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 Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
It might be twelve years since I first read this novel, drawn
to it as I was at the time by the obvious and, I thought before reading it, gimcrack
gimmick of having a mythical beast as the protagonist in a story about love,
loss, rage, impotence, hope in the dust-bowl of Raymond Carver’s middle
America. I picked it up again recently because of the confluence of two events –
one, I found my first naive review of it in a stack of old clippings from a
newspaper for which I wrote nearly ten years ago, and two, because of the unexpected
loss of my friend’s brother, a man who despite his own issues, once pushed me
to explore new horizons (both personal and chemical) and whose favourite novel,
he told me in 2007, paraphrasing the microcosmic line “Maybe he sleeps, maybe
he doesn’t”, was this very book.
It feels a very American novel, if I can put it thus and
betray my own prejudices, given it borrows from European myth (M is not alone –
there’s a nymph working in a truck stop, playing Ms Pacman; Pan chases pigs
around a junkyard, and Medusa works in a freak show, scaring carnies into nearly
decapitating themselves) and even everyday life feels post-apocalyptic, with
peeling walls, stench and decay all-pervasive; cars are never new, work is impermanent,
connections temporary and self-serving. M, submitting to the attrition of
passing centuries, endures as best he can, watching rather than acting a part,
finding scant comfort in the immutability of menial tasks like sewing, food
prep and car maintenance. And yet, despite his advanced years, his itinerant
life (he’s lived everywhere at least once in his long existence), the horrors
of his past, he just wants to fit in. To be appreciated. To be accepted.
Leaving his windows open so that the sounds of life at the trailer park wash
over him as he fails to sleep; practising saying sorry to the new waitress, epileptic
Kelly, in whom he sees the vaguest of vague hopes of a shared isolation, a folk
community of two. And it’s hope that categorises this novel. Watching the
atrocious Red Dwarf VIII earlier this week Kristine Kochanski said,
ponderously, that even the word hopeless has hope in it, and M is not quite
ready to give up on life, even if he has an unorthodox approach to
communicating his desires.
Evocative, accessible, and gently melancholic, written
sparely but poetically (or perhaps poetic because written sparely), Sherrill’s
novel captured my imagination back then and re-reading it has meant discovering
a new layer of enjoyment, as a more practised reader and a more mature* mind. I
found out recently that it pre-dates America
Gods by a few months, but it shares a landscape with my favourite Gaiman
novel, and might now be inexorably linked. I think I will need to go find a new
copy of that too…
Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.
For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…
By all accounts, Hereward was the guerrilla scourge of the invading Norman armies in eleventh century Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, famous for isolating and dismembering members of the Norman nobility who strayed too far from home, and also for trashing Peterborough and hiding on an island. Called variously (and often erroneously) The Wake, The Exile or The Outlaw, his infamy was such that families in search of noble English lineage have usurped his "heroism" for their own glory even until this very day. Rex delights in highlighting one author's particular folly, entitled Hereward, The Saxon Patriot, in which Lieutenant-General Harward attempts to run his antecedents right back to the loins of the eponymous gentleman-rogue.
Having only read the introduction to Peter Rex's myth-busting (and often ill-edited) work, I was already struck by an initial thought which ran thus: if as Rex asserts Hereward was the son of Asketil Tokison, a descendant of a wealthy Danish family …
The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…