Friday, November 18, 2011

Good sense is both the first principal and the parent source of good writing.


Pointing south. Bellerive boardwalk. October 2011.

Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes was written in 1958 and details the emergence of the ‘mod’ and explores uneasy race relations in inner-city London in the lead up to the swinging sixties.

I initially found it a frustrating read, as the (unnamed) teenage narrator speaks with a litany of (now-) clich├ęd slang and puns, but once I reminded myself that in many respects MacInnes is recording this language in print for the first time I decided to roll with it.

As such, it is an interesting snapshot of a very specific time and place, and the story rollicks along at a cracking pace to a decent conclusion. Recommended.

I will be frank and admit that I did not find the same thing with Women As Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek. In the novel, Jelinek – an Austrian novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 (a seemingly controversial choice) – employs an ‘interesting’ style. She avoids capitalisation entirely (including proper nouns). Each sentence is given a paragraph break, regardless of length. Sentences are, for the most part, short.

Complementing (compounding?) the experimental nature of the novel is the fact that the courses of the lives of two women are told against each other. One chapter we are with Bbrigette who hates Hheinz but loves the idea of marrying him because he represents her best chance at material wealth and ‘the good life’; and the next chapter we are with Ppaula, who follows her heart and dreams rather than conforming to society’s conception of that very same ‘good life’.

As an exercise in creatively eviscerating the place of ‘woman’ in society through a Marxist/ feminist lens, it is a great success. Class and gender are effectively explored and critiqued through the narrative. As an exercise of skilful writing and storytelling, I’m less convinced. While I’d not go so far as denounce Jelinek as a fraud or of completely lacking in talent, I didn’t enjoy the act of reading as I usually do. It felt like a chore, and that’s rarely a recommendation.

4 comments:

Roddy said...

The arrow almost looks like the symbol off a convict uniform circa 1800ish.

Tash said...

Bravo for plowing thru those books and finding merits to them. Elfrieda -- fascinating name but must be hard going thru life with it.
The photo makes me think of "peek-a-boo". How unusual that it is curved.
I tried listening to "A portrait of an artist as a young man"...after 10 minutes, I was ready to throw the whole audio book out the window. Maybe it reads better.

Kris said...

Roddy, could be.

Tash, it's been a while since I've given up on a book. To be fair though, I've not read too many beyond 250 pages this year.

Leovi said...

An arrow very interesting. Absolute Beginners looks like a very interesting book.