Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Busy with books

Since my last blog entry I have read three very different books; Landor’s Tower by Ian Sinclair, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Where the Heart is by Billie Letts.

Landor’s Tower was a book that required a plough, a whip and a team of horses to negotiate. It was probably the most ‘difficult’ book I have ever read. Robert Sheppard’s book on Sinclair contains the following quote: ‘If you read Sinclair only for the story, you would hang yourself.’ I have to agree. Although the writing was sublime, the narrative was fragmentary, incomprehensible and confusing. If I hadn’t needed to read the book for my MA, I would have given up. Having said that there were some wonderfully descriptive passages that still make me smile when I think about them:

‘Now in the midsummer heat flies were upon him. They liked him, they loved this crazy Jewish diabetic. They described him, ravished him with tender, frenzied tongues. They bit and burrowed among the black hairs and salty craters of Silverfish’s wrist. They danced in his sweet blood, extending and retracing a multiplicity of jointed legs’ (p.6).

But native Bull Ring Birmingham is like gargling with glass, all the lithium flatness of Leicester with added gravy browning. Language is mangled, gobbed into an uncut string of consonants – like sausage meat (p.106).

There are hundreds of other examples of Sinclair’s wonderful way with words, but I prefer some story with my language and never really got into the book in the way I had hoped to. Contrasting reviews of Landor's Tower can be found here and here.

Where the Heart is was an easy read. The beginning of the book was better than the middle which was lumpy and galloped along with all of the finesse of a small child’s narrative - ‘and then, and then, and then...’ Suddenly several years had passed, punctuated by harrowing incidents of child abuse and mutilation which were glossed over because everyone was either okay or deserved what they had got from the karma fairy. I might do a more extensive review of this book before the book club meet to discuss it next month.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was a delight of a book which I gobbled in one sitting. It has been a while since I stayed up past one o’clock in the morning to finish a book. Atwood illustrates beautifully that patriarchy + fundamentalism = bad news for women. My favourite part of the novel came at the end, as a male professor of history attempted to sanitise the brutality of The Republic of Gilead by claiming: ‘our job is not to censure but to understand’ (p.315). When these words are juxtaposed with Offred’s narrative they draw a thick red line through the kind of apologia that defers to the ‘culture’ and ‘context’ of repressive regimes by excusing their violence and brutality to women. It’s a book I will definitely read again.

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