Friday, April 13, 2012
Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.
I want to break free... East Derwent Highway, Lindisfarne. April 2012.
Two very different books this week. The first is Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands. Helpfully sub-titled Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will, this is a coffee-table book that combines hand drawn maps of fifty of the most remote and hostile islands on earth with brief, fable-like narratives of elements of their histories on the facing page.
Schalansky grew up in East Germany in 1980 and, unable to journey far, (and like many of thus) she travelled via the atlas. This book continues these imaginary voyages. Especially fascinated by isolated islands and tales of prisoners, castaways, natives and colonists, she has developed a book that draws the reader into these journeys. Not for everybody, but if this sounds appealing I would bet that you'd like it. Recommended for atlas-fanciers.
Second up is Up The Junction by Nell Dunn. Controversial at the time of its release in 1963, it depicts contemporary life in the industrial slums of Battersea, in greater London.
The book is a riot of colloquial speech and half-complete vignettes. It captures a chaotic life of fights, petty thief, casual sex, illicit births, deaths, prostitution and back-street abortion provided a view of life in the UK that shocked many.
As I've hinted, this is not your traditional novelistic structure. Mostly a series of incomplete sketches in the lives of three young women, it captures the lot of a [type of] woman’s life in the early sixties to now. What makes it particularly interesting is that this way of life has very much been ignored in literary works then (and to a degree) now.
This captures the feeling of both a nascent freedom (not just in relation to sex) underneath a crushing oppression. This is indeed a long way from the traditionally-understood feminist narrative. In some respects this is a bleak book. No details are spared and the lives described are particularly grim. There is particularly jarring description of the realities of back street abortion.
As such it is a powerful document of the time. The chaos will put some off, but it is worth the effort. Recommended.