Friday, February 18, 2011

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.


As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in luve am I: And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry. St Johns Park, New Town. February 2011.

I’m ahead of the pace to knock over 85 books this year. With 15 down, I’ve only another 70 to go!

This week, what a pearler to begin with!

Despite all the awards she one (including the Nobel), and all of the esteem that she’s held, I’ve only just read my first Toni Morrison novel. I figured that if I was going to explore her oeuvre – oohh err missus – I’d go right back to where it started…

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel. It covers a year in the life of a number of young black girls in against the backdrop of America's Midwest in the years following the Great Depression. Like a lot of stuff written in the late-1960s, the shifts about a number of characters, as well as a third-person, omniscient perspective. However, (unlike many novelists in the late-1960s) Morrison has the skill to pull it off effectively. In fact, her use is a great example of how such a device can aid in constructing a depth of characterisation rarely seen in such a challenging (in terms of subject matter) tale.

Without giving the game away, the novel explores ideas of ‘beauty’, particularly those that relate to racial characteristics, gender, race, deprivation, historical memory, the sexualisation of youth, and the determinants that shape individual’s character, choices and lives.

It’s a wonderful book, and one in which the author expertly (and seemingly effortlessly) recreates a world populated with rich characters so far from one’s own to a degree rarely seen. Even more so, she has avoided the clichéd exercise of the literary expression of ‘victim as martyr’ or ‘misery as entertainment’.

I could not possibly recommend it more highly.

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell is a lovely, silent little novel. Telling a story from the American Midwest in the 1920s, it weaves a couple of interconnected stories in a wonderfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past.

It is a hard book to speak about without giving too much away, but I can heartily recommend it. The art of rendering a heartbreaking intimacy in such a subdued way has rarely been matched in my experience.

Read it!

The third this week also comes with some pedigree, Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam winning the 1998 Booker Prize. A good old fashioned morality tale, filled with moral choices, moral responsibilities, the decisions that are made and the consequences we face.

A world inhabited by a group of egotistical men connected by a shared lover (the funeral at the beginning). A newspaper editor struggling with turning his broadsheet into a tabloid, an eminent composer faced with the task of writing a ‘millennium symphony’ (three years early), an odious Foreign Secretary (and would be Prime Ministerial challenger) and an aloof millionaire widow.

A fine read that should be enjoyed by misanthropes the world over.