What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
I was told this would be a catered event.
I have always held the snug and
comforting illusion that Eco, being a rotund, avuncular European in my mind
(and in reality, once I’d bothered to look him up, judging from a photo grabbed
from Wikipedia – Eco is the ever so slightly less
hirsute mammal on the right) was a properly cuddly old European Intellectual
(capital I no less) who wrote comfortable fables of a suitably magical realism or
historical fantasy bent. No doubt, the rather good but clearly inadequate
cinematic version of The Name Of The Rose
is partially to blame.
A cursory investigation however dredged
up a host of worrying and confusing concepts and authors from the swamps of my
lost and forgotten academic hinterland – post-modernism, semiotics,
Michel Foucault, Julia
Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Roland Barthes. When I purchased a signed copy of The Prague Cemetery from the lovely
people at Rossiter Books (you can follow
them on Twitter so
you can) I believed I was in for a challenging but entertaining belt through
some of History’s (capital H mind you) most interesting events.
Not so cuddly.
What I got, however, made me anxious.
Here I was, thoroughly enjoying the surprise, arising from the forgotten love
of word-play, the fact that I didn’t need to care about
Foucault or Kristeva to “get it”, the fact that my history lessons hadn’t let
me down so much so that I couldn’t put all of the players into proper context,
and the fun of the double and sometimes triple narrative (how the author likes
to play with the Quixotic ‘found’ manuscript ruse!), and yet I found myself all
too often identifying with a protagonist who fears and detests Jews to the
point that his “work” eventually ends up on the tables of every anti-Semite in
the Western world. Am I therefore an anti-Semite? Is Eco? Am I right to
Of course not - although at times I
had to remind myself. My anxieties, as I understand it, are the pragmatic
response of the reader to the symbolism and its uses in the novel. My own cosy
assumptions were ripped asunder by the power and irresistible force of Eco’s
prose. And of course, ‘Captain’ Simone Simonini does not just hate the Jews –
he also hates the Jesuits, followers of Garibaldi, women, Palladians, Free
Masons, Russians, psychologists and mystics to name but a few. To have all of
that hate and bile decanted and distilled into one character, a curious
gourmand whose actions might disgust but whose life – and therefore in this
context, writings - you can’t help but wish to be prolonged, is quite
masterful. I can’t remember a moment when I wished that he would get on with
it, or when I found myself skipping a few lines to get back to the action. I
loved it, a strong sentiment indeed you might say, coming as it does from a man
who vacillates between delight and disgust when there are too many distractions
in a novel. Eco is awesome, and I am truly cowed by the complete erudition that
must underscore his writing talents – not that I was on his playing field to
start with. However, as my boss once said, “aim for the stars, young man, and
you will surely hit your ceiling.”
Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end.
You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …
If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.
We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …
Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":
met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/ (of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…