Friday, September 09, 2011

It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.


The sun also rises. St George’s Church, Battery Point; as seen from Queen Street, Sandy Bay. September 2011.

A couple of books this week, of decidedly mixed resonance (and indeed esteem).

First up, the good! I read John Braine’s debut Room at the Top a few weeks ago and enjoyed it very much. Set ten years from the events of that novel, Life at the Top chronicles the life and trials of Joe Lampton, a once ambitious man of humble origins who has discovered that ‘life at the top’ (well, in the upper middle classes) is not all it was cracked up to be.

A fantastic snapshot of a certain time and place (England’s industrial north in the early-1960s), of a certain class consciousness (a rising proletariat and declining landed gentry) and a shifting gender and sexual politics. Life at the Top was seemingly lost in the rush of ‘angry young men’ novels that emerged in the UK in the late-1950s and seems now long forgotten. This is a shame, because it’s definitely a worthwhile addition to the canon and a worthy sequel to a fine debut from Braine.

The plot could have easily degenerated into the clichéd kitchen sink realism and soap opera, but I certainly think that Braine’s portrayal of one man’s mid-life crisis – at 35!!! – is a convincing and affecting one. I’d recommend this highly, and even more so when read in conjunction with the first novel.

Second up this week is the highly regarded work of Japanese Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata. Snow Country is widely regarded as Kawabata’s ‘masterpiece’, which is very much the reason that decided to read it!

Unfortunately, I can only assume that something has been lost in the translation – either linguistically or culturally. It is apparent that this is a book infused with atmosphere and resonating with cultural meaning for the Japanese man. As a decidedly-non Japanese man, I found it rather tedious and utterly devoid of emotion and charm.

Obviously there is a certain degree of lyrical beauty in the vivid (and l – o – n – g) descriptions of the snowy mountain country, but these elements cannot overcome the the utter lack of characterisation or plot. No more is this evident than the climax of the novel – which involves a death – as we the reader is left cold. Perhaps this is a deliberate aesthetic device, but (for me) this makes for very poor reading.

Give it a miss, unless you are a Buddhist aesthete for whom time and being is nothing.

2 comments:

Kris said...

*Ahem*

Roddy said...

Why is it that religious monoliths are built on man's misery?