The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 30 December 2010

Mahu or: The Material

(H)ello Gentle Reader

Pardon me for the large picture of the "H," I just wanted to try something new for this blog. Which may or may not be the second last blog of the 2010. I hope all my wonderful and Gentle Readers had themselves a magical and Merry Christmas. Hopefully Santa had been good to everyone. Unless of course you were naughty. Alright so it had been a while since I had read, a book and reviewed a book I think. Well here is the first review of a book since the book review hiatus. Well the chosen novel is: "Mahu or The Material," by Robert Pinget.

First things are first though. A quick background story or sketch before the review. It should be noted first and foremost that "Mahu or: The Material," is a difficult book or novel to review, because of the surreal nature and absurd(ity) of the world that Robert Pinget had created, for this novel.

Robert Pinget was a writer and author (imagine that) who was born in 1919 and died in 1997. Robert Pinget was often classified or labeled as a writer under the literary movement called "Nouveau Roman," or "New Novel," which much like the Modernist predecessors spoke of taking the novel -- literature in general; to different heights and extremes and places that they had never been to before. This explains why Robert Pinget's work often grew comparison to Samuel Beckett and his work.

How does one try to explain what "Mahu or: The Material," is about? According to the back of the book "Mahu or The Material," is described (word for word) as the following:

""Robert Pinget's Mahu or The Material tells the story of Mahu, who, unlike his ambitious, successful brothers, is a lazy man who approaches the world around him with a defiant spirit and a witty outlook on life. Part of the reason for Mahu's laziness is that he may be nothing more than a character in a failing novel by his friend Latirail, a novel that is being overrun by characters invented by yet a different author" The second half of this book consists of Mahu's strange and hilarious musings on everything from belly dancers to how he catches ideas from other people in the same way he catches germs."

This describes the book to a "T," for sure -- word for word, what the book is about. However it is about a man named Mahu, who may or may not be a character in a novel that a friend of his is writing. However, this does not do the way the book is written any justice. Mahu is a lazy man. His life is absurd and odd, all at the same time. Nothing makes sense, and nothing is as it first appears or what is first heard. The novel is very absurd. The first part; which properly titled "The Novelist," is about the novel that Mahu's friend is writing. This part appears strange and bizzare, characters are often introduced and then disappear and sometimes they come back and sometimes they do not come back. There is the Louse and the Policeman, who were drinking in a bar and got emotional and were kicked out of the bar, among other events. There was also the odd art model who stayed with Mahu in the warehouse and often claimed that he loved Mahu, and was yet never seen again throughout the novel. Mahu apparently has 14 siblings (including him I think) who we never meet. It’s hard to even say if "Mahu: Or the Material," has/had any plot whatsoever. The first part of the book is absurd short story snap shots of the absurdity of people and life. However Pinget's dry and often sardonic humour can be seen.

The second part of the book titled "Part Two: Mahu Speaks," made a bit more sense to me in many ways. That is more sense the first part. In the second part of the book Mahu tells us all about his thoughts and ideas about life et cetera. However Part one of the book and Part two do not evenly match with each other and are disjointed, greatly.

Before I finish up this quick review -- if one could call this review; how can I write a review about something that barely can be summarized or detailed(ly) looked at? I would like to add two passages from the book -- both from Part Two: Mahu Speaks, which both brought me great enjoyment.

"The People in these bistro's on Sunday evenings look very miserable, unless they make an effort not, they're on the look out for the slightest thing to make them laugh, someone with double sight would be horrified to see what icebergs we are hidden in our clothes, trying to warm ourselves up grinning beneath the neon lights."

-- The Poet and the Pineapple (all chapters are named as such -- by that I mean are given odd titles)

"No need to lie anymore, I lied a great deal at the beginning of this book in order to get to this point, to arrive at the truth, which proves that truth emerges from an in extricable confusion, I wanted to like that, I don't deny anything not even a difference in speech."

-- The Key

both of these passages show Robert Pinget's use of dialogue and word play, as well as his use of absurd statements that often make no sense but yet they appear profound and stick with you. The first one from the chapter "The Poet and The Pineapple," left a mark on me for sure. For some odd reason or another it just felt right, in some odd way or another. I did enjoy it for sure. Can't say why I enjoyed it but I did.

"Mahu or: The Material," has been an enjoying and yet difficult book to read. It’s difficult to say if it brought any pleasure or enjoyment, to be honest. It is a good book to say the least, but one cannot say that it is what would typically called a "Beach Read," or something someone would read for the sheer enjoyment and pleasure of reading it. No not at all. "Mahu or The Material," by Robert Pinget, is a slim book. Almost one hundred and fity pages long, but it still packed a punch for sure. Each chapter was a brief little sketch to say the least of some form of incident or another, and even though they were small, they also packed in some profound comment or another. However the characters appear to run around freely -- if such a thing is possible, and there is little characterization, and no definite linear plot. But the book is interesting on its own. Certainly a great glimpse in to the world of the French Literary Movement called "Noveau Roman." One thing that I can say for certain is that Robert Pinget, is a master of dialogue. His use of dialogue and the way the characters speak is often noted, to helping the book progress, as well as showing a lot of the absurdity of the world that Robert Pinget had created. In fact the characters kind of spoke more in a way that appeared to resemble reality and everyday conversations made some sense in some form or another.

Well Gentle Reader "Mahu: Or The Material," was a nice read, and I am glad to have been able to review it before the New Year is here. It has been a stupendous read, and a lovely taste of the modernist inspired writers -- much like Tom McCarthy. May Robert Pinget rest in peace if I do say so myself.

By the way the letter at the top of this blog (The letter H,") is brought to you from this website link that follows -- yet why does one put links up right? Not like anyone follows them, but at the same time it is a sign and a symbol of respect for the hosting website.

Thank-You For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Reader

M. Mary

Thursday 16 December 2010

Recollections and Reminiscences of 2010

Hello Gentle Reader

Even though that 2010 is far away from ending, and that I have already written a blog this week, I have decided to write next weeks blog, early. Partly because I have guests coming out next week, and I need to give my full attention to them -- even if that means I stare at them blankly, with giving the occasional nod time to time. Anyhow so more or less, this blog is about the recollections and reminiscences of 2010.

2010 was/is much like 2000 -- without the "Y2K," scare that was happening. Not that I can really comment on that, I was/still am so absorbed in my own world that this entire scare meant nothing to me. However for some people it did mean something. It meant something badly, and the world -- or parts of the world, or rather people -- that is some people; went absolutely hysterical about the entire situation. But that's just people acting on one of their prime emotions and basic instinct -- Fear. Now as we finish with the first year of a new decade, we find ourselves into a new phenomenon and chaotic scare. This new scare is the 2012 phenomenon, which is still very popular to this day because conspiracy shows, Pseudoscience and those fools that back that up as science, new age mysticism, and street preachers all claim that the end times is near. Not like that is a first, and here is the funny part. The human race is stupid enough -- for the umpteenth time; to believe in it.

Lets look back at some recent religious and other wise false predictions, that have come and past, without anything happening:

In 1995 Benny Hinn predictided that "God would destroy America's Homosexual community."

David Berg (or Moses David) Founder of the cult movement "Children of God," now known as "Family International," predicted that in 1993 that Jesus Christ would return.

In June (21st) of 1985 Benjamin Creme (another whack job) had said that Jesus Christ or as he called him the "Maitreya," will announce his presence on World Wide Television

(Thank-you wikipedia for that information a link for the cited page can be followed at the end of this blog)

There have been many predictions and theories about when or how the world will end. It is a sick fascination with the world if you ask me, and with the human race. It appears to me that the human race is doomed to always feed into their instinct of Fear, and pessimistic thoughts about things that can never change. Such as death, or their mortality. Therefore the people of the world -- or the human race, are then forced to predict, or try to see the world as ending, because if the world ends, then they have a certain sense of relief. There is no guessing when it is going to end, they just know or believe or have faith that the world will end, because they would rather hope it ends, then truly live their live. It appears to me that the human race is more interested in focusing on the negative and the possibilities of their bending and ultimate ending, rather then enjoying the prospect of living.

But enough about such depressing and nonsensical topics. the year 2010 has been an interesting decade for me. From working in the municipal elections, to do simple general labour job during a night shift. I had had many attempts at writing novels, which has helped further me in my writing process, as well as reading some very interesting intellectual and great novels. From Jose Saramago's "Blindness," to Tom McCarthy's "C," to "Cloud Atlas," and "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," by David Mitchell to the stylish yet readable novel "The Blind Assassin," by Margaret Atwood. The year 2010 has been a fascinating year of reads for me. I have read books by Nobel prize winners in Literature (Herta Mueller, Jose Saramago.) To up and coming and well establish postmodernist authors (David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood) to my first short story collection (Thomas Ligotti) to other great authors, and their books. Each one has showed me a different side of the world of Literature. Each one continues to make me think time to time, and each one always makes me wonder, when well I go back and re-read that book again?

A new decade is to start. The 2000's Nobel Laureates of Literature, are now complete and the new Nobel Laureates will start next at a dawn and beginning of a new decade of Nobel Prize Winners in Literature.

This Decades Nobel Mind in Literature are as follows:

2000 - Gao Xingjian
2001 - V.S. Naipaul
2002 - Imre Kertesz
2003 - J.M Coetzee
2004 - Elfriede Jelinek
2005 - Harold Pinter
2006 - Orhan Pamuk
2007 - Doris Lessing
2008 - J.M.G le Clezio (Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio)
2009 - Herta Mueller
2010 - Mario Vargas Llosa

But even these ten Nobel Laureates (3 of which are female, and 7 are male) all were met with some very interesting criticisms of winning the prize, and sometimes, some interesting events surrounding them.

Gao Xingjian winning the Nobel Prize was not favourable at all. The government and the media's attitude toward Gao Xingjian is that of giving him the cold shoulder, and refusal to recognize him or his work as "World Class."

V.S. Naipauls winning (from the looks of it) was generally favourable, and did not come into much criticism.

Imre Kertesz after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, work became more well known, and well received. Before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature the Laureate was not well known.

In 2003 J.M. Coetzee one of only two authors who have won the Booker Prize twice, comes to no surprise. Many people and critics (critics are their own kind of race) have long since cited J.M. Coetzee as a Nobel Prize winner as a contender. Does it come to much shock not really?

Then Comes 2004, where the Austrian Writer Elfride Jelinek, had caused quite a stir, within the Swedish Academy. Knut Ahnlund had these comments to say on Elfried Jelinek's Work:

"whining, unenjoyable public pornography."
"a mass of text shovelled together without artistic structure."
"has not only done irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it
has also confused the general view of literature as an art."

Elfride Jelinek was also highly criticized, for not accepting the prize personally -- which is quite surprising, considering that her works are infamous for being sexually graphic (sexual sado-masochistic power games) and very violent; and yet Elfride Jelinek herself, admits to suffering from social phobia and agoraphobia, and is the reason why she did not accept the prize personally. Many applauded Elfride Jelinek's courage for revealing her social conditions.

Yet the Nobel Prize in Literature of 2004 surely was quite a controversial and critical event in Elfride Jelinek's already controversial life in her country Austria.

Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture titled "Art, Truth and Politics," was met with much controversy and is widely debated to this day (I believe you can find it on youtube) Harold Pinter was often branded as being "Anti-American," in his Lecture, but I suppose when you are at his age, and have such a life behind you, you don't really give a damn what people call you.

In 2006 Turkey won its first Nobel Prize In Literature going to the author Orhan Pamuk. Many criticise the prize given to Orhan Pamuk as being very political and in some cases a Political statement.

Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature of 2007. Many were quite impressed with Doris Lessing winning the prize, and even Ms. Lessing commented that winning the prize was a "royal flush." However Harold Bloom (a US Literay Critic) had something else to say:

"although Ms Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable ... fourth-rate science fiction."

Doris Lessing as far as I know is still alive at the current age of 91

The Nobel Prize in Literature of 2008 was characterized by the catch phrase "JMG Who?" (or something like that) J.M.G Le Clezio was not a well known author in North America before winning the prize -- and I still think its hard to find him in stores to this day. JMG Le Clezio was the first French Writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Claude Simon in 1985, who is an author of a book I recently ordered.

"Herta who?" you say? Well I say Herta Muller! The Nobel Prize winner of Literature of 2009, whose work is finally brought to the world stage, and has showed the world the cruelties and inhumane life under communism and dictatorships as being what they are, and keeps the memory alive, so we may never forget the atrocities of certain people in this world . . . Stalin.

Finally the end of the decade of the Nobel Prize in Literature has come. Mario Vargas Llosa, the first Peruvian author to win the Prize, and is a step back away from continental European Literature, that had dominated the platform for most of the decade. Mario Vargas Llossa can often be compared to a previous winner of Latin American Literature/South American Literature of 1982 Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- the two actually used to be friends, but there is an icy cold silence between the two. Many have claimed that Mario's win of the Nobel Prize has breathed new life into the Prize. A good way to end another decade of Nobel Prizes in Literature I think.

Well Gentle Reader, 2010 has been fun. It has been wild, chaotic, stupid, boring, and all around general life like stuff. But as one Decade ends another begins. And So I look forward to seeing, more Nobel Prize winners in Literature, and to keep reading, and writing and hopefully someday become a writer myself, with published books -- I know I know, don't hold my breath I might die. But it has been a great year and this is our 70th blog, and the final blog of 2010. I look forward to the New Year, and I the books I will read and review and share with you.

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


Thursday 9 December 2010


Hello Gentle Reader

Lately all I have done via this blog is review books. Since finishing "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," I found that there are still books that I own and should read. So the other night or rather last night I cracked open "The Savage Detectives," by Roberto Bolano -- he died in 2003 at the age of fifty (50). It should be noted that Roberto Bolano thought of himself primarily as a poet not a novelist. "The Savage Detectives," however is a novel. So any how I got to page forty-six, and I just shut the book. I thought to myself. Why, why am I reading this? It fails to capture me somehow. I can't explain why but it just fails to capture me. Not saying that at page forty-six is the correct amount of pages to judge a book, but this was my second try and it felt tedious or failed to keep me interested in what happened. So I close the book for the second -- and perhaps last time. Maybe I'll give it to a friend of mine along with all those old mass market paperback "Dragonlance," books that I never really liked.

But anyhow, since I don't feel like reading any of the books I have at the moment, I decided that I'll just blog with a couple of my own thoughts and ideas. I know for starters I'll probably go back and re-read a few novels a few of them being: "The Waves," by Virginia Woolf as well as "To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf," as well as "The Gormenghast Series," by Mervyn Peake. I feel like I didn't do those books any justice when I read them the first time around, and now it is time for me to re-read those books in the future and review them and hopefully do some justice.

Anyhow today's blog comes from something funny I saw on a website called:


and I thought to myself when I saw the picture (here it is following):

That is was just funny. I mean in English Class -- when I went to school; we had to learn poetry. I have little respect for poetry or rather appreciation for poetry, may I add so humbly. There is something about that is just, beautiful yet enigmatic and or obscure. Poetry also usually follows strict rules and form. Sonnets, Haiku's, Ode et cetera. So I have little patient for poetry. I have little, very little patient for poetry, if it cannot reveal its meaning to me, with some clues, other than oblique rhymes then I have no point in giving a two damns about it. This leaves poetry open for interpretation. However in English Class the student interpretation, is useless, compared to the teacher. Let’s face it, the teacher went to "X," amount of years of school in university studying literature and poetry and all that fun stuff, so what on earth would some ignorant student know right? So in hind-sight the only true interpretation in a English Class -- be it High School or Junior High School, is that of the teachers. The students are to squawk back the meaning like trained parrots.

But this is something I found interesting in a recent interview I read by the Nobel Laureate of 1985 in Literature Claude Simon. For the duration of this blog I'll use his words as well as a fictitious example to prove my point on how literature can be interpreted by anyone in any form. Because we all have different eyes, and different thinking patters, and that is what makes the interpretation of any work of literature amazing and beautiful.

in The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 128 - Claude Simon Interview (link following)

In the interview the Interviewer (Alexandra Eyle) asked Claude the following:



"Symbolism seems important in your writing. In The Grass, for example, a T-shaped shadow grows and shrinks as it passes across the room in which Marie lies dying, representing the passage of time and the inevitability of death. How do you decide on such images?"


"I am not a symbolist. I saw the light drawing a T that moved slowly across the floor and the furniture of a room. The T suggested to me the word temps and the march of time. It seemed like a good image."


Trains appear often in your novels—what do they symbolize?


Nothing but trains.


So in an English class the English Teacher assigns "The Trolley," by Claude Simon. (this is a book that I have on a list of books right now by authors that I want to read) and she asks the students: "What does the train/trolley symbolize?" (now we all know that Claude Simone had said quite frankly that the trains symbolize exactly what they are. They are trains.) One student says the train/trolley in the novel by Claude Simone symbolizes the cycle of life and death. Birth, Childhood, Adulthood, Old Age, and Death. Another student says that the train simply symbolizes the beginning and ending of a journey. Another student, says that the trains can't possibly symbolize anything, other then trains. Needles to say the student that spoke Claude Simon's words, failed.

But what can a student know? Did they go to University for "X," amount of so many years, and study Literature and Literary Theory and all that? No, so how could an ignorant uneducated mind, possibly know what Claude Simon himself -- One of the twentieth century’s greatest writers (among many others); know? Nothing as far as the teacher is considered.

It appears that English Classes are not asking their students what something symbolizes or is interpreting it, but rather what the teacher says. English class is not opening the students minds to think for themselves, but rather hindering the growth of the mind of the students to see the world of Literature in an entirely new way. It is sad, and it is true, but we must always face the fact that this is what we call "English Class," unless you are special.

Take Care Gentle Reader
Thank-you So Much For Reading This Blog Gentle Reader
And As Always
Stay Well Read


Friday 3 December 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Hello Gentle Reader

One at times looses a sense of time. Just today for instant, I thought it was Thursday and later learned it was Friday, and now as I write this blog a day late, I look at the time (for it is 11:45pm) I am going to soon be late another day. Sad really. For that my sincerest apologies for being late. But I suppose this time of year gets the better of us all. Running around, trying to finish Christmas shopping. Hanging Christmas lights for the sheer enjoyment of lighting up those dark, early dusks and nights that befall people on winter; and of course the general good will and cheer that people feel for each other. Yet precautions should always be taken no matter what. Especially this holiday season -- among all holiday seasons. There is something about Christmas, that people, just feel the need to drink and drive. Not the greatest idea on the slippery roads. If people of this world had any common sense -- which the general population doesn't I can see that; they would not drink and drive.

But enough about that. Even though this type of season gets us all busy and running around -- will this pink sweater please my daughter? Will this shirt make my son smile? Will my husband love this new watch? Will my wife adore these diamond earrings? And all that other selfless thinking of getting gifts for others, I was able to maintain a reading schedule. I was able to finish David Mitchell's Booker Prize 2010 long listed, novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet."

Once again the amazing ventriloquist author David Mitchell (each time I put that name down I keep almost changing it to 'Jacob de Zoet,') gives his talents, of creating unique voices to his characters. His imaganation makes the historical novel, a interesting read, and his research for this novel, gives the entire land of Japan a well thought out image, but also leaves the magical land in some form of obscurity, letting the unknowing of our main character "Jacob de Zoet," and this mysterious land of Japan be felt all the way through.

With this novel David Mitchell takes us away from the stylistic showmanship of his well-known novel "Cloud Atlas," and takes "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," into a different route. The novel is written in the third-person perspective. The novel would appear rather straightforward, and linear and easy to understand compared to "Cloud Atlas," there is no jumping of time and space -- no nothing of that sort. But "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," captures the periods feelings, and politics, and the desire of the period -- and often its ever so familiar idea's and themes that can be seen in today’s world -- so perfectly.

Of course sometimes the conversations appear a bit to formal or out of place in today’s society, but at the same time there is a certain understanding that this is probably the way that some of those people talked. But speech is one of David Mitchell's strong points. Sometimes to a fault though. The Japanese accent when the Japanese interpreters talk in Dutch -- as they almost sound like children because they forget certain words, but there is enough there to understand just what they are saying. There is of course, then the sometimes crash and rude talk of the less educated or well-off people, who speak in very vulgar terms, and ways. Or what would probably vulgar at the time. Yet even though their grotesque language there is a certain honourable trait about them, that one soon learns to admire in later points of the novel. Well others, truly are cowards that we have all encountered in our day to day lives.

That is something that David Mitchell, much like Charles Dickens is able to do. He is able to create certain situations -- no matter how absurd in today’s world (if such a thing exists!); and makes it relatable through characters or common universal experiences that one can have a form of sympathy with the characters. Betrayal and political jingoism are two of the keys that allowed me personally to relate to some of the characters.

There is one thing that I will point in this novel -- as it feels in David Mitchell's last novel "Cloud Atlas," is the characters on some level or another are connected to each other. Each one is bridged to the others, through a common interest or love. Look at the character Doctor Marinus. He is connected to his students -- One of which is Orito Aibagawa; is connected his students via his love learning, teaching, knowledge, medical practice, and his love of botany.

Of course one would argue that we all argue on some level or another, that the novel would not be able to progress without some form of character like connections even on a minor degree. Perhaps, and perhaps not. I wont argue how a novel should progress or how a novel should not progress.

"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," even though set in the past, has many reminiscent(s) of the present. The cheating, that two people do to each other. Each time one tries to cheat the other in some deal or another. The amount of what makes a human better then another human. Look at the treatment of what people in this novel call "Slaves," what makes them less human then those that consider them less human? This is a question that to this day is being asked. Cruelty to each other is a universal theme, and the idea of "slavery," is something that David Mitchell seems to use to ask the question: what makes one person better then another?

As someone else pointed out to me however, with the characters there are good characters and bad characters. The protagonists and the antagonists. Yet in some way or another David Mitchell makes the good from the bad quite clear. Jacob de Zoet, Doctor Marnius, and Orito Aibagawa all have certain aspects in common. They are all have this "moral superiority," that others do not have. They have this humbling air about them. They all search for knowledge -- two are in the medical field one is a book keeper exposing lies and truths. They all have a sense of right and wrong. Then there are the antagonists. Enomoto, Fischer, John Penhaligon. Though I must say quickly John Penhaligon is not really a bad man he just see the worst of him for the most part. These characters are all selfish. They would kill, betray and throw their own mother and grandmother underneath a train to move ahead in the world. They all have a certain aspect that speaks of themselves to look out for themselves, and move themselves faster and higher in their own world.

So the idea of antagonist and protagonist is quite clearly seen. There is good and there is bad. there is no real neutral in this idea and form. You are either good or you are either bad, in some ways.

There are a few other problems that I had also noticed.

The Novels ending though quite good, was upsetting in some ways. It felt exhausted and tired out. Surely I can understand however that David Mitchell after four years of doing research and writing this novel would have gotten tired of this novel. It must have been very stressful upon him, and I am a sympathetic person and I understand, but still the ending appeared toe end in a fashion that felt neat and tidy. Even though it did betray my first thoughts on how it would end. On how everyone lived happily ever after. However it still did not satisfy me. I wanted to know more about Orito Aibagawa's time in her imprisonment in the shrine. I wanted to know about how Dejima in the in-between time after the attack on it, and before the ending. There was so much that I wanted to know, and yet if I got my way the novel would blow up to a huge unreadable melodramatic extreme. So I can say that in some way or another I am happy that the novel ended -- to a degree(!); the way it did.

I can see why this novel was not placed as one of the shortlisted books for the "Booker Prize." Even though it was a great novel, I can see why it was not placed there. However David Mitchell's talent can still be seen. His novels (for I have only read two) are not of the same calibre, and are certainly different from each other, which will hopefully never make David Mitchell a boring author to read.

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