Henry Chinaski the anti-hero. He’s loveable and loathable in equal measures. Flawed, lonely, horny and drunk. He’s Jay Gatsby. He’s Dean Moriarty. Hell, Hank Chinaski is Hank Moody (for any Californication fans out there). It’s transgressive fiction at its best. … Continue reading
Queer by William S. Burroughs has been shelved on my bookcase for the best part of five years. I bought it along with other famed Beat Generation pieces: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Burroughs most famed novels, Junky and Naked Lunch. I read On the Road first; an arduous, albeit profoundly rewarding read. Due to On the Road’s unique style, I approach the Beat movement with trepidation. This time I opted for a decidedly slimmer volume: Queer.
A love story?
Written by Burroughs in 1952, and first published in 1985, Queer is the story of William Lee and his attempt to woo Eugene Allerton. The blurb describes Queer as ‘love story’, but describing it as a love story doesn’t quite sit right with me. Instead, it is a story about unrequited love: intense sexual desire and extreme desperation for human contact. Lee’s love interest, Allerton, is uninterested in his relentless advances. Eventually, he expresses curiosity in homosexuality, and succumbs to a physical relationship with Lee, but it becomes increasingly clear that they have differing agendas.
A feeling of deep tenderness flowed out from Lees body at the warm contact. He snuggled closer and stroked Allerton’s shoulder gently. Allerton moved irritably. pushing Lee’s arm away.
Although aware of, and extremely hurt by, Allerton’s disinterest, Lee continues to chase after him. Lee requires an audience and contact: he talks a lot (Allerton, on the other hand, has little to say), he tells fantastical stories and puts on over the top routines in an effort to attract Allerton’s attention. Continue reading
There’s something about Brodie! She is perhaps one of the most complex literary characters that I have come across; she is neither likeable (her admiration of Hitler and Mussolini assures this) nor unlikeable, both heroine and villain, controlling, and “held in great suspicion”. But she is also a woman celebrating her “prime”; she’s enchanting, glamorous, obsessed with romantic love and yet aware that “the age of chivalry is past”. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life”, says Brodie early on in the novel. It is this far-reaching and manipulative influence on her selected pupils, the Brodie set, the ‘creme de la creme’, which forms the basis for the story.
Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie focuses on schoolmistress Jean Brodie and her Brodie set: Monica Douglas, “famous mostly for mathematics… and for her anger”; Rose Stanley, “famous for sex”; Eunice Gardiner, “famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamorous swimming”; Sandy Stranger, “notorious for her small, almost non-existent, eyes, but she was famous for her vowel sounds”; Jenny Gray, the “most graceful girl of the set”; and Mary Macgregor, “whose fame rested on her being a silent lump, a nobody whom everybody could blame”.
Admittedly, I didn’t fall in love with any of these characters, yet they all enthralled me. Their comic naivety is their redeeming feature (“Mr Lloyd had a baby last week. He must have committed sex with his wife.”), but they become increasingly more selfish, shrewd and cliquey under the tutelage of Miss Jean Brodie at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Continue reading
Faulkner said “in writing, you must kill all your darlings”. On the surface the language used in As I Lay Dying appears to subvert this dogma: it is poetic and beautifully written, but it is not merely decorative infill, it is loaded with meaning. As is the magic of Faulkner, each time I read this novel, I take new things from it and I half expect (and hope) to never fully understand it.
He has a way with words that arrests me. Stops me dead. When I first read Addie Bundren’s section in As I Lay Dying, I read it ten times more. Something just clicked and things started falling into place.
Despite the entire story revolving around her death, for the most part, Addie’s voice is absent. We seek to understand her through the actions and words of others and are granted a single insight in one small section: Addie’s.
She married for the wrong reasons, she committed adultery, she struggled to feel, she could not connect emotionally with others and so to do so, she beat the “dirty, snuffling” children that she taught as a young woman. Only through violence did she feel she could make an impression on another human being:
and I would think with each blow of the switch : Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in you secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever (Addie)
And yet I find it difficult to feel contempt for her. Instead, she saddens me. And while she saddens me, her words inspire me Continue reading
Nawaal-El-Saadawi-who? I have never heard of her, let alone have I read any of her books. fact, I am ashamed that I have never heard of her – being a graduate of English Literature who spent most of her studies … Continue reading
If I can’t read ‘Avatar: The Prequel’ with a pair of 3D glasses – then maybe I’ll just wait for the film…
What is the point in dustjackets?
Yet, I wonder, is it all a question of identity and interpretation?
The jacket with all its fancy words, bright colours and artistic images is merely a marketing tool which unknowingly influences us when choosing a book. “Pick me! Pick me!”, and in our confusion we run for the one that attracts our eye, turn it over and only then do we read the blurb.
Consequently, in making our preliminary judgement of a book on its cover alone, does this then influence our reading of the text? Probably.
Our niggling desire to undress the book and unleash it from its restrictive jacket, is to free it from all preconceived ideologies and rid it of its imposing identity.
Its blank face left ready for us to make our own interpretation…
…but I can’t help it! I have only just discovered Penguins new hardback classics, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith – where have I been! So I have invested in these two beauts, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights…. (not the prettiest of the … Continue reading