Friday, May 25, 2012

The proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.

I’m not aware of any such services in the building! Mayfair Plaza car park, Sandy Bay. December 2011.

Three books finished this week, a Russian, Hungarian and American walked into a bar authors all represented.

First up is A Russian Affair by Anton Chekhov, a collection of five short stories all about love. Writing in the nineteenth century, Chekhov has a reputation for mastery of the short story form, so I was really looking forward to reading it. As a collection, A Russian Affair gives us a fair insight into Chekhov’s style, which has aged remarkably well and combines both an ease to with real emotional depth. Obviously, it represents a small sample of what Chekhov has to offer, but if you’re after a taste of his work, you could do far worse than this exploration of the emotional complexities of love. Recommended, especially if you are keen on quality short fiction.

Second up is Detective Story by Hungarian Nobel Laureate (and author of one of my favourite books , Fatelessness), Imre Kertész. Something of an inversion of the traditional hard-boiled detective novel, this one puts us into the mind of a cog in the brutal security apparatus of an unnamed Latin American country involved in the suppression of the people.

This is a highly staged police procedural, with our main narrator a chilling figure. Although he is ‘the new boy’, the furthest down the pecking order of a secret police unit designed to ‘upholder of the needs of the Homeland’ and perhaps the least despicable of that unit, he remains a torturer and exponent of the kind of extra-judicial murder that such ‘dirty wars’ are known for.

In the end, the mystery is really not much of a mystery. The real crux of the story is what drives the exponents of state repression, and explores the dark truths of the work of the secret police. As a work, it isn’t perfect (for instance, I’m never really convinced that we are in Latin America, as much of the manner and tone jars), but it is a worthwhile contribution to trying to understand some of the darker impulses of society. Recommended.

Last up is a dreamlike novel by Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping. This one was quite a tricky read for me in some respects, and a really strong example of a ‘feminine’ novel. A melancholy, lyrical story, submerged in in water, light and cold about three generations of women stuck in the American Pacific North-West.

Ruth is our narrator, who guides us through a haunting story of loss, place and transience. Abandonment really is at the heart of the novel, both in a physical and spiritual sense. Robinson readily incorporates vivid descriptions of the natural environment to explore the fragility of human relationships and the transitory nature of the physical world. It’s a hard book to talk about, and I’m still working some of it through my head, but I did appreciate the vibrant contrast of the violence, majesty and impermanence of the natural world with human attempts to control uncertainty. The tragedy of these particular women’s lives and the failure of each of them to ‘succeed’ in maintaining conventional social relationships – especially that of ‘family’ ¬– is especially moving.

The (almost) complete absence of male characters is particularly telling, and I suspect that it is deliberate. Indeed, it does accentuate the marginality of these women in their society and subverts patriarchal notions of family, social order, and gender roles. That said, I’m not sure that the misfortune of their existence is much of liberationist statement. Maybe it isn’t. This is a challenging and moving read. I think that I’d recommend it, but suspect I’ll still be mulling it over for some time yet.


Leovi said...

Very good composition, I love the light.

Kris said...

Hi Leovi, yeah, red brick is usually pretty striking.