, to pull me in.

I still need to ratchet up my efforts to slog thru the rest of 2666 and be done with the thing. But yeah, had the same notion of tackling some long, classic novels of note -- finally reading them in full. Don Quixote being among them, but also Tristram Shandy and Gargantua and Pantagruel.

I rather liked Tree of Smoke. Thought Jesus's Son was abysmally anemic, cliched, overrated. Thought his poetry was about as bad as Rod McKuen's. But Tree of Smoke surprised me. Curious in its occasional echoes of The Quiet American. Hardly monumental, mind you, but I enjoyed it enough.

Greyhoos said...

And as far as Jonathan Safran Froer goes, I would advise to absolutely not bother. I'm of the opin that Zadie Smith actually comes off looking a favorable when you stack her writing alongside that of peers like Safran Froer and Michael Chabon.

W. Kasper said...

Was Jesus Son the basis for that Billy Crudup movie (which I quite liked)? What's Jonathan Lethem like?

Greyhoos said...

Yeah, supposedly it was. Never saw the film. When I read the book, I thought it was very sketchy, very undeveloped. Later found out that Johnson (reputedly) never intended to publish the stuff. He was up against a deadline with a publisher, had no book to give them, so he just fed 'em pages of first-draft stuff from an old notebook. Tsk.

Lethem? I rather liked Fortress of Solitude and a fair number of the stories I've read by him. Word has it he's pretty uneven, though.

chimp said...

So are you basically saying post-structuralism is always a mask for narrative inadequacy? The obvious example against that might be latter Lynch? Works that leave a felt sense?

carl said...

nah... i'm just saying that often there's a sneaking suspicion that the author just doesn't feel the need to be coherent as he has the "appeal to Derrida"...

to be honest i've been very meh on the last couple of Lynch things, tho have thought they have had the usual powerful sequences.. i thought inland empire was very weak tbh...just boring, repetitive and way too long...but on a certain level lynch can do no wrong as long as he remains lynchian...i mean at thi stage with lynch at what point critically can you say.. oh David this is just a mish mash of rambling bollocks? it's always going to be amenable to Lacanian analysis of the sort that many are heavily invested in...hooray a new Lynch movie... time to demonstrate my theory chops...

W. Kasper said...

Apart from Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Deep Impact and Supergirl, Inland Empire is the only movie I've ever walked out on. Didn't help that Lost Highway was on TV the same week - a double whammy of Lynchian bollocks really forced me to reasess the charlatan.

steve57 said...

"what would you recommend steve57, as this blogs longest-running commenter"

Don't ask me, the last two books I read had dragons on their covers... and they were dreadful too.

Next book on the pile is DFW's last, not popular around these parts I know, but, I like his 'thing'...