Friday, December 10, 2010
Between truth and the search for it, I choose the second.
Magic lurks within this ball. Home, Geilston Bay, December 2010.
I managed to finish three books this week, with middling satisfaction.
First up is an interesting collection of Heinrich Böll’s early short stories Children are Civilians too.
Written in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Böll’s remit is to capture the perspective of the peoples of a defeated country who have to reconcile that defeat, the misery of post-war deprivation with the notion of national culpability. Excellent writer that he is, Böll effectively manages it.
As such, it is a very good read. As you would expect, it’s incredibly sombre in tone, and evokes a period that we don’t often hear about. Well worth a look.
The second book was one that came highly recommended – Misadventures, by Sylvia Smith.
The story behind Smith's first book is like something out of a book. Smith, born at the close of the Second World War in the East End of London. She has gone through life as an unmarried, career secretary who has chosen to write her memoirs. Despite the fact that really nothing of note has actually happened to Smith to encourage the belief that her reminiscences might be of interest to the general reader, a publisher chose to publish it.
Essentially a series of short, deadpan, chronologically arranged chapters, Smith records a series of vignettes that each encapsulate the mostly lows and sometimes highs her life. As with any life, it has not been without incident. The thing for me though, is that it the ‘incidents’ of her life are not particularly interesting.
I do understand that these moments are indeed worth recording because they are moments that we all share. Most of us life exceptionally ordinary lives and Smith's biography is no better or worse than might be expected. Some people have described this as “glorious in its saturating bathos”, but I just don’t see it myself.
For me the central problem is with Smith herself, I am not offended or affronted by the dull, but in her monotony of her life, it is not apparent that she has ever learnt or reflected on that life. If the point of this autobiography is that there is no point, I guess that I have the point.
It did have a pleasant cover though. Recommendation to avoid.
Speaking of avoiding… Let Me Go by Helga Schneider is probably the most frustrating book I’ve read in a while. It is another autobiographical text, one that probes the (non-) relationship between absent concentration camp guard and convicted (and unrepentant) war criminal mother, and angry, resentful and self-absorbed daughter.
Again, I understand that the concept of an autobiography is essentially a narcissistic one, when the two central figures in the piece are so loathsome – for very different reasons – it can be hard going making it all the way through.
I am sure that reconciling your own life with the knowledge that your mother was not only unrepentant – but proud – about her past (including stints in the most notorious extermination camps) must be difficult, and it is clear that the author had a difficult and isolated childhood marked by rejection. Yet the clear perception given by this book is that she is seemingly sorrier for herself than the more obvious victims of her mother’s beliefs and actions.
It is one of those occasions when you wouldn’t mind stepping into the text for a moment and give the two a slap around the chops.
Give it a miss.