Friday, June 17, 2011
People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
Trees. The Hastings Caves State Reserve. The Huon Valley. June 2011.
I feel a little cruel to this week’s first book, Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck. Eking out snippets and snatches of reading at a time does not really do justice to a novel that seeks to engage with the epic trajectory of Germany’s troubling twentieth-century
The central ‘character’ of this novel is actually a place. A majestic house and its grounds by a lake in Brandenburg (once upon a time best buddy of Prussia, and then for a spell part of the German Democratic Republic) is witness to a succession of occupants that displace each other through the political turmoil of the twentieth century.
Like Erpenbeck’s other work, nothing is ever straightforward. The story does not progress through momentous occasions, and there are no grand scenes that progress the action. Indeed, we experience change only in shades, shadows or echoes.
As such, it is probably not the best book to be reading in scraps of time. I think that it would resinate far more if you were able to shut yourself off in a quiet room and immerse yourself.
Recommended for those without small children (or those with small children plus a nanny and sound-proofing).
Moss on a tree. The Hastings Caves State Reserve. The Huon Valley. June 2011.
Book two this week I really liked. A lot. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan is a really master class in storytelling.
The book is broken into five parts that alternate between the immediate present that takes place in the bedroom immediately after their marriage and “flash-backs” to their separate childhoods and home life as well as the development of their relationship with each other and each other’s respective families.
This novel is in one respect one long ‘sex scene’ (or tease). However, the tension and build up to the physical consummation of a marriage is really a creative narrative device that lets McEwan go about his magic. The book explores the danger of ‘unspoken’ conflict and the consequences of not speaking or not acting.
Ultimately, On Chesil Beach is much more than a simple story of suppressed emotion. In fact, it is deft exploration of how emotional wounds can be inflicted and the course of lives can be changed by simply not saying or doing nothing.
I expect that if I was prone to tears, I’d be weeping at the conclusion of this novel. It really is a heart-rendering piece, which is oddly life affirming (considering the dénouement). Very VERY highly recommended. Give it a run!