The Birdcage Archives

Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Short Story Review No. III

The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope,” by Saki – From “The Complete Saki,” by Saki – Section: “The Chronicles of Clovis.”

I do think Gentle Reader that I’ll never get sick of Saki my Dear Gentle Reader. There is something in his wit, something in his use of words, something about him, that just makes his stories work. I was watching an interesting interview last night, with a English Modern Renaissance man – and by that I mean he’s quite the Renaissance man indeed and not just because he is European (though I am sure that his nationality being included in the entire continent Europe with its rich history helps with the title) but because he is an actor, a memoirist, novelist, comedian, performer, journalist, film director, radio persona and so on and so forth. Watching the interview I could not help but think of a bit of Saki (H.H. Munro) while watching it. There is something about his outlook on life, and outlook and positive tone that he speaks of even at his darkest moments that just makes him such a humane character. Now of course I am one of those people who is not noted for a supreme sense of humour or not even noted for having a sense of humour. Even when Stephen Fry spoke of his suicide attempt to the interviewer George Stroumboulopoulos (try saying that name at least once without being stumped) he remarked on the pills that he had overdosed on, and how he was saved by his brother who was awaken by his projectile vomiting even though he was unconscious. The way he dealt with these moments of his life, with a sense of dry humour make him an interesting person. This is the kind of way Saki deals with his stories. He deals with these high snobbish people of the Edwardian Era, and how they take themselves far too seriously.

In this story for example, Saki turns his eyes into the hostess world of a woman by the name of Mrs. Riversedge, who makes everyone else’s business her own business. Especially when hosting a party or something of that matter. She in facts states first thing in the story about the subject of this story of Septimus Brope. Saki makes it noted that as an old fashioned hostess should know something about her guests – even if they are to the bare minimal; that what is known of the guests should also be noted for their strengths or more or less interesting aspect of them. Thinking about that, it is a way of thinking that it is the best way to note that the person (host or hostess) knows something about each guest – even if it is incredibly trite and superficial. However this was a very polite day and age and everyone would act impressed by the host or hostess; however Saki looks at this terrible superficiality and champagne martini sipping people with such a macabre satirical outlook that he just sends their manners down the toilet and scoffs at them. Such is the premise for the story of “The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope.”

Mrs. Riversedge makes the life of Septimus Brope her business. On the surface Septimus Brope is the most banal, mundane, dull people, but not quite common place (well my parents should have just called me Septimus). Septimus Brope writes for a magazine or rather is an editor of a magazine titled Cathedral Monthly. This would be a very peculiar magazine. Obviously secular – much like this blog. Septimus Brope makes two hundred dollars yearly but is noted suspiciously for hosting some interesting (that is my favourite word) and elaborate luncheons. He dresses nicely. All of this raises some suspicions of how he is able to do these fashionable aspects of Edwardian life with only two hundred dollars as his yearly income. Suspicious are then once again escalated when the subject of the aunt of Clovis mentions that she could overlook all the dullness, mundane, banal, and boring aspects of Septimus Brope but she cannot overlook the fact that he has an interesting relationship with her maid – who has the most peculiar of names: Florinda. So begins a long discussion and speculation that the dull, archaic, dreary, prosaic, vapid, and unimaginative Septimus Brope and his supposed love affair with the maid who has a peculiar, exotic, eccentric, and not quite plain name who goes by the name of Florinda (every time I do one of those long lists of adjectives describing someone, I feel like a little kid who just discovered the coma, and how to use it properly.) Later on Clovis discovers the real person who goes by the name “Florrie,” is far worse for then Mister Septimus Broph would dare admit – though he does. It turns out that Clovis aunt was wrong in the entire matter of Septimus Broph sleeping with the maid with the peculiar name. In fact it turns out that it is far worse for Septimus Broph. A man whose entire life and literary career, is devoted to cathedrals and Byzantine architecture, and all that stuffy old stuff, that would only interest a very secular and very devoted reader to the architecture of cathedrals. But the scandal of learning that the editor of Cathedral Monthly is doing something far more worst then having a romantic relationship with a maid with the most unconventional name. To really best describe this scandalous activity, would best be described as an author of literary fiction like Orhan Pamuk, Don Delillo, Herta Muller, Yasunari Kawabata, Naguib Mahfouz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Claude Simon, Ko Un, David Mitchell, and so on writing a penny dreadful novel of romance, the kind of mass market paperback bull shit that passes for “entertainment,” – as mindless as it is; which is used by the likes of Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, Nicolas Sparks, Stephanie Meyer, and all those other novelists who could write something of literary merit if they tried. But are paid for their crappy books because the reading public demands more. Putting that in consideration one now can think of what Septimus Brope would do that is so out of character and would be scandalous to his reputation as an editor of a magazine devoted entirely to the architecture and presumably histories of cathedrals.

Here’s a hint from the book:

‘“How you bore, Florrie,
With those eyes of vacant blue,
You’ll be very sorry, Florrie,
If I marry you.
Though I’m easy-goin’, Florrie,
This I swear is true,
I’ll throw you down a quarry, Florrie,
If I marry you.”’


“Tabi,” by Yasunari Kawabata – From “Palm-Of-The-Hand Stories,” by Yasunari Kawabata.

I certainly do not make it unknown that I quite enjoy Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel Laureate in Literature of ninety-sixty eight and the first Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature). Personally Yasunari Kawabata with his delicate prose, ability to work understatements, minimalist and poetic prose; but one of my favourite parts of Yasunari Kawabata’s prose, is his psychological depth that his characters are given. Something that is done effortlessly in Yasunari Kawabata’s fiction. I have read many of the ninety sixty-eight Nobel Laureate’s “Palm-Of-The-Hand Stories,” and his short novel “Snow Country,” and can say that the minimalist prose, but also the in depth psychological probing is one of the most wonderful pieces of work I have read. I never grow tired of how Yasunari Kawabata writes about the society of Japan and its traditions facing modernization and reforms, and cultural identity in a forever changing landscape of the modern world is something that some would feel has been over done for many years in Japanese literature, but in my opinion, I think in the rise of Japanese literature, contemporary authors are turning away from the modernist writes and their melancholy and despair of the Japanese society, opening up to the modification and reforms that the West had pressured on them. These authors: Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel Laureate of Literature in ninety-sixty eight), Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima; mourn the loss of Japan as it was. The Japanese literature of today; Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto deal with Japan after the change and reforms that the modernist Japanese authors watched with such sadness in their eyes. Both of these popular Japanese novelists deal with the career mind driven Japan of today. They deal with the alienation and loneliness that can be felt in the contemporary Japanese person, in today postmodern world. Kenzaburō Ōe the second Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in ninety-ninety four, is also a contemporary author, but is different from both Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, in his dealings are both slightly different from both of the two other novelists. Kenzaburō Ōe maintains a sense of western influence of his work, but at the same time, it truly is a certain sense of Japan and Japanese culture in his work. I have not read any work by Banana Yoshimoto, but I did read “Kafka on the Shore,” by Haruki Murakami and the one thing that differentiates both Ōe and Murakami, is that Haruki Murakami uses popular culture references in his work. For example in “Kafka on the Shore,” Colonel Sanders appears among other surreal events, and the discussion of music is also always discussed in his work. Kenzaburō Ōe though influenced by French literature (Jean-Paul Sartre) and American Literature (Mark Twain) maintains a strict identity in Japan and Japanese culture, much Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.

This review however is not about the ever changing landscape of Japanese Literature from Yasunari Kawabata to Kenzaburō Ōe to now Haruki Murakami, and the other popular culture novels of Japan (cell phone novels). No this review is about the story “Tabi,” by the Nobel Laureate in Literature.

It is an interesting story on its childlike innocence discussion of death, sickness, and dying. The reason why I enjoy this story though was a certain passage (which will be quote in due time) that compared a sock to a worm, and the socks that are placed in the casket of the narrators sister. It’s an incredibly touching story, in its effect of how it is written. Yasunari Kawabata does not reveal too much in this story. Most to all the stories of “Palm-Of-The-Hand Stories,” are written in the same way. The way that it is written as if someone is looking into a room only partly lit and all the details are hidden in the murky depths of the shadows. All the prose have a certain ambiguity to them, and certainly only a very dim light is placed in the center of the room. The rest of the work is written in the same way with slight variations to every store. As the reader, after reading one of these stories one is left certainly left pondering over the details of the stories. This provided with his understating minimalist prose, allows Yasunari Kawabata to work these very short stories in great fashion, and certainly show he is the master of his form of writing.

“Turning delirious in the evening, my sister arched her body back. Her braced, straining hands trembled violently. Even when that stopped, her head seemed about to drop off the pillow to the left. And then, from her half-opened mouth, a white intestinal roundworm slowly crawled out.

“”Since then, I’ve often recalled vividly the peculiar whiteness of that worm. And, at such times, I make it a point to think of the white socks caked tabi.”

True my dear Gentle Reader, it is a bit grotesque, thinking of a parasitic worm exiting a dead person’s body and then comparing it to a pair of socks is a bit grotesque yes. But the way that Yasunari Kawabata wrote the entire story there was a real sense of innocence of the work. The narrator speaking of how his/her sister gave him/her money to go the theatre at one point in time, and the sister taking the narrators present for his/her teacher, to his funeral and placing the get well present in his casket, for the narrator. All of these aspects of the story create for an interesting story – though slightly grotesque, there is certain a sense of childhood innocence in the way that the subject matter is dealt with.


“Wenlock Edge,” by Alice Munro – From “Too Much Happiness,” by Alice Munro

In Alice Munro’s short stories from her collection of “Too Much Happiness,” Alice Munro’s characters at first appearance, live very normal and ordinary lives. There is no real sense of adventure at first glance in their lives. Though in the previous short story “Fiction,” the characters of Joyce and John had a very interesting relationship at first glance. The two of them were drifters for a while. Their parents called them hippies, though they were not, and both of them were probably the farthest people from the definition of hippies. “Dimensions,” also has the first impression of very complacent yet slightly menacing feeling underneath the surface. Especially when the main character is seeing a therapist, and there are deeper and darker subjects are being discussed, and within in time, we learn of the cause of the menacing and out of place feeling of these stories. It’s like a person whose house is all neat and tidy. Everything has their undisputed place; nothing is ever moved out of its place and then left out of place. Everything is cleaned to perfection. Everything is immaculate in appearance. Every detail is measured. This is how everything is on the surface, of one of Alice Munro’s stories from “Too Much Happiness,” works. Everything at first glance is in place. Every piece of china is in their correct order. The china cup handles are all pointing towards the right. Every cat ornament plate sits on their display shelves. Each one of them sitting up straight. Not a chip on them. The counter is as clean and spotless and uncluttered as it always has been. The table also sits the way it always has sat before. The table cloth is unstained, and perfect in its delicate lace, reminiscence of the Victorian Era. But then as if without warning, something unsettling can be seen, in the workings of the kitchen table. The table cloth is of center. Then soon other small details can be seen. One china cup is chipped. The back door is unlocked. The cat is missing. This how Alice Munro’s stories in “Too Much Happiness,” have worked so far. They show the normal surroundings slowly being usurped into something out of the ordinary.

The main character of the story is a simple girl. She comes from a small country background. She moves to London, Ontario to start doing university. She is studying English and Philosophy. Her life is rather simple. Every Sunday night, her mother’s cousin Ernie takes her out for dinner, at a restaurant called the “Old Chelsea.” There her mother’s cousin Ernie indulges himself in roast beef. While the main character, indulges herself into those romantic dreams and ideas of what city people eat. Like vol au vent or duck or whatever else she dreams that city people eat, that is fancy – kind of like a person from North America who dreams of someday eating French fine cuisine, and tries frog legs, snails, lobster and other fine delicacies.

Life changes for the main character however when a new girl by the name of Nina comes into the mix. She may try to pass herself off as a regular college student but she is by far not. She has a camel skinned jacket, a kimono, and other expensive pieces of clothing, that are out of a regular college student. There also comes to learn that there are some other strange occurrences of Nina’s life that come to be noticed in time. There is the black car that parks across the street a few doors down. Pretty soon becomes noted that Nina doesn’t know where Europe is, has no idea who the Romantic poets are, among other common knowledge that a common college student would know to have. Things are not right in Nina’s world. She is followed by the black car who as the reader learns is driven by a woman by the name of Mrs. Winner. She sees a man by the name of Mr. Purvis, and has travelled all over the world – and she’s only twenty two. These are “good,” qualities of Nina’s life. She has a child by the name of Gemma (though it becomes clear that it is uncertain where that child is now that I think of it) from an early incident. She had been married once before, and then left him, and had a rough start to a complicated life, that she could not understand and yet choose. The main character however ends up getting involved in Nina’s life slowly and surely. It is an experience she does not want or even understands after a while. The interesting and odd escapade she has when she has dinner with Mr. Purvis, and then returns home only to find Nina missing once again.

It’s hard to say where I stand on this story. The tightly written prose, are good, the superficiality of the normal day to day life of the Sunday ritual going out with the bachelor cousin of her mother Ernie who takes her to the restaurant called the “Old Chelsea,” and how she decides to live like city people do in eating their kinds of food that she had always dream of eating. But the entire situation, and gaps of the nature of Mr. Purvis and Nina, is not entirely discussed, and these are some certain down falls of this short story. One of the greatest positives of Alice Munro’s style though is, the “texturelessness,” (as one reviewer called it) of her work. Her work does not focus on one particular moment, but the almost undeveloped and casual way of life does its course. Perhaps this is why Alice Munro’s stories feel like little condensed novels, rather than a traditional short story focusing on one subject, or one emotion or one feeling that would common in the short story format.

The one thing about a short story collection though, is that every short story on some level or another is a hit and miss. Some hit home, and others do not. But that is a short story collection for you. It does not matter either way. The one you read failed to tickle the fancy, then maybe the next one will. That is how I look at the short story collections. I look forward to another one that does end up tickling my fancy also. That is also the reason why I love short stories at times also. They pertain to the individuals taste.


“Pool Night,” by Amy Hempel – From “The Collected Stories,” by Amy Hempel – Section: “Reasons to Live.”

In my edition of “The Collected Stories [of Amy Hempel],” by Amy Hempel, there are a few review quotes by other publications – The New York Review of Books, Baltimore Sun, O, the Oprah magazine, San Francisco Chronicle and other places of journalism and reviews of books and so on. I usually do not read these. In fact it is purely by coincidence or chance that I read some of these evening while looking for a short story to read and then review. One of these review blurbs or praise pieces was by The Atlantic Monthly which praised Amy Hempel’s work with the following quote:

“Few fiction writers are as intensely admired by their peers as is Amy Hempel. . . . Hempel’s is a hard-boiled sensibility, and each of her stories will leave the reader shaken.”

This review; this praise – it rings true when I had finished the short story “Pool Night.” One of the greatest pleasures of reading (for me) is coming across a line, or something that strikes a chord somewhere. Some of those lines are famous. From Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit,”

“Hell is other people.”

Or what about the most common quote people see with an actor holding a skull, from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,”:

“To be, or not to be,--that is the question:--whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”

Or what about the quote from John Milton in his poem “Paradise Lost,”:

“Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven.”

These are all famous lines and quotes. But there are less known quotes, which have not been able to take on a status as some attempt at “pop culture,” but can be found in any book that one chooses to read. They have that feel and certain sense of philosophy to them. While others tug at the emotions of the reader. Usually – or so far to be more honest and exact; I have found Amy Hempel’s perfectly penned sentences somewhat cold in their writing. Though perfectly wrote, and grammatically correct, and perfectly done in a somewhat journalistic way of using sentences and words. However when reading the last bit of the entire story, the very last line is just what hit home perfectly.

“I know that homes burn and that you should think what to save before they start to. Not because, in the heat of it, everything looks as valuable as everything else. But because nothing looks worth the bother, not even your life.”

This is what had struck me. The entire story though is not about the fire of the house, or the flood that had happened years earlier. In fact in some way or another it is difficult to say what this story is about at all. Amy Hempel’s stories are written in the same way that Alice Munro has written the stories for “Too Much Happiness.” The difference though between Alice Munro and Amy Hempel, is that Amy Hempel is not writing in the regionalist way that Alice Munro does in her take of her own stories where she usually writes about the farms and semi-rural towns of south western Ontario. Amy Hempel’s stories differentiate in the way that they are written. A place maybe given, though in this particular story there is no place given. What does keep Amy Hempel and Alice Munro together though is that they both write about these “texturelessness,” lives. There is certainly nothing special about Amy Hempel’s characters. They are normal for the most part. Though Grey is somewhat of an extraordinary character when one, reviews his incredible diving talents. But also the fact that Amy Hempel’s main character in the story “Pool Night,” points out he’s quite the incredible person in the lives of others:

“Grey was a junior lifeguard at the pool. He tanned to the colour of the flakes he ate each morning, and i knew girls who saved his chewing gum.”

But this story is not about Grey or his talent in diving, and aqua-acrobatics. It is not even a story of the flood that had devastated a town. It is not a story about the lost photographs that Bunny or Dr. Winton had lost. I think in some way or another it is a story about remembering, and accepting that fact, that you won’t always be around to remember. Maybe this is why through the story one has a bit of sympathy for Dr. Winton as he sits in his house drinking his liquor cabinet until there is nothing left, and is hauled out by the Red Cross.

“The effect was of him saying after the flood: What I lose will always be lost.”

I think personally myself that the entire story is about living life as it is. Just as the main character and unnamed narrator states, that she much prefers the present, because in the future you die, and much prefers the present where you live. It is a short story about the past, the present, and the future in some way or another. I think as people get older they start to remember how things were. How things should still be. Maybe in some way or another Dr. Winton is right about what he stated when he said what he will lose will always be lost. Because once he is lost, everything remains lost, he remains lost, and so it ends. And yet the last few lines of the story continue to pull at the heart, and I still quite enjoy rereading it in my head and listening to it rebound in my ears.

Such stories that are like Amy Hempel’s and Alice Munro’s are a bit difficult to review at times. I could of course be wrong. I choose to sympathize and grow attached to Dr. Winton then I did with the narrator or Grey or anyone else. But that is just me. I am not going to say that I “Comprehended,” the story correctly, but I read it my way, and have reviewed it my way. Which is all done – quite frankly; my way.


“A Short History of the English Novel,” by Will Self – From “Grey Area,” by Will Self

I certainly must be in a quoting mood of late; because once again a journalistic publication has caught my attention with an accurate description of this particular author. The New York Times Book Review stated the following about Will Self, and actually describes the authors writing style in an absolute flawless way.

“[An] incomparable talent . . . he is a supreme recreator of the particular sensual detail of things, objects and surfaces. In Will Self’s fictional universe, all reality is virtual reality, imagined into existence by individuals seeking a distraction from the meaningless internal roiling of themselves. This may not add up to much in terms of a philosophy—but in terms of a fictional experience, Mr. Self is creating some of the most unusual and challenging landscapes around.”

Accurate would be the word to describe the above passage from The New York Times Book Review, in describing the writing of Will Self. Will Self is one of those writers who knows he is incredibly clever, and has no problem flaunting that fact. Deemed a satirist by critics and journalists, it is hard for me to wonder where I sit on the entire discussion of Will Self. He does not posse the humour of Saki (H.H. Munro) – however does Saki posse the humour he has now because of how old his stories are? In a few years say thirty or forty years, will the stories of Mr. Self have the same charm that Saki’s stories have on me? I certainly shall not rule out that possibility for sure. In fact they very might as well be seen as some of the classical humour of the early twenty first century.

“A Short History of the English Novel,” strikes a chord with me, the character Gerard is quite a philistine character in his take on the contemporary English novel – in fact it could be said he has a very pessimistic, cynical despondent view of literature of the contemporary age period; I make it no secret that I am philistine and barbaric towards the current state of literature and the pulp fiction mass market paperback world that many think is literature (which it is not). I make it no disguise in my loutish insults against the “dumb,” world view of the current age of affairs of what is deemed readable. But I make no apologies for my unrefined remarks of my disgust with it either. Neither does Gerard who views the current state of affairs of the English novel, as nothing more than fragmentary genres. As Gerard explains you have no real English novel anymore (the novels reminiscing of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontë sisters, George Elliot – towards the modernist novelists: Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, E.M. Foster) but rather fragmentary specialized fiction for minority groups of readers. As Gerard points out to his friend Geraldine, there are now only novels labelled by their intended audience: woman novels, gay novels, black novels, sensation novels, cell phone novels, young adult novels, man novels – and so on and so forth. As Gerard points out to his friend Geraldine there no longer is a “English Novel,” just simply specialized novels, who have found a nice comfortable niche and work that niche to their advantage. However it soon becomes clear after these two characters do a nice romp around London after their lunch and decided to go for coffee, and then after some interesting episodes a drink, that the reader begins to see that Gerard has a very negative view of any form of contemporary works of creative writing. As he meets waiters and waitresses who are aspiring writers or authors, Gerard begins to show that no matter how good these prospective novels are, they are not good enough for him. He remarks on one novelist who has written an allegory of a novel set in the future (which Geraldine had miscalls in calling a satire which upsets the author), this idealistic kind of author however, is no match to escape the very jaded eyes of Gerard. He simply remarks that her work is too “precious,” and then remarks that it is two words “precious,” and “pretentious.”

Seeing and reading such things about Gerard and pinpointing and relating back to one’s self is a bit of a frightening experience. I wonder now (and I admit I can be a bit like Gerard but have come out of my very narrow view of literature) that critics feel that only good literature is the literature of the deceased or of times gone by. I as a reader used to think that. I loved to read Charles Dickens, I remember reading “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë, and “Crime and Punishment,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and I felt smart. I felt the only good literature was the literature of the past. The literature that had meaning. Besides as far as I was concerned, every contemporary novel was trying to mimic and imitate the Victorian Era novel. Which is true, a lot of the books today is written in the purple prose of the romantic language and very tasteless tacky picturesque prose that is try to reminisce of the novels of the nineteenth century (you know the kind of novels that Saul Bellow Nobel Prize Laureate of Literature in ninety-seventy six, was criticized as writing.) However there are a lot of books today written by great novelist also. The kind of novelists you have to go searching for. Research for; and hopefully you find. I no longer have the stuck up view (well not entirely about ninety-five percent of my view on books is still quite stuck up) that Gerard has, but at the same time, Gerard and I differentiate on certain aspects of the discussion of literature. Though we both would agree on the Oscar Wilde quote:

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.”

That much I am sure the two of us will agree on.


“A Curious Suicide,” by Patricia Highsmith – From “The Selected Stories: of Patricia Highsmith,” by Patricia Highsmith – Section “Slowly, Slowly in the Wind.”

The last story I read by Patricia Highsmith “Broken Glass,” was an amazing story. At least I thought it was an amazing story. Some will of course disagree. There is just something about that story that just worked. Patricia Highsmith during her life time was seen as a Dime novel Dostoevsky; nothing more and nothing less. In today’s world, Patricia Highsmith is seen as one of the United States of America’s greatest hidden and unappreciated treasures. Seen by many as the grand dame of the psychological thriller, while others have said she was a psychological novelist, who explored the much more disturbing and darker nature of the human mind and soul. Others have called her one of the greatest modernist writers. Graham Greene called Patricia Highsmith “the poet of apprehension.” But what Patricia Highsmith is and forever will be a novelist or a writer, of crime fiction. A practitioner of the noir crime fiction.

“A Curious Suicide,” is a story that is much like the rest of Patricia Highsmith’s stories, and novels. Murder is the game. But the murder of Patricia Highsmith’s stories and novels, are not the kind of stuff that is written in the most sensational manner. The language is plain. The prose is anything but overly descriptive. In the world of Patricia Highsmith, cops are incompetent. Women are dangerous creatures, who exploit, and are conniving. Friends are just hidden double edged creatures, that you pretend to like, and they pretend to like you just as much back. This is the world of Patricia Highsmith. A world that is strikingly similar to the world, which anyone could inhabit.
In “A Curious Suicide,” the reader is introduced to Doctor Stephen McCollough – that is one of the many aspects that I love, about Patricia Highsmith is that all the names are quite predominantly Anglo-Saxon, making them easy to pronounce; Doctor McCollough loved at one point in time a woman by the name of Margaret. But Margaret ended up marrying another man, by the name of Roger Fane. A man that Doctor McCollough despises. Roger Fane is a worm of a man. He cheated on Margaret when they were married. Even after her death he doesn’t think much of the fact that she died. All of this infuriates Doctor McCollough who is married to the cruel, nasty and mean woman by the name of Lillian. He loved Margaret, and his hatred for Roger Fane and infatuation with Margaret, are enough to drive, Doctor McCollough to have thoughts of murder. Thoughts at first that he doesn’t take to seriously. But as the story goes on, there certainly is something terribly wrong with Doctor McCollough. The incredible fraudulent dance the two tango two as they talk and pretend to enjoy each other’s company is disgusting to watch. Then suddenly without warning, and on impulse, Doctor McCollough commits the deed that is all too common in Patricia Highsmith’s work. What follows is just the aftermath of his deed. The inadequacy of police force. The death – or a curious suicide if you will; of an innocent though violently disturbed man; and the machinations and black mail of Lillian. This is the kind of classic Patricia Highsmith.

Confessing, confiding, conceding, declaring, admitting – and so on; I didn’t like this story by Patricia Highsmith as much as I did “Broken Glass.” This entire story felt forced. It felt too simple. It didn’t have that kind of common place, barbaric behaviour that “Broken Glass,” did. It just felt like a simple plot, through together. Every moment was a bead, and a piece of string just connected them all together. I suppose all the stories read this week were hits and misses. I didn’t quite enjoy Alice Munro’s story or Will Self’s or Patricia Highsmith’s stories either. But I was able to enjoy the stories that Yasunari Kawabata Nobel Laureate of Literature in nineteen-sixty eight, Saki, and Amy Hempel provided. It was a fifty /fifty week for stories, but each one had something to share. Hopefully next week it will be a better time for the short stories, that will be chosen to read.

Thursday 23 June 2011

The Black Book

Hello Gentle Reader

What an odd and interesting week it has been. Well an odd day it has been. When I had awoken up this morning at roughly Nine ‘O’ Clock, at which point I had gone and sat down at the computer, brought up the book “The Black Book,” by Orhan Pamuk who is The Nobel Laureate of Literature of two thousand and six (2006) and sat down at the computer, placed my fingertips at the keyboard, and was ready to begin writing. Then as if still dreaming or not entirely awaked, I was unable to write. From Nine ‘O’ Clock this morning until One ‘O’ Clock, this afternoon I had sat the computer mindlessly thinking about the first sentence that I would write on this particular blog or review for the novel that I had just finished last night.

Then comes the second paragraph. The introduction is done, but the second paragraph continues on. Maybe now is the time to tell a quick sketch or story about a personal event, an epiphany a thought anything to keep the process going. Give the reader a red herring, some useless detailed information. Just write something, but make sure it is entertaining, talks about something, and that the reader would enjoy it. – These are the thoughts that are running through my head today, as I sit here writing this blog. I’ve never had a problem before writing a review, of a book, and certainly “The Black Book,” by Orhan Pamuk should not be causing me these problems. For in my head the sentence or saying or repeated words keep playing: “For Christ’s sake it’s a book, you’ve reviewed books before. Some worst then others. Get to it!” – Yet there is just something today, something out of place.

Dear Gentle Reader, who reads because they are so kind, I admit I woke up this morning with the worst feeling in my stomach. There is that feeling of being watched. That feeling, which makes the hair on the back of your next stand up; your eyes quickly move from left to right. That futile attempt to see what is behind you, but the human anatomy does not allow such feats of human abnormal bodily movements. So you roll over on your shoulder, and look behind you. Total disappointment follows as you know you felt absolutely certain that there was something behind you. Those grainy images of those old tasteless horror films flash across your eyes. You think of those old and creepy porcelain dolls, with the cracks. The dark little hollow shell of their “insides,” (?) or strange rabid mutts sitting in the streets. Those starved eyes watching you as, you see their lungs push up against their almost translucent skin. There are so many images of odd and eccentric people on buses that flood back, the weird man in the food court who sat there making faces and talking to himself, and so on and so forth. Even though when you turn over on to your shoulder and you find nothing there looking back at you, and there is a sense of relief to find nothing there, even though logically you knew nothing would be there. This is one of those repetitive images in Orhan Pamuk’s novel “The Black Book.”

According to the back of the book (or at least a small portion of it):

“With its cascade of beguiling stories about Istanbul, The Black Book is a brilliantly unconventional mystery and a provocative meditation on identity.”

This is the perfect summarization of the novel. On the surface it is a mystery – but do not be fooled. This is not the common place mystery novel. This certainly is not Agatha Christie novel, or Sherlock Holmes story. This is a novel with the guise or on the surface a simple mystery novel, but Orhan Pamuk rips apart the entire concept of the mystery novel with his cult novel that is said to have found his voice.

The premise of this novel is about Galip a Turkish lawyer living in Istanbul. With the brief summary of the financial ruin of his family. The strange relationship between his grandparents, and their constant nagging of each other for smoking. To his uncle Melih who had disgraced himself and his family and has a very troubled relationship with his son Celâl, who is a famous columnist for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. There is Vasıf the deaf cousin (I think) of Galip who is entertained by his Japanese fighting fish, and also enjoys the company of Galip and Galip’s (missing) wife Rüya, and review the news paper clippings he keeps in his box. In these opening chapter(s) and passages, Orhan Pamuk is writing about the wealthy and declining family that is reminiscence of his own family.

This novel however is not concerned with the outlook of the family or their history or how they ended up in their current situation. But it does serve as some background as to why Celâl is estranged from his own family, and no longer remains in contact with them. It also is a great way to show the distortion of time in the novel – that is for me it felt like time distortion. I am still not entirely sure how old Galip is or how old Celâl is. Though he is loved and hated by his family. The main characters in this novel are Galip, Rüya, Celâl though only one of them really makes much of a statement in this entire novel. However the columns that Celâl writes do make their statements, and in fact slowly and surely the entire philosophical conversation and concept of identity that appears to strike both Galip and Celâl, begins to fade the lines between who is who. Is Galip still Galip even if he pretends and mimic’s Celâl – or has he himself slowly begun to become Celâl losing his entire identity in the process. One would say it certainly is fair to say that in some way or another Galip wanted to be Celâl all along. Could Galip have been sick and tired of his own life, and longed and dreamed of the life of Celâl. His wife Rüya loves Celâl, just as much as she loves her cheap and dreadful detective novels. Celâl is famous and beloved by many. People eagerly await for the Milliyet everyday and flip to the second page to read the column. Celâl writes about the history of the city. He writes of his own personal history also.

One of the greatest parts of the histories of Istanbul presented in “The Black Book,” by Orhan Pamuk is the entire history of the mannequins, of Istanbul. How the public despised these mannequins because they resembled the Turkish people. The general public of Turkey did not want mannequins that resembled the Turkish people. They wanted mannequins that resembled the exotic and delightful beauties of Europe. They did not want to see peasants, peddlers, vendors, navy officers, and historical figures of Turkey; they wanted to see the exotic beauties of Europe. They want the elegance of the French woman holding the cigarette. They want to know the way to stand like an English person. That self-proclaimed dignified stance that they hold themselves. They want that perfect German look of engineering. The blonde hair and the blue eyes. They do not want to see themselves or the strangers on the streets, which they see every day.

Orhan Pamuk is also writes about the interesting characters and their stories of Istanbul. But also be warned my Dear Gentle Reader, Orhan Pamuk presents an interesting view of Istanbul. You do not hear of the Istanbul Sapphire (probably because it wasn’t built on the novels publication) this is a novel about Turkey’s backstreets. The crumbling decaying buildings, where the present, stands on top of the dust of the past.

“As for Tarik, who spent his days producing rat position in his stepfather’s libratory and his nights writing poems about the alchemy of death [. . .]”

Orhan Pamuk’s style also is interesting in his use brief mentions of past works. In chapter twenty-six Orhan Pamuk mentions his English debut novel “The White Castle,” which also deals with identity, in this following passage:

“The Ottoman defeat at Doppio or White Castle, as it was also known as.” – Now of Course I could be reading too far into this, but it certainly was neat to see that, not to mention that in an earlier chapter a man by the name of Cevdet Bey a tycoon of sorts is also mentioned. “Cevdet Bey and His Sons,” was written in ninety eighty two (1982) and is Orhan Pamuk’s first novel and so far has not been translated into English.

Another interesting work of Orhan Pamuk’s always shifting style is, that every chapter opens with a quote. These quotes can be from the twelfth century poet, Lewis Caroll’s “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.” On one such occasion while reading “The Black Book,” I came across two acquaintances of this book, who earlier on had given us two quotes. Adli and Bahti at first introduction are nothing more than two people/characters, offering their views and quotes. But in Chapter eight along with Cemali a third character introduced alongside the first two acquaintances of characters. After the introductions of these three musketeers the readers learns of their contradictory advice about how to write a column. One could suppose these three men A, B, C all helped or advised Celâl in his own formation of writing his own column.

This book by the Nobel Laureate of Literature of two thousand and six (2006) is no beach read that you’d sit and read. It is not a light read. It is a complicated novel, about identity, about Istanbul – the limbo that Istanbul is faced in being situated between Europe and the Middle East; it is about the present and the past. It is about the people. It is a complicated novel, on the surface a detective novel, but deep beneath the surface of this novel it is a meditation about identity, and about the nature of being oneself, and who is oneself. It is a complicated novel, which frustrates, but also rewards. Many people think that in two thousand and six that Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on political grounds – this was the man that was arrested and going to be charged for making “un-Turkish,” remarks – where he recognized openly the genocide and slaughter of the Armenians and Kurds. The charges were dropped but the ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz had appealed to the Supreme Court who found Orhan Pamuk guiltily in March of this year (2011) and ordered him to pay a total of six thousand liras. But Orhan Pamuk is a talented writer and though he is a political writer also, “The Black Book,” is one of the most rewarding, challenging books I have had the pleasure of reading.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Thursday 16 June 2011

I want Translations!

Hello Gentle Reader

Well after my rude remark about the feminist judge, and her resignation over Philip Roth winning the Man Booker International Prize of 2011, and the fact that I feel somewhat poor about the way that I had talked about it, and the insults that I had thrown at the entire idealism of feminism in general, I suppose its most appropriate to tune down the opinions or rather speak them in a much more different way. If an opinion – no matter how great or wise; is spoken in such crude and crass way, then it loses any value in intellectual or human pursuits. It just comes off as an ass doing what they do best: making an ass of themselves. Of course this not an apology at all. Never apologize for ones opinions. If you believe in them whole heartedly you are doomed both to have your world view viciously changed or you will find that you get better at defending your opinion. It’s one of the two. A black and white way to look at it, yes, but sometimes all the world is, is black and white.

Well anyhow, being born in an English speaking country – with other regions that speak other languages; Québec speaks French, and I think it was in either New Brunswick or was it Nova Scotia, knowing my luck its Newfoundland! – a region actually speaks Gaelic or something like that! I know it’s like an old English form of language from way back when. Anyhow there are places here that I am sure that speak the old Aboriginal/native American languages also – even after the residential schools tried to beat that out of them. Now that’s a sore part of Canada’s history.

Anyhow what is trying to be said here, is that being born into a primary speaking English country, one will find that in order to read books of considerable literary merit, they have to truly sift through the horrible penny dreadful’s, dime novels, pulp fiction children – in other words sift through that Nora Roberts, Daniele Steel, Nicolas Sparks, James Patterson, Dan Brown. John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Dean Koontz – and just because I think these authors overrated: Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice. Once you get through all that you begin to find authors of more interesting value. However the bookshelves are more or less, clouded with these authors. But over the past while, I have slowly and surely become more and more interested in world literature. I mean I discover authors on my own. With the internet such a good resource, I have been able to discover authors from all over the world.

Without the internet I would have been able to discover Victor Pelevin, for instance. Also without the internet I would not have been able to discover who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature because, quite frankly, it appears that such a prize here is seen as uninteresting. I don’t know why, I guess Canada has no real appreciation for its authors or authors of the world now, as I am slowly starting to figure that out. Without the internet I would not have discovered Michel Houellebecq and the list of course goes on.

Yet with the internet has also become a problem. I end up discovering authors that I really would think of enjoy reading. Authors like the recently departed, Bella Akhmadulina. Or what about my recent discovery of the German author Ulrich Holbein who appears to be a good one for the modern or contemporary author of avant grade, novelist – and a real one at that, none of this lazy shit of not even bothering to do something innovative but just call their lazy or poor use of punctuation as experimental. What about Doron Rabinovici and his novel “Andernorts,” roughly translated as “Elsewhere.” What about Judith Zander’s German Book Prize short listed novel “Dinge die Wir Heute Sagten,” which is once again roughly translated into English as “Things We Said Today.” Not to mention the winner of the German Book Prize of 2010 Melinda Nadj Abonji and her prize winning novel “Tauben fliegen auf,” or “Falcons without Falconers.”

Then of course there is the works of the 2009 German Book Prize that I am interested in reading. One of those is Rainer Merkel’s novel “Lichtjahre Entfernt,” also known as “Light Years Away.” What about Herta Muller 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature winner “Atemschaukel,” which is translated into “Everything I Own I Carry With Me.” Then there is the novel by the young Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz and his novel “Die Frequenzen,” or “The Frequencies.” Then there is the winner Katrin Schmidt and her novel “Du Stirbst Nicht,” which can be translated into English as “You're Not Going to Die.” And then there are the other authors like Norbert Scheuer and Stephan Thome and their novels (“Überm Rauschen,” – or “The Rushing of the Weir,” by Norbert Scheuer. And “Grenzgang,” – or “Border Walk,” by Stephan Thome.)

Then there is the work of the Romanian author Dan Sociu and his supposed “Miserablism,” writing as it has been dubbed by critics. Then there is Dora Pavel another Romanian author whose work appears so interesting to me. Then there is Mircea Nedelciu yet another Romanian author who passed away back in the late 90’s – 1999 to be honest. How can I not mention the Austrian writer, that Elfide Jelinek said deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature more than her. Peter Handke, and how all the books that I wish to read, are all but unavailable or “sold out.”

What about the most famous works of Claude Simon the Nobel Laureate of Literature of 1985, who though he was critically acclaimed was not commercially successful, and could perhaps be seen as slowly going out of print. Then there is the Booker Prize Shortlisted author of the 2010 Booker Prize for his novel “C,” and though the critic’s favourites he lost to the “The Finkler Question,” by Howard Jacobson – whose works from the looks of it to me, are going back into print because of the Booker Prize. Tom McCarthy could have become one of those authors that writes and writes and writes only to see such small success here and there – or is given enough change to live off of, until his death. But now his work has gathered much more interesting appeal to many – which is good for a person like me because that’s what I want! I want to have his books all to myself, but I can’t have them if they are all gone or publishers don’t publish them. Then of course there was a while back now back in 2010 that I went to order “Trio,” by Robert Pingett and it was out of stock – which is funny because the website told me that it was in stock that morning! Now I have just learned that “Mahu Or The Material,” a book that had been reviewed on my blog early I believe in 2011 or was it late 2010? Early 2011 I believe; is now also out of stock. So there do comes moments of getting things just at the nick of time. Though still it certainly is frustrating to some who wish to have some books. I mean personally I would love to read “The Hive,” by Nobel Laureate of Literature of 1989 Camilo José Cela but that also prove to be out of stock. Then I find a poet that looks interesting these independent blogs and newspapers and websites ranting and raving about his hybrid style of writing poetry by the name of Mathew Hittinger. Needless to say his books of poetry are also out of stock. And do not get me started on how hard it is to find Thomas Ligotti books. If you are lucky and you see him, don’t waste time, grab the damn book!

This is all of course frustrating to me as an author. I want to read these authors. I won’t settle for anything else either! I know that publishers say that: “Translated works just don’t sell.” Which may be true I do not know, because I do not work in the publishing industry. However as a reader who loves books of international quality and books from all over the world, I am not going to settle with some crap ass book. I would personally love to see more translations into English. I’d love to see literature be more open and accepted in the English world. Or maybe its just an English language world thing that thinks everyone should conform to the English language and write and speak in it – not a bad idea personally that way I could read all the books! But still I’d love to see more translations. Personally at the moment I’d love to see some translations by Ulrich Holbein for sure! I’d also would not mind seeing Bruno Schulz’s books go back into print for a bit and just in case any publishers are wondering I also wouldn’t mind seeing Luigi Pirandello’s “Novelle per un anno,” or “Novels for a year,” translated, among other works by authors from all over the world.

The fact is, the west or countries in the west or North America and Western Europe (maybe not all of Western Europe) do not do enough translations and then when people like Horace Engdahl make comments like: “[The United States] too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world.” The west (or in this case the United States) gets upset. But maybe its true that we do not participate in the world class literature field. Certainly there are many productions of large quantities of books by Nora Roberts and Nicolas Sparks all over the world but is there any quality to them? Maybe we should stop taking offense to such comments, and start seeing that maybe they are right. Either way I say do more translations! ‘Cause I want them!

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

P.S. If you are interested in the German Book Prize please follow, the following links.

(a) A video depicting The Finalist of The German Book Prize of 2009

(b) A video about Katrin Schmidt a winner of the Germ Book Prize of 2009

(c) A video about The Finalists of 2010 German Book Prize

(d) A video about the 2010 German Book Prize winner Melinda Nadj Abonji

(e) Other sites that may be of interest

Thursday 9 June 2011

Spring Snow

Hello Gentle Reader

It certainly does feel like summer is finally among me. Maybe not for you all, but it certainly is among me. It is both hot, and the bugs are out. Their beating vibrating wings fill the air with their humming sounds of life. Thanks to the all the rain last week, the ditches are flooded with rain. The frogs are enjoying that though. I can hear them every evening and night – usually around dusk the most; croaking. It is as if they are saying goodbye to one more day. The ducks also appear to be enjoying the excess of water all around. Though he is an ironic part of this “watered down world,” – there is actually a fire ban in place. It is ironic I know. But it looks like it is a necessary, with quite a few fires had already been started. That is not good indeed. Hopefully they will be extinguished so people, who enjoy camping can go out and enjoy the weather, and enjoy getting “in tune,” with nature. Personally camping is not my personal aspect of a holiday. I don’t recall liking it as a kid, and in all honest I do not recall liking it now either.

Anyone who knows a bit about Japanese Literature knows who Yukio Mishima is. The Japanese Post-War writer, whose nihilistic works, and experimental blending of style of traditional Japanese writing and western influence, made him herald in his day as one of the greatest Japanese writers. However his success has also overshadowed some other great Japanese writers. I would say that the success of Yukio Mishima and his novels overshadowed other authors like Junichiro Tanizaki. Yukio Mishima also had a mentor early in his career – and it could be stated that this author probably even jump started the career of Yukio Mishima. This author was none other than Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel Laureate in Literature of 1968 and the first Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yukio Mishima had such appreciation for the great Japanese author, that he had published a series of essays on Yasunari Kawabata. However I don’t think personally that Yukio Mishima will ever surpass the greatness of Yasunari Kawabata. In fact in this case the master will certainly be greater than the student. Another case of debatable origin would be James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Personally I have only read Samuel Beckett, because for some reason or another James Joyce’s large book and most likely magnum opus “Ulysses,” is just a bit of a large and overwhelmingly large book.

For those who have read the previous review of another one of Yukio Mishima’s novels “The Sound of the Waves,” on March the eleventh of two-thousand and eleven (2011) you’ll remember the brief discussion of Yukio Mishima’s very public attempt at over throwing the government and attempt at re-instating the law of the emperor and his divine rule. This attempt at a coup did fail, and Yukio Mishima then committed ritual suicide.

All of this happened after his publication of his final and probably greatest work of four novels all connected, in a tetralogy titled “The Sea of Fertility.” Which the first novel in this tetralogy is “Spring Snow.”

I can’t say personally that “Spring Snow,” on the superficial levels, not entirely different than other Yukio Mishima’s novels. The character Kiyoaki for one is much like the unnamed narrator of Yukio Mishima’s breakthrough novel “Confessions of a Mask.” Kiyoaki is both a pessimistic pain, and very introverted character. His eyes are turned inward not outward. Personally I found Kiyoaki to be an insufferable character. That being said, I do not mind an introverted and very introspective character, but Yukio Mishima appeared to have taken this to an extreme with his character of Kiyoaki.

However Yukio Mishima has made some great contrast with the character Honda. A young, smart man roughly the same age as Kiyoaki. The friendship between Kiyoaki, a member of an old aristocrat family, while Honda (I think – I could be wrong) is a member of a wealthy family but not of aristocrat origin. There is great contrast between these two characters. Honda is a man, who is/or is stated of, going to study law, while as he points out in a conversation about fate and human destiny and history that Kiyoaki would never leave a mark on history, much like others. This is when the two are talking about the different periods. As the novel of “Spring Snow,” is set during the final years of the Meji period and the early years of the Taishō period.

To describe the friendship – as odd as it is; between Honda and Kiyoaki the following quote would be of great satisfactory description:

[Honda] “Treat him [Kiyoaki] as warily as one would a freshly painted wall, on which the slightest careless touch would leave an indelible fingerprint.”

Yes the entire novel is as melodramatic as that description makes it sound. But the extremes of the emotions that the characters display and act in are also quite typical of youth and such young people – though it appears to be quite more extreme, with young people who have a sense of entitlement.

But the real heart of this story is the love affair – or rather the doomed love affair of Kiyoaki and Ayakura Satoko. I do confess personally, that reading this novel, it was hard for me to tell if Kiyoaki loved Satoko, or just loved hating her. Though eventually it does become clear that Kiyoaki loves Satoko. But the love is doomed. Satoko becomes engaged to a royal prince. I suppose that royal prince did feel a sense of entitlement, and certainly felt entitled to have Satoko. Though by the time that Kiyoaki figures out his emotions, he decides to make a move and express his deep emotions towards Satoko. But by this point she is already engaged to the royal prince. However a certain incident occurs. Satoko is pregnant. With (I think) Kiyoaki’s child.

The events unfold in a strange obscure way after this. The affair is soon found out. The pregnancy is discovered, and the love and very raw hateful relationship that both Kiyoaki and Satoko share, is brought to its final endings.

Here is an important detail that one should remember, from earlier on in the novel, that Satoko has a great aunt, who is an Abbess. Satoko has her abortion, and her mother and her on their way back to Tokyo, decided to stop at the Gesshu Temple where Satoko’s great aunt is the abbess. It is here that Satoko hides from her mother, and her mother learns that her daughter has decided to become a nun. The mother of Satoko a very weak willed woman, and retreats to Tokyo but neither Kiyoaki’s father or Satoko’s father can do anything to release her from the grasps of the convent. Satoko at long last, meets her tragic end. She goes insane.

Kiyoaki goes then to the convent, which had become a prison of Satoko and now her mental asylum. Kiyoaki wishes to see Satoko, but every attempt to see her at the convent is refused. He is refused every time. In a wallowing despair, Kiyoaki begins his trudge of a walk from the in towards convent. A somewhat symbolic, gesture of repentance.

Honda eventually travels to the area of the convent where Kiyoaki and Satoko are worlds apart. He is shocked to find his friend in such ill shape. Seeing that Kiyoaki is in desperate need to see Satoko, Honda meets with the abbess. Who openly and abruptly refuses such a request. That same night Honda takes Kiyoaki back to Tokyo, seeing that seeing Satoko is nothing but a futile game, and his friends help needs medical attention, and perhaps he hopes to make sure his family can see their son once more. The novel then ends with Kiyoaki proclaiming his dream that he’ll see Honda once again, and leaving his mother a note requesting that she give Honda his dream diary.

Dreams, symbolism, omens – all of these things, foreshadow, and play an important part into the novel. But with anything all these things can be left open to the reader’s interpretation, which can often at times lead to confusion, of what each symbolism means. Such as the time when Honda and Kiyoaki walking home and a dead mole, is in front of their walking path. Which is obviously a bad omen. Then there was the dream of Kiyoaki having the crown, which had the emerald that was encrusted on the ring of one of the Thai princes. Which may foreshadow or elude to the ring later going missing, when the Prince is at a boarding school.

In all “Spring Snow,” is an alright novel. A bit heavy with Kiyoaki’s constant introspective personality and always looking into himself. Not to mention that Yukio Mishima writes sometimes with a very heavy hand, that sometimes clouds the atmosphere of the novel, and can cloud the novel, and make it a bit of a drudgery task to get through at times. The melodrama though does work well for this kind of novel, of such young people, who have no concept of love. It is a great work of a novel, by Yukio Mishima because he does tackle the themes of the old Japan (the Aristocracy) with the new Japan (Westernization and Modernization). Even the title of the novel could be seen as a hint of the theme. “Spring,” as in the new era, a new Japan; and then the old being “Snow,” as the old aristocracy the old Japan. Together the novel is the swirl of the two of the parts of Japan circling each other in a dance.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Can You Tell a Woman’s Written Word from a Mans?

Hello Gentle Reader

What a hectic week it has been. Tuesday was just as crazy as Monday. Except Tuesday was a bit worst; it always appears my Gentle Reader, that no matter how good the day is going according to plan, it always falls apart at the last crucial moments. However – well not really a however; I was able to see come up with some conclusions. Such as always think the worst of people, that way anything that may or may not be out of their character, does not come to much of a surprise. Also always call a back half hour before you need it. That way you end up on time early rather than late. It’s been a day of stress, learning, and reflection. But it has not killed me, though at certain moments, I thought I was going to die of certain embarrassments, of being late. I mean personally I am a very punctual person. Seeing as my reluctance and fear of getting a drivers license even now at my age, makes me rely on others – such as public transportation for example – may I also add that taxi cabs are overrated? I know personally they say its twenty cents ($.20) per one hundred and ten meters; I have to say that is a lie; because as experience of the cab trip today with this certain cab company it appeared that the cab was on a time rate. Not a rate by however many meters you traveled. Not to mention the starting base is three dollars. I don’t pretend made of money, but apparently taxi cabs – or this one; thinks I am made of money. Oh well, I learned about that particular cab company. Perhaps next time I’ll check another one, out. But this is not about the cab company; and I do realize I am a bit spiky today, but the embarrassment of being late, and yet not mentioning it is not my fault, because that would only add to the embarrassment that you were late and its “so and so’s fault,” because that doesn’t show that I am willing to admit and recognize my mistakes. That being said, it is still is a bit unfair that I was late, based on public transportations inadequacy, then again, I should have called and gotten their earlier. Oh well, nothing can be done about the past in the present time. All one can do is simply, bury it and move on with their lives, and hope and also take action, to make sure that other opportunities arise.

However, I am not the only person in the world who is a bit spiky. Sir V.S. Naipaul the Nobel Laureate of Literature in two thousand and one (2001), who is also ranked seventh on “Times,” “50 greatest British writers since 1945,” in two thousand and eight (2008), has also shown his spiky side last month with a comment he made in an interview with the Royal Geographic Society, where he made a certain comment about female authors. Sir V.S. Naipaul had stated that woman writers are inferior to their gender counter parts. He also made it quite clear, that he does not consider any female author his equal. Not even Jane Austen. Nevertheless Sir V.S. Naipaul is not the kind of writer who is new to any literary spats – at least that is according to the article of “The Guardian,” in their book section. Personally I have not read anything by Sir V.S. Naipaul. Nor have I read anything by Jane Austen, but I did watch the film “Becoming Jane,” but that is no substitute to her work.

The fact that I have not read anything by Sir V.S. Naipaul does not mean that I can say any woman writer is his equal, because I have no idea if any writer is his equal. Though I have read many female authors who may be able to equal Sir V.S. Naipaul. The Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and nine (2009) Herta Muller can be seen as his equal. Her style, and experiences under the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, are something to behold. Reading Herta Muller for me is a beautiful but also horrifying experience. Then there is the Nobel Laureate for Literature in nineteen ninety six (1996) from Poland Wislawa Szymborska. Though I have not read any of her poems, other than the few online, I would certainly love to get a few collections of her poems. I mean she is Poland’s Literary Grandmother. Then there is A.S. Byatt who along Sir V.S. Naipaul is ranked in the “Times,” “50 greatest British writers since 1945,” and took the spot of thirty four. What about Doris Lessing the Grand Dame of English Literature, and Nobel Prize Laureate of Literature in two thousand and seven (2007) who is ranked fifth on the “Times,” Literary Grandmother. Then there is Dame A.S. Byatt who along Sir V.S. Naipaul is ranked in the “Times,” “50 greatest British writers since 1945.”

But her is the challenge to you Gentle Reader, can you tell an authors gender, by their writing? The test offers you ten questions, and then you decide if they are male or female writers.

My score is: Six out of Ten.

What is your score Gentle Reader?

Take the test with the following link:

Also if you are interested in the articles mentioned above please feel free to read the following articles with the following links:

^ The Original article about Sir V.S. Naipaul’s views.

^ Diana Athill’s response to the comments Sir V.S. Naipaul’s remarks.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Mondays with Mr. K (No. VI)

Hello Gentle Reader

I do understand that this "Monday with Mr. K," is a bit late. Of course I know you might/must be thinking: "So then why not just do a 'Monday with Mr. K,' next Monday?" Duh right? Well yes I do understand I could do that. But I had it all planned out that I was going to do it yesterday Monday. Oh well sometimes, the plans of our lives do not always go according to our plans do they Gentle Reader? I mean yesterday I was planning on waking up to German folk music on the radio (Danke Schoen anyone?). Not that I was complaining either. I thought it was pretty neat to wake up to German singers on the radio. I am sure if I wasn't so tired, I'd have a dance with myself. I also wasn't planning on going out either and heading all over town, to get a few things, that I had overlooked last time I went grocery shopping. I also wasn't planning on reading so much either. In fact after all my errands were completed, I still had time to do the planned "Monday with Mr. K," but I appeared to have overlooked the one aspect of that had been planned. Oh well I suppose I can still do it now, which is what being done right now. I suppose the lesson learned is: that though we dam the river, we do not always notice slight cracks in the very foundation of which the dam is built.

Also Gentle Reader, seeing as this "Monday with Mr. K," is late, I will post another blog this Thursday as it would happen on any other week.


Mr. K was noted to share his most personal moments with only a few people who had entered his life. One of those people was the barber. Barber Swierczynski -- or simply Barber Swier as everyone usually called him; was one of the few people to know about Mr. K's more personal life, his personal past, his personal views, his most hidden self was only described and allowed to be seen by a select few. Barber Swier, was one of those people. Barber Swier would come every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (usually for a visit). Barber Swier, understood after a while Mr. K's troubled financial situation. His difficult relationship with cats -- even though years later Barber Swier would remark that Mr. K shared some very interesting traits with the ungrateful creatures that would sometimes take up resident in his small residency of his apartment. He noted that Mr. K was noted for having the very small corners of his lips always turned up in a cat like smile. A cat content with its situation, and the conversation that is ringing around its ears. Tweeting in the right, and singing in the left. Barber Swier would remark only very later on in his own life that Mr. K was a man of great wisdom, and philosophical thoughts. But a shy and modest man -- which is paradoxical nature to his very simplistic facade that Mr. K always presented. Though Mr. K was noted for revealing himself on a few moments, especially about the deceit of simplicity.

"When I was younger. We used to think that the world, was simply the world. Everything could be taken the entire knowledge of the world, in its face value. Little did we know, or even understand the complicated details of the world around us. We never knew of the greatness of the microscopic world below and around us. We had no idea of dust mites, and their wondrous invisible tiny world on our beds. We did not know that Pluto was a dwarf planet -- we simply knew it as a planet. We had no concept that Jupiter's gravity was far more intense then our own. We never knew that smoking was going to cause lung cancer. We saw it in our youth as something as a adult right, much like alcohol. We never knew much about many things, that over the years have become fact, and have devoured, and digested and now undone the old thoughts that I myself had grown up with. That is one aspect of life, that one can always count on. Change is inevitable. Everything is changing. The seasons, the rotation of the world. The facts that one thought were true. It all changes."

Thursday 2 June 2011

Snow Country

Snow Country

Hello Gentle Reader

(Part I)

It is the first blog of June; and what a paradox that is, if you look at the title of this book by the Japanese Nobel Laureate in Literature of 1968, and the season of June it certainly is a paradox. Yet, that aside, it is a beautiful and tender novel indeed. But we’ll get to that in time. The life and the sounds of bugs are heard now more frequently. Just the other day I counted four white butterflies fluttering about the backyard. The nights are still full of the croaking frogs, and a strange sound of either a large swarm of bugs or a loud bird, making a strange call in the distance. It almost sounds like a laugh. I suppose this is not the first time I have heard, this certain call. I am sure I have heard it every summer, and just finally decided to take some notice to this strange call. I still remember, the one year, walking down at the river, a few years back, and hearing a bug clicking its wings or the shell of its wings together, to make it sound like a rattle. Needles to say I knew there were no rattle snakes down by the river, but it still give me the willies. Now when I go out to other places, which are notorious for rattlesnakes being around. I suppose I do not blame them for being around there either. The entire place is like a giant hole in the ground – I call it the hell hole of the world; and its extremely hot there, during the summers. In all honesty I do not blame the little heat suckers, for going there if it is warmer than surrounding area’s then they should go there, and suck up all the heat – or as much as they want. Thinking about the place where the rattlesnakes are now, makes me somewhat want to go visit the place. Of course mind you gentle reader I probably won’t be going out there in a sweater – no quite the opposite I’d probably dress in lighter clothing. Something that I am not particularly fond of doing either. The best part of winter for me – or one of the best parts (though Autumn remains my favourite month) is dressing in heavier clothing, and dark clothes. However I do hate the cold weather of Winter. Winter certainly can be beautiful, with the snow falling down at night; or how clear the stars are at night, but also it is bitterly cold. Driving becomes ever more dangerous, and not to mention, those annoying snow storms, is just a real pain in the ass.

The novel by Nobel Laureate of Literature in 1968, Yasunari Kawabata writes about the beauty of snow, and the isolation, and loneliness of two people. “Snow Country,” by Yasunari Kawabata takes place in Japans Snow Country area. The snowiest region on earth I think the introduction to this novel said – of course if I am wrong I am wrong. For some reason or another I do assume that the arctics would be the snowiest region, however it is has not snowed or rained there in centuries someone told me. Maybe Japan’s snow country is the snowiest place on earth. According to the introduction – and I am receiving most of this from memory; that the winds from Siberia pass over the Sea of Japan, and then the clouds pass into the Japans Snow Region, releasing heavy amounts of snow fall.

Personally Yasunari Kawabata’s choice to place, this novel in Japans Snow Country, serves the purpose of this novel well. With this novel, Yasunari Kawabata is able to write about the beauty of the region. The isolation of the entire region works perfectly for this novel – and is a good example of one of the themes that Yasunari Kawabata had, always used in his works, at some time or another.

Yasunari Kawabata was an orphan throughout his life. At the age of four his parents were dead. At the age of twelve his sister died at the age of ten. He had only met her once, when he was older, before her untimely death. Kawabata lived with his grandparents after his parents deaths. At the age of seven, his grandmother passed away and died. At the age of fifteen his father finally died. After the death of his grandfather at the age of fifteen Yasunari Kawabata went to live with his mother’s family. But the age of seventeen he moved into a boarding house, near the school he was going to.

These deaths, at such early ages, had caused a great deal of pain to Yasunari Kawabata. A certain sense of emotional development being hindered or not fully developed properly. This emotional inadequacy can be seen in the novel “Snow Country.” Both the characters, of this novel are isolated both from each other; even though they are right there together; and the entire landscape of Japans Snow Country, adds to the sense of isolation of the two characters from both each other and the world around them.

The entire novel though is not very slow paced. It is a short novel mind. My edition personally clocked in at about one hundred and seventy five pages, and I was able to read it in just one short sitting – well with the exceptions of getting water, having a cigarette, and going to the bathroom, or answering the door, or answering the phone and other daily tasks.

Written in Yasunari Kawabata’s signature sparse lyrical and subdued prose. But the novel also shows Yasunari Kawabata’s keen psychological insight. The choice of the setting is just one metaphorical subdued psychological insight into the characters minds and personality.

The entire story itself revolves around the complicated and impossible love affair of two people. There is Shimamura, a businessman of sorts from Tokyo. His life is boring, and idle. The main reason why he travels to this remote place of Japan. A small hot spring town, where he hopes to rejuvenate the honesty of his life – something he had lost.

The following passage is a good understanding of the tone of the novel. Again this passage is written in the style that is Yasunari Kawabata’s signature, with the lyrical prose, and subdued tone and style.

“Always ready to give himself up to reverie, he could not believe that the mirror floating over the evening scenery and the other snowy mirror were really works of man. They were part of nature, and part of some distant world.
And the room he had only this moment left had become part of that same distant world.”

The other character is Komako. The love interest of Shimamura – and then again perhaps it is the other way around? The love interest between these two is doomed to fail from the start. Komako is a geisha, and Shimamura is a married man, simply at the snow country to rest and relax. But both in one way or another half way fall in love with each other. I say half way fall in love with each other because Shimamura is obviously stingy with his feelings. While Komako is far too childish for a man like Shimamura. Her constant consumption of alcohol and immature antics make her a feeble and pathetic creature to watch, in her conversations and interactions between herself and Shimamura. One of the most pathetic of her scenes and childish antics was when she had her revival Yuko, bringing Shimamura notes, while she entertains a party. Probably the most noted scene of her immaturity also continues with her constant remark: “I’m going home.” Which she uses often when she is drunk, and yet never does. Her immaturity is outstanding and pitiful. But do not think for a moment that Shimamura is any better than Komako. Alright perhaps a bit more mature than Komako, but his choice to rather live in a fantasy world, rather than to live in the world around him, makes him just as immature, because of his emotional inadequacies and choice to live in a walled fantasy world.

The clash between Shimamura and Komako is also quite seen. As autumn begins to happen, their relationship also begins to have a bit of rough patch. It is unknown if their relationship will continue after the novel either. But their real anger happens when Komako has a misinterpretation of one of Shimamura’s remarks and takes the comment as if Shimamura is being condescending towards her.

The last of the novel recounts the fire, of the cocoon-warehouse, and how Komako saves Yuko from the fire. I would say it is safe to assume that Yuko is dead. But this scene is also a very ambiguous scene because of Shimamura living in his fantasy world. He is unable to do much of anything to help the people, because of his relationship with Komako which is the topic of rumours and harsh jokes. His inability to do anything and paralysis at staring at the Milky Way, engulfed in his fantastical world.

Now this review just doesn’t end right here now either. Yasunari Kawabata believed that the true essence of his literary success was seen in his condensing of moments into stories that could fit into the palm of the hand. This is why his short story collection is titled “Palm-of-The-Hand Stories,” are representations of Yasunari Kawabata’s greatest artistic achievement (his word not mine – I don’t use the word ‘artistic,’ when describing literature.) this is why, after reading and now reviewing “Snow Country,” by Yasunari Kawabata, which is why I am going to read the eleven page story titled “Gleanings from Snow Country,” which is an abbreviated version of “Snow Country.”

(Part II)

Gleanings from Snow Country

“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow county. The earth lay white under the night sky. The train pulled up at a signal stop.”

The above line is one of many familiar lines throughout the story that share very similar connections to the novel by Yasunari Kawabata. It is interesting to note that the novel “Snow Country,” actually had begun as a single short story, which was published in a literary magazine or journal way back in nineteen thirty five (1935). Eventually after the story was finished Kawabata continued to write about the characters. These stories were published in different literary magazines, before the first concept of the novel had taken shape. The first adaption of the novel was published in ninety thirty seven. Three years later (in nineteen forty) Yasunari Kawabata once again began to work on the novel. Adding more chapters and published the book again in two separate literary journals. Finally he re-wrote the book again, merging the two pieces, into one and had that published in another literary journal of nineteen forty six. The last and final edition of the novel came in nineteen forty eight (the year before he had another additional piece added) the final novel as the readers today know it, was completed. Years later after the novels publication sometime in nineteen seventy two – the same year the author himself had (accidentally or purposefully) killed himself; he re-worked the novel “Snow Country,” which in its Genesis form a series of short stories, had finally become probably his last published body of work.

Reading that one can see that Yasunari Kawabata either had a great fondness for this novel or, that he always felt the need to re-work the novel. The novel itself was a great piece of work, and the short abbreviated version “Gleamings from Snow Country,” is just as well done.

Though both of these works share very similar lines. Have the same characters; and take place in the same setting both are entirely different in their own way of viewing it. Both started the same and both ended the same. There are very similar scenes in this book also – in fact all the vignette’s or small chapters of this short story can be identified to scenes that happened in the novel. The scene of Shimamura running up and down the mountain; to the part where Komako brings him his tobacco.

The works are similar. Some of the scenes are similar. Lines that can surely be seen that are similar in the novel, can also be similar. And yet the work is also abbreviated and tackles the story in a different way, while maintaining the same concept. This is what makes Yasunari Kawabata a great author. His power to miniaturize and elongate his work of “Snow Country,” shows his power for the longer novel form, but also his power over the short story form. If anyone reads his “Palm-of-The-Hand Stories,” most will agree that each story can be built on into novels probably or short novels like “Snow Country,” which had actually began to take shape from a short story.

It is no wonder that Yasunari Kawabata had stated the essence of his talent and artistic capabilities (again his word not mine) could be found in all of his published stories. In fact “The Dancing Girl of Izu,” way back in nineteen-twenty six when the author was just twenty seven years old, had gathered him critical acclaim. It is no wonder, (for me) at least that Yasunari Kawabata had found that the true essence and power of his literary talents truly laid in his short stories.

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