The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 26 May 2024

– XXVIII –

Unfulfilled ambitions? Reminisces of paths and possibilities not taken? This is no tragedy. You just described in actuality, the kitchen sink drama of life. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Jenny Erpenbeck Wins the International Booker Prize 2024

Jenny Erpenbeck wins the International Booker Prize 2024, with her novel: “Kairos.”

Jenny Erpenbeck is one of the most remarkable German language writers currently at work; whose novels reckon with and wrestle with the individual and personal histories and their relation to historical and sociopolitical moments, which change course and direction. Growing up in East Germany, Erpenbeck recalled with casual indifference that she was asleep when the Berlin Wall was in its initial stages of being torn down. While the world and the city partied at the conflux of the divided city reconciling, Erpenbeck was tucked in for the night, surrendering herself to tomorrow. For Erpenbeck, the Berlin Wall was merely the edge of the world for her, a mundane place where her family had outings or partook in picnics. The wall lacked the grimness depicted in western media. Throughout her novels, Jenny Erpenbeck maintains an accountancy of history and time, both in its historical developments and consequences, but also the personal and emotional driftwood, always at risk of being washed away or bowled over by the more substantial and transformative waves.

“Kairos,” her International Booker Prize winning novel is no different. With the dissolution of East Germany as the backdrop, Erpenbeck traces the disintegration of a love affair, between a young student and an old writer. Of course, the novel is not just a testament to the imbalances of love as power; the whirls of passion which inevitably burn themselves out; it provides testimony on the nature of art, power, and culture. If anything, “Kairos,” uses the love affair and its damaging ignition and turbulent end, as allegory of the end of an era, a nation, and a city. An era of immense gains and new found freedoms, undercut by the complete collapse and loss of an entire reality. The International Booker Prize jury praised, Michael Hoffman for his beautiful translation, by embodying the layered and eccentric language of Erpenbeck, with her run on sentences, but also expansive emotional resonance and vocabulary. It was marvelous to hear

“Kairos,” is a novel of intimate secrets and passions, but also the imbalance and cruelty of passionate love, while branching out and being infected by the historical and social changes of the time, which threaten to complete upend one’s own understanding and certainty on reality. “Kairos,” proves Jenny Erpenbeck herself to be one of the most important contemporary German writers at work currently writing today. This award also cements Michael Hoffman as one of the most important translators currently working, and this is the first time the International Booker Prize went to a German language writer and a male translator.

Congratulations to Jenny Erpenbeck, a very well-deserved award!

Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Alice Munro Dies Aged 92

Hello Gentle Reader,

Few names are as lauded and admired in Canadian literature and the short story format as Alice Munro’s. There are few who are considered her contemporary or equal in master of the short story form, and those who are: pay tribute to their debt to Munro. Despite her gigantic status as literary icon, Munro, never appeared distant or celestial. There was no insistence that she was a regular and or normal person, she merely was, who also happened to be a magnificent writer. Munro’s warmth and graciousness are equally praised in addition to her literary achievement. As the “Master of the Contemporary Short Story,” as the Swedish Academy declared, when announcing Alice Munro as a Nobel Laureate in Literature (2013), Munro proved herself to be an incisive and psychological portraitist, whose narratives were less interested in parading fact and dissecting the narrative to its sequential events; instead, Munro evoked narratives and embedded them with a sense of joy undercut with an understanding of tragedy. Admired for her stories which celebrated the everyday and the common, Munro often seemed perplexed by this sometimes-unintended backhanded compliment. Her characters were housewives, chambermaids, civil servants, farmers. All in all, ordinary people; but their lives were extraordinary, full of personal heartbreaks, open secrets, private tragedies, moral hypocrisy (and decay), through the expansive and isolative Canadian landscape, and the often-puritanical Canadian small town, with its social scriptures and edifices. The short story structure also changed in Munro’s hands. Time, once reserved only for the novel, was employed in full in Munro’s work. Short stories were no longer limited in the temporal space in which they could cover, they were capable of moving decades into the future and backwards, providing a long view of the characters progressions through their lives, and all their successes and failings, providing a humanistic and extensive overview of a life. “The Love of a Good Woman,” opens with this narrative perfectly, providing a beautiful full circle portrait of a cast of characters and their private failings, misunderstandings, and even crimes. The extraordinary tragedy of the ordinary is also beautiful captured in Munro’s work. Infanticide, sexual exploitation, murder, domestic abuse, illness, these are no longer sensationalist themes or tropes, but are sculpted in beautiful and understated prose, completive void of ostentatious exaggeration, and are remarked with an almost blunt matter of fact recount. Having retired from writing in 2012 with her final collection “Dear Life,” the world has come to accept there will be no more Alice Munro stories in the future, but now with her death, its resounding clear that the world has lost one of its great psychological surveyors who celebrated and elevated the ordinary to extortionary heights. Who through hard work and dedication, with a strict adherence to form, finally ensure the short story got its overdue recognition as a literary form of equal respect.

Rest in Peace Alice Munro.

 
Thank You for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
 

M. Mary  

Thursday 2 May 2024

Paul Auster, Dies Aged 77

Hello Gentle Reader,

Paul Auster is one of the most well known and regarded postmodernists of American literature. Just as cerebral as Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo; Auster became famous for his pastiche and slipstream novels, defying the psychological and realistic narrative premises often associated with literary fiction, and playfully explored themes of identity, chance, coincidence, loss, grief, and one’s sense reality (or their perception of it) being altered, or becoming alienated from it. Styled, the Brooklyn Bard, and though regarded as a New York literary institution, Brooklyn, remained the haunting ground of Paul Austre, in similar fashion to James Joyce’s Dublin, Philip Roth’s New Jersey, or Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul. Brooklyn became immortalized in Auster’s literary universe through his “New York Trilogy,” (“City of Glass,” “Ghosts,” “The Locked Room,”) this trilogy of novels, not only infiltrates the noir mystery genre, but inverts the medium into a postmodern portrait, whereby the nature of identity and reality are deconstructed, examined, and left in a state of post-structuralist disarray. Identity and reality are not static elements in Auster’s work, its palpable, adaptable, and changeable. Throughout “The New York Trilogy,” identity is both lost and replaced. Identity in turn becomes an increasingly metafictional conundrum for the writer, whereby fictional reality and the intrusion of autobiography or reality can become difficult to delineate. The enduring appeal and success of “The New York Trilogy,” showcased the promise of an otherwise brilliant writer and foreshadowed a brilliant career. Auster did not disappoint. What followed suit was a brilliant and prolific literary career, with a variety of interests in different literary mediums, Auster continually returned to the pen and paper out of curiosity, interest, and enduring appreciation for the literary. Paul Auster was always that unique blend of late postmodernism, echoing sentiments of rockstar appeal for being new and exciting, while also being a writer whose literary depth defied superficial criticism challenging his credentials and charging him as an imposter. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Auster remained a fashionable and hip postmodernist, never coming to rest on his laurels, and bask on previously treaded ground, and continued to produce on a novel a year, his last one “Baumgartner,” released just last year, and was heralded as a beautiful novel tracing the aches of memory and the spiraling delirium of old age, grief, and loneliness. Of his generation, Paul Auster, is perhaps the most accessible and enjoyable. What both endears and confounds, is perhaps the contrariness of his work. Auster’s language literary language is lucid and agreeable, never twisting itself into an esoteric code or enigmatic linguistic puzzle, but his narratives and plots delight in breaking and warping the conventions of narrative, much to the irritation of critics and theorists. Paul Auster’s death is an immense loss to contemporary American Literature. Truly one of the greatest postmodernist writers of its canon, an unequivocal and unapologetic practitioner of the form and style, while remaining a inherently American sensibility.

Rest in Peace Paul Auster.


Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
 

M. Mary

Sunday 28 April 2024

– XXVII –

Life exists between two opposing forces: the grief of homesickness and the cry for transience. Happiness is found in the provisional periphery, in anonymity.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Patricia Highsmith & The Enduring Allure of the Shadow

Hello Gentle Reader,

It’s been almost thirty years since Patricia Highsmith died, yet her literary legacy cuts a haunting figure. There have been a variety of film adaptions of her work, from Alfred Hitchcock’s watered-down version of “Strangers on the Train,” to the first adaption of the “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” rebranded as “Purple Noon,” and then once again made more famous with the 1999 film “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” which remains an audience favourite, despite not being the most accurate adaption of the novel. Then there was the film, “Carol,” an adaption of the classic lesbian novel, “The Price of Salt,” which was not only gorgeously shot and produced, but captured the rarely seen softer side of Highsmith. Of course there are the myriad of other adaptions: “Black Water,” “The Two Faces of January,” “The Glass Cell,” “The Cry of the Owl,” “The Sweet Sickness,” to name but a few. Then there is the plethora of theatrical and radio adaptions, which fail to be accounted for. These past two decades there have been two biographies of Patrica Highsmith, the first “Beautiful Shadow,” by Andrew Wilson was published in 2003; the second, “The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith,” by the late Joan Schenkar was published in 2009. In 2014 Joanna Murray-Smith’s play “Switzerland,” was produced and staged. “Switzerland,” imagines a fictional version of the well-known reclusive, misanthropic, bitter, and private Highsmith, who, secluded in her Swiss modernist bunker-like house, is visited by perhaps her most famous literary creation. In 2021, at long last the infamous Highsmith Journals were compiled and released for public consumption. Previously, they had only been quoted, analyzed, and presented via the biographies, where they took on a dangerous appeal. In hardcover form, the book is almost a thousand pages long and traces the years of 1941 – 1995. Now, Netflix has released a new adaption of Patricia Highsmith’s most famous literary invention: Tom Ripley, with their miniseries “Ripley.” All of which proves that Patricia Highsmith, be it her literary work, life and biography, journals, or character, continues to be the dry ice of inspiration, which we reach out to tantalizingly touch and recoil at not only the burn, but the lasting chill.

Patricia Highsmith remains an enduring and alluring figure for a variety of reasons. In discussing her literary output, critics agree that Highsmith has been (pun intended) criminally miscategorized as a crime writer or thriller writer; and while her works certainly revolve around criminal inclinations and devious acts; Highsmith was more concerned with the existential and psychological aspects of these mindsets. Crime novels, during Highsmith’s times were concerned with upholding the moral integrity and probity of good always overcomes the nefarious, dubious, and diabolical. They were cozy reads of an otherwise garden variety. Puzzles for readers to sniff out the killer lurking amongst the pages, while justice as a virtue would ultimately prevail. Patricia Highsmith in turn obliterated these concepts. First, Highsmith began to autopsy the placid normalcy of daily life, revealing layer by layer the festering filth and debauchery which lurked within everyone’s psyche. Thoughts people never spoke of. Be it threats of violence, or fantasies of murder, or compulsive obsessions. As “Strangers on the Train,” eloquently calculates that in desperation and debauchery, murder can change otherwise unhappy circumstances, be it the death of an unfaithful wife, or an oppressive father. Murder was no longer reduced to an unforgivable act of moral failing and falter, but evolved into a somewhat cooler arresting concept resembling a mundane transaction or basic commerce. When Agatha Christie caused an outrage and controversy with the twist ending of “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” Highsmith, a prolific alcoholic, quite literally said: “hold my beer,” and continued to push that literary envelope. Yet, Highsmith’s treatment of crime and murder went beyond a thriller novel’s usual resume and output. When Graham Greene styled Highsmith “The Poet of Apprehension,” it was with good reason, as Patricia Highsmith, was more interested in spelunking and analyzing the character traits of her otherwise placidly normal people who had finally begun to entertain and entreat their darker thoughts, fantasies, obsessions and desires. This is perhaps why throughout her lifetime, Highsmith had a warmer reception in Europe for her work, where they viewed her as an existential modernist, whereas in the United States of America, she was viewed a crime writer who broke the conventions of the format.

Patrica Highsmith’s character and life remain a fascinating display of mercurial contrary paradoxes. Both biographies of Patricia Highsmith (“Beautiful Shadow,” and “The Talented Miss Highsmith,”) agree she was a complex and difficult woman, which is further supported by her journals. Throughout her life, Highsmith was militant in her defense of her private life. Publicly, Highsmith presented a cold and aloof personality. Highsmith never married, and openly remarked on her preference for bestial company to that of people, going so far as to proclaim her distaste for others by being quoted:

            “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”   

Solitude was preferable. The late sage of Suffolk, friend and frequent visitor Ronald Blythe, remarked she often grew tired of his company. Fun fact, both Blythe and Highsmith were gay, though they kept this part of their lives to themselves, and yet still they still initiated and attempted sex. The nature of her sexual preference, was a bone of contention for Highsmith. In her youth she attempted psychoanalysis to rid herself of her infatuation of women. It obviously didn’t work, as Highsmith would go on to have a laundry list of lovers who she intensely and passionately adored and desired, and then abruptly abandoned and discarded. A few turned up in her books as victims, brutally murdered, proving that Highsmith had no sympathies for victims. Still, after a lifetime of curating and assembling a public persona that was obviously cold, bitter, and warningly misanthropic, it came as a shock for readers to learn that Highsmith was not reptilian, but warm blooded. She did, however, remain cruel in the end. In her later years, Patricia Highsmith had carved out a home within the sunless Swiss mountains, which physically emancipated her from public life, and facilitated her solitary lifestyle, which she viciously protected like a brown recluse spider. Overtime, Highsmith’s misanthropy graduated to equal opportunity offender, where she would unleash onslaughts and tirades, regardless of venue and revel in the indignation. She was known to spew venom vitriol with equal liberty and without concern. Otto Penzler (a former editor and publisher of Highsmith, before dropping her) described her as:

“She [Patricia Higsmith] was a mean, cruel, hard, unlovable, unloving human being…I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly.”

The late aged Patricia Highsmith is the most recognizable image of the author. Reclusive and unapologetically misanthropic, whose mean-spirited endeavors rivaled Olympic sporting events in both agility and testament to skill. What has since come about, is Highsmith was a mercurial and complex individual and writer, impossible to pin down and completely ungraspable. Forever shifting and ambiguous, with quicksilver changes, Highsmith defied concrete definitions and compartmentalization’s, and didn’t suffer those fool hearty enough to try to force her into any pre-conceived notion or expectation. To summarize Highsmith as being hardboiled and embittered, and venomously vicious when provoked or disturbed, overlooks her penchant for mordant humour, caustic wit, and unique insight into the consciousness of guilt, apprehension, and obsession. The truth is, Patricia Highsmith was amorphous. A shifting shroud of shade and shadow. One moment on the attack unleashing a torrent of racist and antisemitic remarks. The next, dreaming about some frivolous notion of domestic life with a woman she might love. At her best, however, she was hunched over her Olympia typewriter at her roll top desk, punching away at another novel or short story that delved into the abnormality and darkness of the human soul. Then the pendulum would swing back once again, whereby fueled by cigarettes and alcohol, Highsmith would once again recount, document, record, and scribble in her journals, be it an observation, idea, a list, fantasy, or any other notion. Highsmith loved and hated in equal vein and with the same intensity, often felt simultaneously as a singular experience.

While I haven’t finished the series, “Ripley,” just yet, I’ve enjoyed it thus far. It's a slow burn. Masterfully shot and stylish. The atmosphere is taut with apprehension and menace. The climatic confrontation between Ripley and Dickie is perfect. Ripley, never loses control, carrying out the act with meticulous cold precision. I have found it so disappointing in some reviews the fixation on the ambiguity of Highsmith’s famous American antihero, Tom Ripley’s sexual orientation. The infamous “clothes scene,” seems to have some viewers convinced that Tom Ripley is gay. For the record, Patricia Highsmith dismissed these theories long ago. Furthermore, the term ‘queer,’ when used in the show is not used in its new fashionably remediated format. It’s the old form carrying the tar and feather motivation such an insult was meant to invoke and incite, to purposefully denigrate an individual with no basis, into a category that defines them as somehow a corruption or mistake of nature, perverted and foul. Hearing the term used makes my fingers curl. The subject of Ripley’s sexuality is rather an unimaginative talking point in turn. Sex, much like con artistry, forgery or murder, for Ripley is merely an application or a tool, it is purely utilitarian. What is alluring and so enduring about the talented Tom Ripley, is his nebulous nature, completely chameleonic, shifting and adapting, measured and controlled. Ripley is the cuckoo bird or a changeling, the believable imposter. In the case of Dickie Greenleaf, there may have been adoration for the wayward prodigal son, as Ripley saw a cash cow which he could syphon and symbiotically leech off of. Its climatic conclusion was not the end for Ripley, it was only the beginning of an even more rewarding life. This is what is perhaps most compelling about Tom Ripley as a character, he's not outwardly deranged nor interiorly disturbed. Ripley (much like Highsmith) longed to be inducted and included among the elites. The two of them wanted a life of leisure and pleasure. The amicable good life. Ripley’s transformation is nothing short of Gatsby in its achievement.

Patricia Highsmith, never had the success in her native homeland of the United States. She was perennially shunned because she refused to subscribe and disseminate the virtues of justice and moral probity. Instead, Highsmith kept company with a more nefarious breed, plumbing the depths of the darker recess of the mind. Highsmith was the eclipse on the ideals of American justice, which she found not only hypocritical but puritanically misapplied. As a writer, Patricia Highsmith wrote as a dark mirror reflecting the hidden noctuary of the human condition, all the lusts, envies, greed, obsessions, strange desires, and all the devils clawing at the door. In existentialist fashion, she sought to bring readers face to face with these unacknowledged corners of our own consciousness. As a compelling character and individual, Patricia Highsmith strikes a profoundly complex figure, one who completely refuses to be captured in some neat portrait. Highsmith’s figure shifts unapologetically from the beautiful young woman of her youth, striking and gorgeous, to the gorgonized hardened gargoyle visage of her older years, which remains the most recognizable version to many readers. Her literary works remain compelling, dark glacier wellsprings which readers and writers often return to peer into the dark inky ice ridden depths, as if summon some new form of inspiration. Almost thirty years after her death, and Patricia Highsmith experiences an almost reoccurring sense of renewed appreciation, which was so lacking in her own lifetime. If anything, Patricia Highsmith has proven that there is an enduring allure to the shadow, the inscrutable and unknowable darkness of the human consciousnesses. As a writer, Highsmith was surveyor and spelunker of these amoral landscapes, exploring the depths of guilt, the thralls of obsessions, and conductor of the apprehension.


Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
 

M. Mary

Tuesday 9 April 2024

The International Booker Prize Shortlist, 2024

Hello Gentle Reader,

This years International Booker Prize Shortlist has just been released. Six novels have made the cut, with surprising omissions being trimmed away during the judges’ deliberations. This year’s shortlist consists of the following writers and novels:

            Jenny Erpenbeck – Germany – “Kairos,”
            Hwang Sok-young – (South) Korea – “Mater 2-10,”
            Jente Posthuma – The Netherlands – “What I’d Rather Not Think About,”
            Selva Almada – Argentina – “Not a River,”
            Ia Genberg – Sweden – “The Details,”
            Itamar Vieira Junio – Brazil – “Crooked Plow,”

It’s a twisted fate for previous winners and globally recognized writers. Including them on the shortlist, and the judges are accused of being predictable or playing it safe. Excluding them, however, raises the charge of superficial radicalism. In the case of Ismail Kadare, one could have expected to see him included on the shortlist because of his dignified decades long literary career; while in turn this reputation played against him via optics of the award. Personally, I was rather disappointed to see marvelous Italian writer, Domenico Starnone was omitted from the shortlist. While the longlisted novel (“Via Gemito,”) premise did not completely entice me, other novels such as “Trust,” “Ties,” and the forthcoming novel “The Mortal and Immortal Life of the Girl from Milan,” did pique my interest, as Domenico Starnone positions himself as a surveyor and portraits of the existential follies and interior dramas and private spaces of the individual. I look forward to reading Domenico Starnone in the near future.

The inclusion of Hwang Sok-young showcases the compelling interest of (South) Korean literature in translation, as this marks the third time in a row, a (South) Korean writer has been shortlisted for the prize. This is also a point of testament and pride for the (South) Korean governments increased sponsorship of literary translations abroad, whereby Korean language writers are finding a new readership as their work crosses linguistic thresholds. Hwang Sok-young’s novel “Mater 2-10,” is an epic in scope (and length, by far the largest novel on the shortlist), it traces a worker’s perspective of history through the 20th century, as a laid off factory worker stages a sit-down strike atop a 16-story factory chimney, whereby he communicates with his ancestors, who witnessed colonialization, calamity, war, partition, and dictatorship through their lifetimes. “Mater 2-10,” cements and confirms that Hwang Sok-young is one of the most important novelists of his generation, with a keen understanding of historical context as pretext and foundation to the present.

Jenny Erpenbeck is a well known and beloved German writer, whose works are frequently translated into English. “Kairos,” recounts societal change and German reunification, while fixating on the personal dissolution of a relationship. Erpenbeck reminds readers as to why she is considered one of the most important contemporary German language writers as, “Kairos,” weaves the weight and macro forces of history into the personal life, recounting how memory and the subtilties of western and eastern cultures, shapes and individuals’ identity and their relationship to history, but also the bewildering state of moving between states and ideologies into a new state.

It was no surprise (and some relief) to see Jente Posthuma included on the shortlist with her novel “What I’d Rather Not Think About.” A compelling story regarding life, death, grief, from the unique perspective of twins, and the contrary nature of oppositional desires. Told through vignette’s, Jente Posthuma provides bitter insight into grief and loss, while recounting two lives intertwined and lived within a celestial orbit of one another, until diverting and crumbling in part to life’s disappointments and mishandlings, all the while sparking alive with humour. While the remaining three novels are equally noteworthy for tackling the complexities of history, both a national and personal level, in addition to their narrative techniques. Ia Genberg’s use of nonlinear narrative and falling into the fever dream of memory in her novel “The Details,” is a hallmark of a literary stylist at the height of her game.

This year’s shortlist is compelling with some surprise omissions. I think (personally) that the novels of most notoriety are: “Mater 2-10,” “Kairos,” “What I’d Rather Not Think About,” and “The Details.” Yet its up to the judges to make that decision on who will be crowned as this years International Booker Prize Winner. May they tackle the good work. The hard work. And the outright bitter work with gusto. I hope this years judges (chaired by the very well read Canadian writer and broadcaster, Eleanor Wachtel) have productive discussions, lively debates, and meaningful compromises in their future deliberations.

 
Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
 

M. Mary

Saturday 6 April 2024

Lynne Reid Banks, Dies Aged 94

Hello Gentle Reader,

Lynne Reid Banks has been immortalized by her monumental novel “The Indian in the Cupboard,” both for its fantastical storytelling; and now mired in the tar and drudgery of sensitivity criticism. The novel and its subsequent sequels have often been challenged by select parents’ groups, social activists, and any to all affiliated special interest groups. It regularly appears on challenged or censored children’s books, which incudes such titles as “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “The Chocolate War,” and a plethora of novels from Ronald Dahl archive. While the novels portrayal of Aboriginal peoples is as thin as varnish, its depiction can be a starting point for meaningful dialogues regarding representation and misrepresentation. Beyond her literary work for children, Lynne Reid Banks curated controversy with her debut novel, “The L-Shaped Room,” which dissected the prevalent social conservatism and mid-century modern moral subscriptions, by recounting the story of an unwed woman pregnant, whose been cast out of her comfortable middle class up bringing with the revelation she’s pregnant. What follows is a narrative of an otherwise fallen figure, who finds refuge in a dingy boarding house full of other such societal outsiders. The novel moves through the motions of pregnancy and the recount the bungled sexual encounter. Lynne Reid Banks career, however, compromised of a variety of other children’s books and literary novels. From “Tiger, Tiger,” a riveting tragic story of ancient Rome, to biographical fiction of the famous Brontë siblings, including the troubled Bramwell. Lynne Reid Banks remained a slippery and mercurial writer, capable of entertaining and writing for children about complex themes; while adjusting her pen for mature and adult readers, questioning prevalent societal notions and puritanical perspectives. Reid Banks life was also of adventure and gusto, complete with a sharpness of observation and tongue. Her otherwise signature forthrightness was guaranteed to start a spat or an argument, but was keen to admit her own follies and failures before anyone else could tack them to the wall. Lynne Reid Banks work will endure. I suspect her children’s work will always circulate, both on their own merits and the updraft of controversy and outrage of some parental group, while her literary output will be shielded under the shadow of “The L-Shaped Room.”

Rest in Peace, Lynne Reid Banks.

Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Friday 5 April 2024

John Barth, Dies Aged 92

John Barth Dies Aged 92

Hello Gentle Reader,

John Barth was one of the great American postmodernist writers of the 20th Century, a towering figure and contemporary of many other playfully erudite and frustrating writers of the same generation, including Thomas Pynchon, Joseph Heller, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, and Kurt Vonnegut; whose work confounded, perplexed, and perhaps even irritated, all the while being the polar opposites of John Updike, John Cheever, and Philip Roth. John Barth found the literary modes and methods of narration had become exhausted, predictable, were on the verge of antiquation and obsoletion. Perhaps serendipitously during the liberating 1960’s, John Barth and other writers, began to challenge preconceived notions of narrative conventions, plot and story; but also, the standards of langue and the purpose of fiction. In a metaphorical fashion similar to their predecessors (the modernists of the late 19th and early 20th century), this new ragtag team of loosely affiliated writers began to unfold and inject new literary methods in their work, challenging established literary theory and criticism. This unabashed promotional propagation of postmodern literary theory, is due in part to John Barth being an accomplished, respected, and beloved professor of literature, and sought to inspire students to move beyond the preconceived parameters of literature and instead create and explore new modes of narration. Barth’s first mature postmodernist novel “The Sot-Weed Factor,” takes inspiration from the pre-revolutionary poet and satirist Ebenezer Cooke and his titular poem, whereby Barth revisions and reimagines comical adventures and misadventures which become the farcical basis of the poem. By turns playful and complex, John Barth became recognized as a writer’s writer. John Barth’s follow up novel “Giles Goat-Boy,” would only confirm Barth as a writer of the highest postmodern sensibilities, again employing farce, metaphor, fable, analogy, and metafiction into a complex and twisted funhouse mirror of contortions. Subsequent publications “Lost in the Funhouse,” and “LETTERS,” became more intensely metafictional, proving that John Barth was not just a literary innovator, but an accomplished theorist and thinker. Once again, the discussion of the purposefulness of narrative and self-reflective narrative became areas of discussion. The experimentation and literary seriousness of John Barth’s work was never undermined by the use of parody, in fact satire and farce, became central components to Barth’s work, once again dispelling the myth that all literature of any merit or seriousness must be as grave and grim as T.S. Eliot. Sadly, John Barth died at the age of 92 on April 2nd, 2024. Barth’s legacy as a accomplished academic, beloved teacher and mentor, and revolutionary postmodernist writer will endure.

Rest in Peace, John Barth.

Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

 

M. Mary

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Maryse Condé, Dies Aged 90

Hello Gentle Reader,

Renowned as a Grand Dame of French Literature and giant of French Caribbean Literature, Maryse Condé was always introduced on cyclonic winds rivaling the reverence of a hurricane. Yet in interviews and engagements, Maryse Condé never appears to be aloof or distantly Olympian in her engagement. Instead, Condé was warm, earthly, and generous with her intellect and insight. This only proved that the veneration that was attributed to Condé, was justly deserved. As a writer from Guadeloupe, Condé reckoned with colonial experiences and postcolonial perspectives of the small island nation. A narrative autopsy of colonialism is one of the essential components of Maryse Condé’s literary oeuvre, providing the entry point to further discussions regarding race, the female experience, and slavery, through a variety of locales and historical time periods. This is most famously seen in her novel “I, Tituba: The Black Witch of Salem,” a novel renowned for its subversive critique of racial and sexist themes from a historical perspective as a reflection of contemporary issues. “I, Tituba: The Black Witch of Salem,” showed Maryse Condé as a high literary operative, by being both academically critical and rigorous, but also engaging with readers on a level of enjoyment. “Segu,” published two years before “I, Tituba: The Black Witch of Salem,” provided evidence of Maryse Condé epicist capacities. The novel once again takes place within a historical setting, but subverts and reignites the narrative of (for lack of better terms,) ‘the African Diaspora,’ by usurping preconceived notions and presenting a new chronicle. “Segu,” recounts the story of an African royal family who must contend with a multitude of changing social principles and outside influences, such as burgeoning slave trade, the spread of Islam and Christianity, and white colonialization, all of which violently tear apart the social order and fabric of the kingdom. In a similar fashion to Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Maryse Condé has rewritten and reinvented the African narrative, dispelling the spurious notions that the continent was merely ‘ripe for the taking,’ or anarchistic and susceptible for chaos, requiring the modernizing guidance of third-party influences. “Windward Heights,” proved Maryse Condé was not just an epicist and visionary novelist, but a playful writer who embraced postmodern and pastiche literary techniques, by revising and reimagining Emily Brontë’s brooding grey and gothic novel: “Wuthering Heights,” onto the island of Guadeloupe with a new angle and slant. Maryse Condé was a formidable writer and warmly recognized around the world as one of the greatest contemporary French language writers of the time and a monolith of French Caribbean literature. Often whispered and speculated as a potential Nobel Laureate in Literature, Maryse Condé received the conciliatory prize in 2018, when she accepted the “New Academy Prize in Literature,” which sought to console the public at the postponement of the Nobel Prize in Literature for the year. Condé proved herself to be generous and magnanimous once again at receiving the award, thanking the expedited academy for the honour. Despite her advancing age and her failing eyesight, Maryse Condé continued to write (with assistance), her last novel “The Gospel According to the New World,” was originally published in 2021 and translated to English in 2023, whereby it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.

Rest in Peace Maryse Condé.

Thank you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
 
M. Mary