Friday, August 12, 2011
Books are humanity in print.
Heading home. Elizabeth Street, as viewed from the pier. June 2011.
Three books this week and the strike rate has not been pretty. First up is Finnish author Elina Hirvonen’s When I Forgot. The critical reaction seems to be very favourable, and I must admit that I’m struggling to see why. The story of damaged people and damaged families, and the harm that they inevitably do to each other; it utilises a fractured narrative to exemplify the ‘brokenness’ of the central characters. In this sense, this is not a subtle book. In broad brush strokes it ties together the idea of memory with the reality of unfortunate childhood(s), mental illness, relationship failures and even the linkage between personal and familial dysfunction and national identity and loss.
I dunno, some described this book as "potent, fragile, and tender" but the words “self-indulgent,” “overwrought,” “confusing,” and “narcissistic” more readily come to mind. Not recommended.
Speaking of narcissistic...
I like a lot of Günter Grass's novels very much. Indeed, some of them rank among my absolute favourites. However, I do find Grass the public figure a little bit tiresome, so it was with some trepidation that I began reading the autobiographical The Box. Tracking his life from the early-1960s to the early-1990s, Grass (with some creative sleight of hand) reconstructs events using the memories and viewpoints of his eight children – across a number of mothers – to give insight into his life.
It’s a novel way of going about the job, but understandably one that drifts along inconsistently, as voices emerge and depart, overlap one another, become confused and bicker about the details. Credit to Grass for allowing an image of a loving, but disconnected father who was always more interested in himself, his writing and his role of public provocateur than he is in engaging with his children.
Structurally, The Box is at times at tricky read. Imagine being stuck in a room of squabbling siblings with a grumpy old German snapping at them to “talk about me!” For the strong of will, why not? For anybody else, it might be worth giving it a miss.
Next, another Grass! The odd little experiment that is Headbirths, or, the Germans Are Dying Out. Written at the end of the 1970s, this book reflects an awaking to cinematic form for the author (Volker Schlöndorff’s adaption of The Tin Drum had just won the Palme d'Or and Best Foreign Language film Oscar). As such, it is a confusing mash up of screen treatment and novel.
A weird little polemic that is part-political manifesto, part-cultural study, part-pseudo-philosophical treatise, part-travel diary, part-smarmy exploration of birth/ death/ identity/ capitalism/ communism/ religion etc etc etc. As such, it can a frustrating bugger when you’re really not in the mood and would like a little more meat and potatoes and a little less smoke and mirrors.
I wouldn’t bother...