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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Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
You were sick, but now you're well and there's work to do.
Please assume I’ve included the usual Vonnegut disclaimer here to start with. That way I can charge straight into the regulation waxing lyrical.
Cue gasps of horror and disdain etc. and so on.
Well. I should probably explain. Timequake is Vonnegut’s “last” novel, published in 1997. It struggles somewhat with the fact that the main plot device, a blip in the linear nature of time which causes everyone on the planet to jump back ten years and live it all over again with no ability to affect the direction of their lives or change any decisions already made, is ostensibly that of a novel which he hasn’t been able to write to his own satisfaction. It became this novel partly because he lacked the focus and willpower to shape it into a novel in its own right, and so instead, like the many Kilgore Trout short story ideas that litter this and other novels, it is just the bones of an idea lacking the meat (which would be ‘eaten by sharks’ anyway, so he reports in a prescient statement as to its eventual critical reception) of a really excellent book.
The other drawback, in my opinion, is that most of the vignettes, the little asides about Vonnegut’s own trials and tribulations, including his trips to the shop for an envelope each time he needs to send his typewritten manuscript to his copy-editor in his own inimitably Mock-Luddite fashion, have been seen before. Lovely as it is to reminisce about his other works, notably ‘Fates Worse than Death’ in which much of the autobiographical stuff first breathed air in 1991, and to meet Trout once more at the end of his life, it’s a bit of a hash. Or a ‘stew’ as the author suggests.
Now, that’s not to say that what we have here is not full of writerly merit. He is poignant, dark, soulful, and tear-jerkingly beautiful. He makes sound political observations (he suggests a new and forward-looking amendment to the Constitution to the tune of ''Every adult who needs it shall be given meaningful work to do, at a living wage.”) and sharp social comments, and his pseudonymous alter-ego keeps coming up with the goods in terms of his short story output, many of which are summarized as examples of Vonnegut’s conclusions on the world. But the borrowing of Hemingway’s dark metaphor and the apathy of the world to the new-found self-determinism at the end of the timequake decade portend the darkening of his mood, evidence of the struggle to come to terms with the entropic nature of his creative energies. In my eyes it feels very much like the last book, and with that comes a sense of loss. This, in turn, engenders anger that it could all come to this. I’m annoyed there will be no more (notwithstanding the tranche of posthumously published work that appeared as if by magic once he had no veto on their publication).
But then maybe he’d just had enough. "You were sick, but now you're well, and there's work to do,” yells Trout in the ears of those paralysed by the availability of free will, and maybe Vonnegut’s lack of the creative imperative finally left him free to make his own choices, among them to not write.
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…