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.”
There are some books on which I find myself taking a weary chance purely by the weight of Amazonian algorithmic pressure. This is by no means a good reason to buy a book (although what better reason is there to buy one other than there is a book there to buy?) but at 99p an electronic book is easily discarded if it fails to grip. And ths one kept coming up on Amazon, over and over. And over. I grew to hate its cover, the name, the single initial forename of the author. I was in fact dead set against enjoying or even being fair-handed in criticism of the book when finally I turned the first virtual page.
Prejudice isn't strong enough to describe the feeling.
HOWEVER (in capitals so it's shouty and unavoidable) disregard everything I've said above. 99p is an absolute bargain for this (although I intend to purchase a hard copy when funds allow). It is ineffable, but I will attempt something of a review to give you an idea of why you should drop everything and buy a copy of thi…
I know, or knew, very little about B. S. Johnson, except in the capacity of disinterested bookseller, wherein he was a singular, if not significant, thorn in my side, his loose leafed volume, The Unfortunates, causing much consternation among customers who had no idea a) how to read the damned thing and b) HOW TO PUT IT BACK TOGETHER AGAIN. Indeed, he presaged the bookselling omnishambles of publishers like Phaidon with their book-in-a-bubble, or the ones with bloody rounded bottoms, or odd aspect ratios meaning they never ever fit or even stay on the damned shelves, and don't get me started on FUCKING SPIRAL BINDING.... ahem. Where was I? Oh yes. He had come to my attention only when someone brought me a copy of Albert Angelo and complained that someone had torn holes right through the pages. At the time, I somehow managed to hold my tongue, even when she went and found all of the copies we had to show me this vandal had done it to every single one, in exactly the same place. I d…