The Birdcage Archives

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away & Prize Stock

Hello Gentle Reader

Some years ago, I tried a novel by the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-ninety four, Kenzaburō Ōe. “Somersault,” had an interesting premise, of a piece of work by the author. However, at five hundred pages of monologues, and very little action, with a plot that moved more like malaises in January, I closed the book up and just a few years ago donated to the library, which accepted the book graciously – and actually put it on their shelves. After that piece of work, of a novel, that I never finished, I decided it was best to leave the author alone. Then in two-thousand and ten, the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-ninety four, Kenzaburō Ōe had a new book in translation called “The Changeling,” which had originally been published back in Japan in the year two-thousand. Once again however, my curiosity of the author began to itch and scratch at the surface once again. I had already read the first Japanese Nobel Laureate in Literature who happens to be one of my favourite authors Yasunari Kawabata. I read his complete opposite of an author Yukio Mishima. Whose wife according to the translator John Nathan, in his introduction of “Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,” had called Yukio Mishima’s wife a “cunt,” in English, at Mishima’s annual Christmas party. The pleasure and surreal and often magical enjoyment of Haruki Murakami has also been someone I’ve read, who has been able to achieve an international status, of a bestselling author, and who Kenzaburō Ōe had just deemed as a relatively less important pop author. However, in a interview with the magazine “The Paris Review,” Kenzaburō Ōe had expressed less contempt for the author of Haruki Murakami, and had expressed in some ways a sense of admiration that the author was able to achieve something that both he and Yukio Mishima were unable to achieve – an international following. Kenzaburō Ōe himself has his own doubts, of the fact that he has a devoted readership in Japan.

The press release from the Swedish Academy who awards the Nobel Prize for Literature has this to say about Kenzaburō Ōe’s work, which specifically ties into this piece of work itself:

“Japan's capitulation after the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945, when the Emperor - a divine personage - descended to the people and spoke in a human voice, was a shocking experience for the young Oe. The humiliation took a firm grip on him and has coloured much of his work. He himself describes his writing as a way of exorcising demons.”

The Swedish Academy also points out the fact that the author himself, has influences from the western world; especially the anti-heroes of another Nobel Laureate in Literature (who ended up actually declining the award, because he had declined all formal honours) Jean-Paul Sartre, and his existential philosophy and thoughts on the individual greatly influenced Kenzaburō Ōe when he studied at the Tokyo University. The influence of Jean-Paul Sartre and his philosophy can also be seen as an influence on this particular novel as well.

To say this is an easy read of a short novel, would be a lie. It is a short little novel, but its depths and writing style are difficult. It’s a harrowing novel, full of reconsiderations, confusing retelling, as well as the fact that the all the chapters or the recounts of the life are not told in any chronological order, and often leads to a complex paradox of a novel, of the first person account of a man whose mind is not at all that sound as he continues to recount his early life, at the age of thirty five as he may or may not be dying of liver cancer. Kenzaburō Ōe has himself created a unique and challenging novel(la) because he does away with names, quotation marks, and plays a lot with puns, and characters themselves, can at times, bleed together, and at times seem like they may be the same character. Even the unnamed character himself does appear to be a strange character himself. He sits in a hospital bed, wearing underwater goggles, covered in cellophane. The image itself makes me think to myself of some strange David Lynch short film. Just a man sitting in a hospital bed, wearing underwater goggles covered in cellophane. Not to mention the metaphors and imagery of the sea, and the imperialist (Japanese imperialist) symbols that represent the cancer.

To quote from the first part of this novel(la) shows entirely what one means when this character is not entirely in his right mind, and comes off as rather surreal:

“Deep one night he was trimming his nose that would never walk again into sunlight atop living legs, busily
feeling each hair with a Rotex rotary nostril clipper as if to make the nostrils as bare as a monkey's, when suddenly a man, perhaps escaped from the mental ward..or perhaps a lunatic who happened to be passing with a body abnormally small and meagre for a man save only for a face as round as a Dharma's and covered in hair, set down on the edge of his bed and shouted, foaming, What in God's name are you? WHAT?...I'm cancer, cancer LIVER CANCER it is me”.

Reading that first passage, I thought to myself, that it was like reading “Somersault,” again – only shorter and more compact. I had wondered if the author of the nineteen-seventies, was any different than the one in the nineties who had wrote “Somersault.” Yet perseverance and a desire to get it red and over and done with, was all that I wanted to do.

Getting the novel(la) read was no easy task though. At least not reading it and also comprehending it. Many times I felt like re-reading certain passages, just to try and understand the novella. At times the novella was starting to make sense as well. When “a certain party,” was finally named as the “Father,” but was chosen to be known as simply “a certain party,” to place him up to the same status as being an idol, made sense. However, other times, the novel(la) refused to make any sense whatsoever, which is supposed to imitate the odd workings of the thirty five year old hallucinating cancer patient that may or not be suffering from cancer. However there are poetic scenes throughout the novella.

The association that the Cancer is:

“a flourishing bed of yellow hyacinth or possibly chrysanthemum’s bathed in a faint purple light,”

The final thoughts of the novel(la) is that Kenzaburō Ōe’s work here, reminds me a great deal of his voice when speaking in English. It is not very pleasant to the native speaker’s ears, and in the end can be difficult to comprehend, on what exactly he is trying to say. However, in the end after some mulling over it, and some thoughts of the novella itself, and a bit of research and reading some discussions of the work, and a great many thanks to John Nathan, for his introduction of the author, had allowed some very interesting insight into the author’s overview of his work, especially dealing with autobiographical references. Kenzaburō Ōe himself had stated that the greatest event of his childhood was when the Emperor of Kenzaburō Ōe’s childhood, Emperor Hirohito had denounced his divinity, and in the end was nothing more than human. This action, itself ripped the author from his innocence of childhood, and propelled him into the adult world. His characters – like this one; also have experienced the same shock, of the surrender and denouement and have only seen the world turned upside down, when they have seen nothing more than the understanding that whatever and everything that they had been told, about the emperor was not true – or what would now be seen as not true. In many ways these characters, wish to go back to that period before they were thrown into the adult world abruptly and without reason. Childhood becomes a sort of, sanctuary for them.


Prize Stock

Hello Gentle Reader

It is a double review, because both of these short novels by Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-ninety four Kenzaburō Ōe are in essence rather short, it felt dutiful to do a double review, for both of the novels. To compare both of these novels “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” and “Prize Stock,” is a rather interesting comparison, because both novels deal with a very similar subject matter in two very different ways. Both deal with Japan during World War two. While the first dealt with the subject of the matter, after the war had been lost, and the Emperor had relinquished himself of his divinity, “Prize Stock,” deals with the War as it happens.

If one were to ask me which one of the two novellas was better, it becomes difficult after reflection and reading the second one to say which one really is all better than other one. “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” felt like some Kafkaesque David Lynch film, but when one reflects on the story itself – at the heart of the narrative is the theme of the loss of innocence in a barbaric world, and one’s desire to go back to that sense of childhood and innocence. However what hinders “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away,” is the execution. A disturbing work, that can become a bit difficult to follow, is what makes the narrative, annoying and at times frustrating.

However on the contrary “Prize Stock,” is written in a more linear style of writing, and in many ways, this plays to the advantage of this novella and its themes and story. Told from the prospective of a young man or teenager – or child, the linear world view, makes much more sense to the narrative itself and is able to deal more expertly on the barbaric surroundings of the very village life itself.

“My brother and I were small seeds deeply embedded in thick flesh and tough, outer skins, green seeds soft and fresh and encased in membrane that would shiver and slough away at the first exposure to light. And outside the tough, outer skin, near the sea that was visible from the roof as a thin ribbon glittering in the distance, in the city the heaped, rippling mountains, the war, majestic and awkward now lie a legend that survived down the ages, was belching foul air. But to us the war was more than the absence of young men in our village and the announcements the mailman sometimes delivered of soldiers killed in action. The war did not penetrate the tough outer skin and the thick flesh. Even the “enemy,” planes that had begun recently to traverse the sky above the village were nothing more to us a than a rare species of bird.”

The very description of the village, and its placid rural concept of the war that had beyond its reach, and the very little concern the villagers had/have for the war, feels like a certain metaphor and symbol for the childhood and its innocence. Yet as an enemy plan flies over head and crashes, the entire village is left with a horrifying realization that the war had come knocking on their door.

To describe the village as utopian would be a lie. The narrator and his brother live above a store house on a mat. Their father makes a living by, hunting weasels and skinning them. Taking in the pelts to the ‘town,’ and most likely selling them for profit. Just like here, if one kills a coyote and takes in the feet of the coyote the fish and wildlife office – or something like that will pay for the feet. The poverty, in which both brothers and their father live, shows the barbaric behavior and living conditions of the village. The ‘town,’ is also not much better. The children of the ‘town,’ look down upon the children of the rural village, and with no adults around they would easily throw rocks at them. Yet in the presence of adults all they can manage are scowls.

The plane that had crashed had three soldiers on the plane. Two of which were dead. The third one lived. Yet when he comes into the village, the entire village is shocked to see for the first time a black man. He is treated as an animal. Not just because he is an enemy soldier but because he is also a black man, which shows some racist tendencies – but also because of the villages ignorance to a black man. However in time, this ‘Catch,’ turns into more of a pet, of the village children.

He becomes a special grown up, friend and pet for the children. With the prefecture’s office, taking so long to make up their mind on what to do with the village new pet, it allowed for the children to get used to the new creature in their village. However in time, affection grows for the creature. Much like one can feel for a mongrel dog, before the pound takes it away. However when the prefectures made up its mind the dehumanization and the corrosive effect of war once again showed its self, as the black soldier desperately tried to save his skin when it came time for him to be taken away from the village.

“The war, a long, bloody battle on a huge scale, must still have been going on. The war that like a flood washing flock of sheep and trimmed lawns in some distant country was never in world supposed to have reached our village. But it had come, to mush my fingers and hand to a pulp, my father swinging a hatched, his body drunk on the blood of war. And suddenly our village was enveloped in the war and in the tumult I could not breathe.”

The world of the children – the safe sanctuary of the village; was to be taken over by the effects of the war. Innocence once again lost. I think and theorize that this is what keeps these two novella’s closely linked together, is because of their dealings with the theme of loss of innocence as an effect of the war and its corrosive touch.

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

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Herta Müller New Novel "Hunger Angel," Released Today!

Hello Gentle

Waiting for three years for this book to come out. First from Herta Müller winning the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, and second when it ended up on the German Book Prize Shortlist. It was a year for the Nobel Laureate Herta Herta Müller, and the constant attention that surrounds her now with dictatorships and authoritarian governments being challenged and questioned, and openly defied. Through revolutions, civil war and democratic demonstrations. Yet it is a day for me, when I am able to go and pick up “The Hunger Angel,” by Herta Müller – and have an almost complete collection of her works available in English (“Traveling on One Leg,” is the only book left to get). The original German title is: “Atemschaukel,” which is not even a real German word, but a compound word in German which translates into “the back and forth of breathing,” in English. In the UK the books title “Everything I Posses I Carry With Me,” comes from the first line of the book. A deeply political book but also a personal one for Herta Müller, as she wrote on the experiences of her good friend Oskar Pastior; both had planned to write the book together, but with Oskar Pastior’s death in 2006, it ended there. It is also a homage to Herta Muller’s mother who was also sent to a Soviet Labour Concentration Camp.

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

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Short Story Review No. XII

“Bon Voyage, Mr. President,” by Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two – From: “Strange Pilgrims: and Other Stories,”

“Strange Pilgrims,” by Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two takes a different shape and form from his first collection reviewed on here. With this collection Gabriel Garcia Márquez goes abroad. The world of Macondo and the Caribbean, and moves towards the life abroad. In his introduction to this collection of short stories, Márquez discusses how his family and himself live abroad for many years. “Bon Voyage, Mr. President,” the first story in this collection deals with to no surprise or shock an ageing politician who has a health problem, and has left his home country in the Caribbean to seek medical attention in Geneva.

Our dear old Mister President, for the first bit is more or less content with his own thoughts on his own morality and the fact that he has a strange pain in racked throughout his body. Now that he has an understanding of where it is coming from, one can at least hope that it’ll all be solved. Yet as the doctor tells the president, that he should get all his things in order – in my opinion it sounded a lot more than just getting one’s clothes packed for a night at the hospital – it appeared to be a more or less to say that he should get his legal matters in order, and make sure that his funeral and whatever else needs to be done, done. For there is no guarantee (as there is with any medical procedure) that it may not be effective or that the patient may or may not survive. The city of Geneva in its current state (at least in the narrative) can be seen as a symbol or a mirror to the president’s current situation. How the lake was once calm and now is an angry usurped angry mess. To the flower peddler, who remarks when the president that when he takes a flower from the patch in the park, and the flower peddler reprimands him for it, when she calls out telling him that those are not Gods flowers but the flowers of the city.

Then along comes a spider it feels like, who recognizing the president, and a fellow countryman and invites him home, hoping for some own personal gain. He’s an ambulance driver, who also works on the side doing some for some funeral parlours, selling their goods to others. It is here, that as a reader, we learn that the president is not as wealthy as we had hoped and had expected. Yet over time, our little spider and his wife turn out to be more like disguised benefactors for Mister President, as they learn of his frugal living, and his necessary need to sell off the few possessions he has – and they have sentimental value; in order to make the medical expenses that he has. Together they take care of him, and nurse him back together after the operation. Though unfortunately the pain is not gone – but on a rather optimistic side, it is not worst either. But what becomes more disturbing is the thought that this man’s political ambitions are far from over.

A meditation on life, death, political ambition, and the life of the exiled by choice or by force, Gabriel García Márquez has allowed for his shift from the provincial and exotic lands of his own country to that of fellow countrymen, trying to make it in the world they find themselves in, that is foreign to them. With it Gabriel Garcia Márquez connects the world of Latin America/South America with the immigrants of their homelands and their new adoptive countries.

“Spells,” by Antonio Tabucchi – From “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance,”

On March twenty fifth of two thousand and twelve, Antonio Tabucchi lost his grave battle with cancer, at the age of sixty eight. It was difficult news to hear, when personally I myself had just been entertaining the thought of all the books that he has written and will write, will find their way into my own bookshelf, and yet now – half of that entertaining thought; has come to an abrupt end. Yet that still does not mean that it is impossible to enjoy his work with the thought melancholic thought that it is the end of his literary output. It just gives his work a much sweeter taste of satisfaction.

Antonio Tabucchi thrived in the written forms of the short novel (the novella) and the short story section. They allowed him to express his ideas, and show off his talent as a writer, whose works has a ethereal dreamscape quality to it. In this collection “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance,” Antonio Tabucchi shows how the course of life can change ever so whimsically from simple mistakes and misunderstandings, to almost that fate like quality that takes over the lives of the characters, and shapes their lives, and changes it suddenly at yet with such, mundane ways. From the simple misplacement of a file or name – and these misunderstandings change the course of a life.

“Spells,” by Antonio Tabucchi takes place in the areas of childhood, with a young boy on vacation to his aunt’s home, visiting her and her daughter Celia who has a real hatred for her new stepfather, Uncle Tullio who Celia proves, had killed her real father Uncle Andrea, by turning him into the Nazi soldiers where he was executed – this being presented in a dream that the narrator has of the uncle that he has never met before.

What ensures is a battle of; childhood desires to have special abilities, and the doubts that one has over the others claims that, her stepfather really is an evil man, who represents Satan himself. Yet, the young boy finds its difficult to believe that the man who comes by every weekend, bring more life to the rather gloomy morgue of a home, with its solemn and quiet atmosphere that became oppressive and tyrannical throughout the week and gets all that much more better, when the weekend comes with the superficial enjoyments of ice cream and movies in an open aired theatre. Then comes the cat Cece from Uncle Tullio who Celia says is not just any cat, it’s a Matagot a evil spirit – usually taking the form of a cat, rat, fox or dog. Celia immediately despises Cece, and directs the narrator to watch over it – even coming to fear the creature when it attacks Flora the less then humble and modest cook of the household.

With this story (“Spells,”) Antonio Tabucchi shows childhood jealousies, and justifiable anger, at the thought of a stepparent – someone that intrudes on their lives, that was once occupied by the parent who is either deceased, or has since left and is still in contact. This sense of disgruntled jealousy and anger is very understandable, but it is what the child or the person does with this disgruntled anger and absolute disappointment not just with the intruder into their lives but with the person that brought them into their own home and world.

Antonio Tabucchi provides the outsider experience and observations allow for him to truly wonder if the character Uncle Tullio is a evil and Satanic person, or just a man that happens to have entered the wrong home, and have produced and awaked the anger of a grieving child at the loss of her father. Antonio Tabucchi called this piece of work a ghost story, and in many ways the desire of spells and magic – not necessarily the kind of magic of fairy godmothers or angels but rather the darker sinister kind of nasty stepmothers, evil queens and witches themselves. This itself becomes a horrifying experience for the observational narrator who watches with slight doubt, and horror of the antics of his cousin, and finds himself longing to get out of the house.

“An Almost Guinea Fowl,” by Ersi Sotiropoulos – From “Landscape with the Dog,”

In an interview both Ersi Sotiropoulos and her English translator Karen Emmerich discuss the stories in this collection. The author Ersi Sotiropoulos, had said that she thought “The Pinball King,” was the best and was her personal favourite. When asked for an explanation for the answer (and it really was a good story, so far one of my personal favourites as well) Ersi Sotiropoulos, explains that the writing is simple yet the depths are complex. I myself concur with her opinion. Though the writing is simple. Ersi Sotiropoulos mixes images, and scenes that show the awkward pauses, the undercurrents of the emotions that show what is left unsaid to be painfully exposed bare. Like a heart still in its cavity but exposed when the rib spreaders, are in place, and the skin pulled back.

In “An Almost Guinea Fowl,” by Ersi Sotiropoulos, presents an almost Edward Albee like concept on the pages of this story. It reminded me a lot of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” a lot of the time, with the characters odd little dinner party, and then the truth finally being revealed to both Telis and Maro about their relationship – which from an outsiders perspective is not a very healthy relationship, when Maro informs Telis that the bird is not a guinea fowl, but just a chicken. Telis’s reaction is less than what would appear logical for he gets over excited, and angry but the fact that he just lied to his friends on the phone about their dinner for the evening.

Well a guinea fowl was not found – life is full of such little disappointments aren’t they; and a turkey is used in its place. What ensures is the drunken roar and antics of the guests. Much like Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Yet there is no real exaggeration of emotion or at times any real humour that disguises the darker veins that are really running underneath the lives of the characters, or the shadows in the corners of the rooms, behind closed doors, or even under the very skin of the characters themselves. Instead of comedy making fun of or making light of the situations of the characters, and the hidden pasts, and unrealized moments, that have shaped their lives, Ersi Sotiropoulos reveals with more ease, with the pauses, the drama that unfolds of the characters interactions, their realistic conversations, and the awkwardness of their loose lips by the touch of alcohol, allow for an interesting dialogue and truly allow for some revelations and truths to be shown.

In the play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” the titular question means – who is afraid to live their lives free of illusions, where is Martha answers: “I am, George, I am.” Much can be said about the same with the characters of these stories. Telis and Maro, have a volatile relationship, which can be seen when Telis grabs Maro’s wrist, and his sudden and unexpected anger over the fact that Maro had lied about the fact of a guinea fowl. These emotional outbursts from both of the two continue throughout the evening. When in the nursery of their infant son, Maro starts to cry when confronted and urged by Telis to tell their guests Jeanette and Christos, that what they had been led to believe was guinea fowl, was in fact a turkey. They had been duked and deceived. Much like the characters Telis and Maro are doing with their own relationships. Deceiving each other that they truly love each other, and yet they cannot even place the masks of the happy couple on each other’s faces, and they are left with a relationship that is both naked and goose fleshed like the naked chicken in the ice box.

“Flotsam,” by Peter Stamm – From “In Strange Gardens: and Other Stories,”

“You can’t imagine the kind of things that get washed up here,” says a man who runs a museum on Block Island tells the visitors of Robert (the narrator), Grahame and Werner (friends of Roberts), and Lotta who lives in the same apartment as Robert, and happens to be Finnish and also enjoys sleep and sleeping a great deal. As our narrator Robert points out, soon on, Lotta slept in until midday and often, would head to bed much earlier than him. Her entire life is like the shells in the ocean – a recurring motif. A dark, cold and damp place, where objects and items from others places just happen to appear and wash up ashore. Lotta lives off of the good charity of others, and yet doesn’t appear to mind that fact at all. She loves her little kitten Romeo – who later turns out to be a boy, and her attitude is best described like a child. Which can be seen in a scene where she goes to bed wearing pajama’s with teddy bears on them. She is innocent, and cannot be bothered to look at life, at all, and is more interested in sleep. Perhaps her dreams are better than the reality that she herself is faced with.

“Flotsam,” by Peter Stamm is written in simple minimalist prose. There are no beautiful descriptive phrases in this short story, which one might find in the works of Dame A.S. Byatt, or Margaret Atwood. What is described is described in its simplistic forms and place. Simply mentioned and left, at that. Any motif or anything that may hold a deeper meaning the reader must go and find it, and then theorize about it. It is not the main objective of the story where it might be in some works of English Literature, where a flower or a building is described in almost Shakespearean poetics. As a reader I enjoy long poetic descriptive prose, when used appropriately – but the matter of fact way that German literature is written is a real enjoyment. The answering machine has no voice on it, it just plays classical music, and then it beeps, for the caller to leave a message. That is it, which is all. Nothing special, it’s not described as being primarily as string or wind based symphony, just rather a generic classical music performance. When describing the lighting of the apartment, Peter Stamm states in simplistic way of speaking that the light bulbs are red and green, and often give off the dim lighting that reminds one of being underwater. There was no simile or sentimental piece or discussion of how the narrator Robert felt about the lighting – which is pictured as a place of swimming shadows and shifting shapes; it is simply described as if being underwater.

Water itself, becomes an image itself throughout the story. From the title of the story, which is a definition of the cargo that floats after the ship has sunk. To the vacation at Block Island, and collecting sea shells, to the museum curator who used to be a realtor who discusses the old myth or legend that in the older days the inhabits of Block Island had lured ships to their shores, causing the ships to hit the reefs, causing the ships to sick and the cargo to drift towards the shore. Of course in the present Block Island becomes nothing more than a tourist attraction.
Peter Stamm however focuses on the four people in this story, and there mundane and boring lives. Grahame’s marriage is on the fritz, Lotta never truly knows where she is going and much prefers to avoid her life and its realities and unfulfilled potential by sleeping, and Werner whose silence and often aloof personality leaves him to barely noticeable. Robert himself seems to be the only one who has any control on his life and yet the tints of melancholia can still be seen underneath the surface.

Peter Stamm is an established author in the short story so far. “Flotsam,” is a larger improvement then “Ice Lake,” where it is longer, and the characters encounters and actions make more logical sense, or at least have some background to them. I like forward to the other stories by Peter Stamm.

“(Winter) The forest on the Superhighway,” by Italo Calvino – From “Marcovaldo or The Seasons in The City,”

Italo Calvino’s stories read like humorous parables, teaching a rather black comic or absurdly comic lesson at the expense of his characters. However they teach lessons. Such as, do not pick mushrooms up off of the street, or use pseudo-medicinal (folk medicine) as treatment of currying an ailment. The stories are light in tone and simplistic yet they are very enjoyable stories. With humour, and a well-crafted premise of a story Italo Calvino brings magic to the mundane and mysticism to the otherwise common place and ordinary. As if every day is just an adventure waiting to happen. A walk through the neighbourhood shows to be a haven for treasures and interesting sights and sensations; such as a daisy sprouting in the crack in a sidewalk, or a cat whose lazy contemplative attitude, gives an example to takes one’s life a bit simpler and easier. Each story reads with such images and such themes of nature whose unbridled beauty and power, pops up into the world.

The opening line of this story conveys the image of Italo Calvino’s intended effect with this story, about nature’s uncontrollable power, and yet it’s majestic beauty:

“Cold has a thousand shapes and a thousand ways of moving in the world: on the sea it gallops like a troop of horses, on the countryside it falls like a swarm of locusts, in the cities like a knife-blade it slashes the streets and penetrates the chinks of unheated houses.”

It’s a wonderful description of how the cold of winter works. For some reason the cold is the same no matter where you are. But the warmth or the enclosed space of the city always feels warmer than that of the country – where the blistering winds of winter blow across the fields. But the cold is still much the same. Yet such a description of the cold, is something one should come to expect from Italo Calvino where the mundane becomes majestic!
Even the description of the breaths of the family, show the personalities of each of the family members. The wife and mothers, long sigh. The children’s quick breaths, which resembled bubbles. To Marcovaldo’s quick flashes of cold breath, that resembles a flashing light bulb. The humour comes quick and fast though, from the children who collect their hatchets, and head off much like their father Marcovaldo to go and grab some wood. When Marcovaldo comes back home he finds to his own surprise that there is a fire in the home when he gets there. He asks the children where they had found the firewood. To which they reply that they got the wood from the forest on the superhighway. Which Marcovaldo goes to explore and get more firewood from. Of course what happens to be a forest is rather just a bunch of large billboards made of wood. Still its wood and Marcovaldo sets off to collect himself, some firewood for his family.

Enter Officer Astolfo an ageing law enforcer whose eye sight is poor, and yet has been notified that there has been some trouble on the superhighway of some people vandalizing the billboards. Yet his poor eye sight does not allow him to see the billboards properly and misinterpret them as the vandal. Yet when he finally spots Marcovaldo he mistakes him as part of the billboard, with his saw, representing the migraine of the advertisement. Yet Astolfo startles Marcovaldo and almost has him fall off of the billboard, yet luckily for both men, Marcovaldo retains his balance and gets his wood.

This story makes me think of my own bonfires, and the best firewood: wooden pallets. Wooden pallets are wonderful firewood. Take a crowbar and pry the planks apart and though them into a pile, in the fire pit and set them ablaze and one has a quick fire started, with a glorious intensity. Yet that intensity is also its downfall. The wood is thin and burns fast, but it’s a great starter to use when adding on more logs and pieces of wood. Often starting a great fire with a glorious blaze!

“In the Ruins,” by Bei Dao – From “Waves: Stories,”

Bei Dao is a Chinese writer now living in exile. In his youth he was a member of the Red Guards in China under Mao Zedong, who had begun to change and shift the climate in China’s political atmosphere to something far more complex and brutal – which still is practised to this day, yet is not really talked about as much because China is a supplier of textile goods and services to Westernized civilizations. With its cheap labour, and ability to manufacture raw resources China has become a leading superpower in the world. Even now as we speak the entire economic power has shifted to the Eastern front, with China in the driving seat. Yet this can only mean that China itself is less reported on for its Human Rights infractions. The most well documented cases so far, about China’s poor Human Rights track record was when the Nobel Peace Prize of two-thousand and ten was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, the cold reception of fact that the prize had been awarded to him was less than kind. The celebrations of the victory were dispersed or curtailed with many supporters harassed or put under surveillance. In the year two thousand, the turn of the twenty first century Gao Xingjian, became the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The author himself has lived in exile away from China, and the reception that his former country bestowed upon him after learning he had won the prize, was congratulations to the author who had a Chinese background but is a French citizen, but went on to give their congrats to the winner and to the French cultural department as well.

Bei Dao is similar to both of the two gentlemen. A man who has seen the horrors of the Cultural revolution, and was disheartened, as well as deeply disillusioned about Mao Zedong and his communist regime that had spread like a cancer throughout the country usurping the control of the lives of the people, and placing them under his own will and iron grasp. Disobedience or any difference in thought or opinion other than that of the political leader, one was to be re-educated. Which usually took place, in hard labour. Bei Dao’s own misgivings about the political changes in China led to his own re-education. Much like it had done previously with Gao Xingjian. However this did not stop the writer himself from his own desire to be a writer and to write even against the Cultural Revolution and its desire to assimilate and conform all to its own destructive means and measures. Bei Dao and Mang Ke founded the underground literary journal “Jintian,” or “Today,” which appeared irregularly, from nineteen-seventy eight until nineteen-eighty when it was officially banned by the government. The literary journal “Today,” had allowed for many poets who identified themselves as the “Misty Poets,” which includes the authors other than Bei Dao and Mang Ke; Gu Cheng, Bei Ling, Duo Duo, and Shu Ting. The “Misty Poets,” are noted for their obscure and hazy style of poetry as well as influencing many newer forms of rock musicians in China.

Though Bei Dao is primarily a poet he has written a collection of short stories, “The Waves,” which are being read and reviewed here now. He is also known for his essay collections “Blue House,” and “Midnights Gate.” It has also been speculated that he will someday win the Nobel Prize for Literature along with fellow misty poet Yang Lian.

“Waves,” by Bei Dao focuses on the Cultural Revolution of China and its aftermath, it should be noted that this collection of stories, according to the preface on the back of the book, does not focus on the polemics, but rather the individuals. The individuals who had witnessed history in its dark nightmarish making. Yet their undying devotion against the horrible acts that has been committed by their government urges them to keep on fighting, even against the dead-end despondency that has taken over their lives. Their passions and the anger expressed gives these stories the vitality they need to continue on, and fight for a China that is one day free of the red apron strings of communism.

Such an example can be seen in the conversation between father and daughter:

‘“Papa, some people say you’re bad, is it true?”
“Because I speak the truth.”’

Yet that was once a conversation that father and child had once had. Now she has left him. Done away with him, and gone to live in schools, leaving her father alone. This an earth shattering destruction of their relationship, and the final blow it would appear to the main character who had stopped at nothing but to fight against the communist regime of his country, to which he told the truth to their lies. Yet everything changes for the main character when he walks to the to yaunmingyaun or the Summer Palace ruins by accident but then explains that it could not be some coincidence or accident:

“He didn’t understand how he had got there. It had been a completely unconscious act. No, he remembered someone saying that consciousness existed in the midst of unconsciousness.”

For those of you who are not sure what the Summer Palace is, it was an old European style palace, that was destroyed in eighteen sixty during the Second Opium war. It was looted by the soldiers of England and France, which happened because of twenty British, French and Indian soldiers died, after being taken prisoner and tortured. The two men who had lead this expedition of talk Henry Loch and Harry Parkes along with a few other soldiers were set free after two weeks. But after the discoveries of the remaining soldier’s bodies were barely recognizable, all hell broke loose. On the night of October six, the French had turned their attack towards the Summer Palace. Though the French commander had assured the British that nothing had been stolen, or touched there was major looting by both the French and the British. On October eighteen the British High Commissioner to China Lord Elgin (who many Canadian may recognize as part of their own history as being a Governor General of the Province of Canada, and had actually shaped a responsible and competent government) had ordered for the destruction of the Sumer Palace, as a retaliation for the deaths and to further discourage the Chinese empire from deploying kidnaping and torture as a way of negotiation. After the plundering and the three day burning of the palace a sign was erected stating “This is the reward for perfidy and cruelty.”

Standing before him was China’s history, the history of the last decades, or even of the last centuries or millennia. The endless arrogance and revolt, dissipation and vice; the rivers of blood and mountains of bones; the thousands upon thousands of horses and soldiers mirrored against the huge canopy of the heavens; the axe on the execution block, dripping with blood; the sundial with its shadow revolving around the glossy stone slab; the thread-bound hand-copied books piled in dusty secret rooms; the long, mournful sound of the night watchmen beating his wooden rattle . . . all these together formed these desolate ruins.”

The above quote truly shows Bei Dao’s mixture and fall into poetry while describing the scene, of the destruction of one of China’s treasures at the hands of outsiders. Bei Dao grasps and understands the individual’s attempts at telling the truth and fighting falsities. He shows their lives moving in a cul-de-sac where their attempts at breaking free from both the present and the past, merely go around in circles. Yet Bei Dao shows the vigour and anger, and breathes these emotions into the stories giving them vitality.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Short Story Review No. XII Introduction

Hello Gentle Reader

Starting with the notorious Booker Prize crisis in the later part of the year two thousand and eleven, it would appear that Literature, and the Literary Prizes of the year (at least in the English speaking world) were not up to snuff, to some peoples standards. The Booker Prize of two thousand and eleven was in hot water, when many thought it was ridiculous that Ali Smith’s new novel “There But For The,” didn’t even make it onto the long list, and were further annoyed when Alan Hollinghurt’s “The Stranger’s Child,” didn’t even make it to the shortlist, had caused for an annoyance. Some even optioned for a new literary prize, to replace or at least rival the Booker Prize. Not to mention that the Man Booker International Prize of two thousand and eleven, was met with some hasty attack from a judge herself, who had resigned from when it was decided that it was to be awarded to the American author Philip Roth. Whose writing the judge said that it was like Philip Roth was sitting on the readers face, suffocating them, and who had a dreadful way of continually repeating himself over and over again; and there was some disgruntled feelings when Philip Roth couldn’t have been bothered to have gone and picked up the prize in person. Which everyone thought that the author wouldn’t have even bothered to have done, if it was the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now with science fictions preeminent award is under attack by the science fiction author Christopher Priest (“The Prestige,”) had attacked the awards short list and had even suggested the prize be suspended. China Melville and his novel “Embassytown,” front the running for the prize, and if he wins this award it’ll be the fourth time. Christopher Priest latter won the British Science Fiction Association‘s prize for best novel, with this novel “The Islanders.”

This year’s Booker Prize news (with the long list not yet announced until July) has already started early with the speculation that a New Zealand writer, Emily Perkins and her novel “The Forrests,” has been tipped to win this year’s Booker Prize. One will have to wait and see – but October sixteenth is a ways away yet.

The Orange Prize Shortlist has also just been announced. The shortlisted authors and there titles are:

“Foreign Bodies,” by Cynthia Ozick
“Half Blood Blues,” by Esi Edugyan
“Painter of Silence,” by Georgina Harding
“State of Wonder,” by Anne Patchett
“The Song of Achilles,” by Madeline Miller
“The Forgotten Waltz,” by Anne Enright

Familiar names on this shortlist, are Anne Patchett who won the Orange Prize, before with her novel “Bel Canto,” will she win again for a second time? Anne Enright will also be a familiar face because of her novel “The Gathering,” which had won the Booker Prize in two thousand and seven. Esi Edugyan will also be a familiar face after the Booker Prize Crisis of two thousand and eleven, and the fact that she won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. May the best lady win. Though personally “The Song of Achilles,” by Madeline Miller sounds to be the most intriguing novel on this shortlist. However the author that a lot of people are cheering on is Cynthia Ozick for her novel “Foreign Bodies.”

As well as the International IMPAC Dublin Award short list has been announced:

“Rocks in the Belly,” by John Bauer
“The Matter with Morris,” by David Bergen
“A Visit From the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan
“The Memory of Love,” by Aminatta Forna
“Even the Dogs,” by Jon McGregor
“Matterhorn,” by Karl Marlantes
“Landed,” by Tim Pears
“Limassol,” by Yishai Sarid
“The Eternal Sun,” by Cirstovao Tezza
“Lean on Pete” by Willy Vlautin

Many will recognize Jennifer Egan and her novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in two thousand and eleven. Yishai Sarid is a crime novelist from Israel, and will be an author that many readers will have difficult recognizing.

What’ll come to a surprise to many though – especially to American readers; is that for the first time in thirty five years, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been suspended. One of the shortlisted books was “Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace, as well as a short novella “Train Dream,” by Denis Johnson, and the debut novel “Swamplandia,” by Karen Russells. In the end no majority could be met, and therefore it was decided that, this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction will be suspended. Something that the Booker Prize should be able to do, which would further add to the merit of the award, rather then it forced to pick the best of the weakest novels, that make up that year’s award – such as the case in two thousand and eleven.

It is has been a rough year for the English World’s Literary prizes. Perhaps in the year two thousand and twelve, will be a better year for literature and the literary prizes, that so many watch and look forward too.

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

Thursday, 12 April 2012

House of Leaves

Hello Gentle Reader

I recently discovered an artist by the name of Claude Lazar. His paintings depict city landscapes, houses, apartments, views from a window, rooms in a home, back alleys. These paintings are done however in such a clear style. The details of each painting is so superb that they immediately catch the moody atmosphere of each piece of work. The shadows lay like blankets on the floor or on the walls. The light falls in dusky tones. It reflects the dust in a hazy cloud around the window, gently floating in the air like small molecule leaves in autumn. The very surfaces themselves reflect the world itself of the painting. Puddles of the street reflect nearby streets, or the sky above. The world can be clouded and disoriented by mist or stuck in the gloom of the snows of winter. All of which strictly resembles the world of the viewer itself. The titles of the work themselves, come across as snippets of dialogue – spoken by the unseen inhabitant of the room. Titles like “In Praise of the Past,” “Whisper of the Street,” “Head in the Clouds,” “In Search of Memory.” Yet the empty states of the rooms. The absence of the inhabitant or inhabitants can clearly be seen and felt throughout the work. There is no sense if the painting depicts the time before the inhabitants have reached the place, or if they depict the aftermath of the departure. The sofas look soft and inviting. The beds, opened up for one to go lie down and sleep. The windows open to let in the sunlight. A table may sit, in the middle of a room, set for little lunch or a small dinner, but the food might only sit cold. It’s these moody lonely absent and isolated landscapes – be it streets, rooms, apartments, stair cases, balconies or roofs; with all their emptiness and alienation, that gives the pictures more than just a simple paintings of barren landscape in a realist tradition. They are painted yes in a realist tradition, but underneath the simple look of the building or the room of furniture there is a deeper connection that one can feel. There’s that sense of isolation or loneliness that we all feel, deep down. The alienation from our peers. Yet it’s not a frightening or nightmarish landscape. These are simple depictions of the simple solitary life. These incredibly small cosmos shrunken down into small rooms, speak volumes of the solitary man.

“House of Leaves,” by the author Mark Z. Danielewski, is set up much like a house. This format however makes for an interesting if at times indigestible read. However, it’s certainly an achievement. It’s Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut novel, and it’s nothing short of quite an achievement. A stylistic achievement. It is a large postmodern brick of a piece of work. My knowledge of this book however goes back quite a few years, and just this last, Christmas season, a particularly dull Monday evening while working, as I was busy walking through the bookshelves, and straightening up books, and re-shelving, by chance, I had passed by a book that had caught my eye right early on. Reading the spine, it felt difficult, to believe that this book was in the store, and so without wasting another bit of time, I placed it up at the front on hold, and I quickly went back to work, eager, to get home and start reading this book that had received such praise, by so many people, as one of the greatest achievements that a author could do with his debut work. At first for a while reading this book, I wasn’t sure if I had made the most pleasing decision. Yet through persistence, and patience it started to show its true colours. It became more stylistically challenging and difficult to follow. Eventually it was becoming apparent that I was also getting lost in the house of the Navidson’s as well.

The entire book is set up as a book within a book. “The Navidson Record,” “by Zampanò, and all introductions and notes were written by Johnny Truant.” “The Navidson Record,” itself is a fictional film by Will Navidson, who is a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist. However despite the award and honour that has been bestowed upon him, his marriage is disintegrating slowly. Which Will Navidson himself is determined to repair. This is what prompts Will Navidson to move himself, and his wife Karen Navidson and their two children out to the Virginia Countryside, away from the city. However, his photojournalist career is far from being left behind in the city.

Will Navidson decides to document the occupancy of the home, and its inhabitants, by mounting cameras up throughout the house, and even carriers one around himself, in his documentary of the family adapting to their new environment. However a weekend away leads, to a starting discovery. The house has a new closet in it, complete with a glass knob. However the interior of the closet, is a black featureless, void is all that remains inside. Thinking that they have just over looked this small detail, Karen and Will Navidson get the blue prints of the house, and they immediately see right away, that there new space anomaly was never written up in the blue prints. Measuring the house inside and outside shows that the house is larger on the inside – by exactly a quarter of an inch. All attempts at proving it as just bad math, soon fail however. Friends, professionals, even Will Navidson’s brother Tom – all only come up with the same unbelievable answer, that the house was just bigger on the inside then it was on outside. But the events have not just stopped there. Navidson wakes up, one night hearing his children’s voice echo; however it’s not an echo capable of echoing through the interior of the house. What Navidson then discovers is “dark doorless hallway which has appeared out of nowhere,” in a wall at one end of the living room, where he discovers his children inside.

However what appears to be some Amityville haunted house horrors story, it is far from it. It’s not some slasher book either, full of gore. It’s pitting the human psyche and the psychology of the characters up against a house. Except this house itself, ends up rearranging itself, from a closet that is a quarter of an inch, to a hallway extending to thousands upon thousands of rooms, to a miles deep staircase. In the meantime, Mark Z. Danielewski also plays with the greatest fears of people. What we can’t see. The terrible feeling that something in that darkness is out there and that though logically we know nothing is there, that sound and the tricks in the mind, makes the skin bubble up with gooseflesh. Even though rationally and logically, one knows that there is nothing there – unless of course it’s a burglar or an ax wielding murder.

Yet throughout it all, Mark Z. Danielewski finds plenty to, does to make his characters, paranoid and cautious. Plenty of times, the psychological reactions of the characters, their emotional responses is a lot scarier, then any monster chasing them down the hallway. The fact that one knows there is nothing after them, and that there is nothing in the darkness, and yet that trepidation, that flows through their veins and the slow perturbation slowly rotting away their minds leaves one with a real sense of uncertainty.

Then there is the storyline of Johnny Truant, a slacker in every sense of the word. He’s working or at least apprenticing at a tattoo parlour. He lusts over a client of the shop “Thumper,” who’s a stripper. He tells outlandish stories, however, most people believe them, not for the content I am sure but by the way that he has told them. His life concerns sex, drugs booze, debilitating nightmares, and hallucinations, which have all been brought on by reading the manuscript that the deceased man Zampanò had written.

It is a challenging read. At first the riddles, and the way that it was written, wasn’t at all that pleasing for me, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I was going to continue, but once I got over it, and started to handle my grasp of the book, I continued on through it. At first where one interesting storyline, was being intersected by another one via a footnote, immediately, I’d grumble to myself, but would pick up the new storyline, begrudgingly and before long was lost in it as well. The sexual escapades of Johnny Truant however, remind me a frat boy having a bunch of wild night fun. Yet his disturbing and debilitating nightmares, and hallucinations are by far the more fun to read – not because its sadistic to read them; but rather that while reading them, one can see a more human side of Johnny Truant. He shows fear, and in that side proves that he is more human. Not just some over sexualized frat boy energizer bunny. He has a long complicated relationship with is institutionalized mother (some sixty pages in a back appendix shows them), and many other problems, continue to show that Johnny is rather human. Though not the most likable character either to be honest.

It is however very interesting how the two narratives work separately and yet together as well. Mark Z. Danielewski, keeps the voices of both the stories, disconnected from each other, and yet moves through them with grace and ease. But his talents as a writer do not stop there. Mark Z. Danielewski also proves himself to be quite a capable architect with his debut work. The entire work itself shows some great typographical talent. Some pages can be completely blank with only a few words at the bottom of the page. These typographical elements, often add another ingredient to the book itself. Making it not only unique, in many ways, but also it adds to the claustrophobic feel of the house itself. Being stuck in a never ending stairwell, or the underlying discord that has seeped into the house between Will Navidson and Karen.

However despite it all, the book can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot of material: collages, indexes, pictures, letters, poems et cetera, which can be a bit challenging to sift through. However that can also be seen as part of the fun. The book is a gigantic brick of paper, full of details, and at times incomprehensible material. However, to some this can b seen as a great fun. It’s like a puzzle, with some pieces missing, but still they can imagine the pieces still there. However it can become a frustrating read indeed, and may even push one to the point of wondering what the point is. Then again it’s a book that shows the versatility of the book format.

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


Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Children’s Book

Hello Gentle Reader

Earlier last month in March, it had come to my attention that five hundred new fairy tales had been unearthed and discovered in Germany. The world glass slippers, magic fairy godmothers, poisonous apples that put one into a deep slumber, dwarfish men, evil queens, nasty step mothers, enchanted mirrors, witches that eat children, and gingerbread houses – this is the world that once again has been unearthed, in Germany. A local historian in Germany Franz Xaver Schbnwerth who lived from 1810 – 1886, collected these new fairy tales, myths and legends – roughly around the same time as the famous Grimm Brothers were also doing their own collection. It has been reported that the Grimm Brothers were great admires of Schbnwerth who for decades collected the legends and myths of the Bavarian region, from country folk, labourers, farmers, and servants, and placing the oral tradition of the story onto paper, and would preserve them in the books of history.

These stories of people the size of a thimble; or the marriage of a beast and a beautiful woman; these tales however at times varied from region to region and country to country, always shifting and changing. From tragic endings, to endings that became much more polite and happy. yet punishment was spared to others or the ones deserving a righteous thrashing. While in other places brutally violent scenes, of cruel torture, were very apparent, to really drive the point in. The moral or the lesson learned, were always apparent. These stories have had cultural impact from the first days that they were collected. From the days that they were orally passed down to children to teach them, to always do their chores, or to entertain them at night; eventually they grew into other area’s influencing children’s literature, and even propaganda, in war time.

I remember a story from my youth, vividly that I enjoyed greatly was the “Teeny-Tiny and the Soup Bone,” by Joseph Jacobs. The story itself sits resolutely in my mind. The thought of finding a bone, to make some soup – which at first when my mother read it to me, was positively ghoulish and romantically gothic that the bone was found in a graveyard, made me shutter with both fright and curious trepidation into the enjoyment of the story. With the resounding conclusion, of the haunting voice, of what I could only presume was a ghost wanting its missing bone back, calling out in both desperation and a simmering anger to have its bone back, and finally the teeny-tiny woman screaming out in fear for the unpleasant and justly upset ghost to take the bone back, and leave her alone. Then, my mother and I would say good night and the lights were turned off, the door partly shut. Yet like the teeny-tiny woman I was shut in, the dark. Luckily though I had no stolen bone from graveyards in the home.

Children of authors who wrote books for children, like the famous “Peter Rabbit,” by Beatrix Potter (she had no children), and “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame – often at best had very ambivalent relationships with their parents at best. Two of the Llewellyn-Davies boys, to which “Peter Pan,” was written for, had committed suicide. Alison Uttley had lost her only son to suicide, and both of her husbands. However, children’s literature and the authors that wrote it, is not entirely filled of tragedies and suicides. Diana Wynne Jones, who had recently passed away in March of two thousand and eleven, did not suffer the tragedies that others had suffered. In fact as a child, Diane Wynne Jones and her family during World War II were relocated to the Lake District, the famous home of Beatrix Potter. There she encountered two very nasty creatures who were rich and famous because of children. Arthur Ransome had reportedly complained that Diane Wynne Jones, and her sister were making too much noise, at one point, and in one of her most famous retellings of her childhood, she talks about the nasty witch of Beatrix Potter, who had once slapped her. Diane Wynne Jones, childhood was not even all that wonderful or perfect. Her parents were intellectuals and progressive teachers, but they were stingy with money and affection for their children. This cruel childhood, was what started Diane Wynne Jones career in storytelling. She made up stories for her sisters and herself, and later turned it into a career. However, knowing what childhood was like for herself, perhaps Diane Wynne Jones, did not actively seek to prolong it because it was not a paradise, and that perhaps could have saved her own life from such miserable tragedies like other authors of children’s literature.

The tragedies that the authors of children’s literature had experienced, was what first had brought the attention of Dame A.S. Byatt to what would become her novel “The Children’s Book.” Which Dame A.S. Byatt sums up the tragedies of the past authors of children’s literature as:

“But they saw this, so many of them. Out of a desire of their for a perpetual childhood, a silver age.”

The research into this area, led to may discoveries for Dame A.S. Byatt, especially on the nature of fairy stories, and their connection to the hopeful socialism, and how that could be used for her own characters in her work, who identify themselves as Fabians. However fairy tales also became metaphors for the personal in this work as well, often highlighting certain undisclosed information about the personal lives of the characters. If one were to sum up the themes of this book, it is the power of writing and the responsibility of the writer – but it is also a historical look at the era as well, of children’s literature at its height, and the rise of socialism and Fabian thinking, and the discontent of woman, and the rise in women’s rights – starting with the right to vote. All of this is told in the fashion of a family chronicle through the years, and makes for quite an interesting ride.

The opening of “The Children’s Book,” is a pristine portrait of pastoral England countryside. Olive Wellwood, is a writer, of children’s fairy stories, and her income helps support her family at her home “Todefright,” which is the home of many children – Tom Wellwood, Dorothy Wellwood, Phyllis Wellwood, Hedda Wellwood, Florian Wellwood, Robin Wellwood, and Harry Wellwood – two others also exist but had died young, and they include Peter Wellwood the first child, and the recently departed Rosy Wellwood. Olive writes a story for each of her children. The most famous being the fictional “Tom Underground,” which ends with tragic results. It should come to no surprise that Olive Wellwood, comes from the working class, and a very unhappy childhood, which leads to her more socialist ideologies, and a desire and need to help others – especially the working class.

Her sister Violet Grimwith, who lives at “Todefright,” with Olive and Humphrey Wellwood, remarks to the young Phillip Warren early on:

“We have our beliefs,” said Violet “About what the world should be like. And some of us have experience – like yours – of what it shouldn’t be.”

These beliefs, cause many difficulties for some of the characters. Dorothy the oldest daughter decides she wishes to become a doctor – a surgeon nonetheless; while Hedda my favourite character decides to pick up the cause of woman feminism and take the streets with her beliefs and shared cause. However, the revolution of feminism does not entirely mean that difficulties and secrets of illegitimate children are a openly discussed commodity. The secrets of the older generation only ensure it would appear to justify the mistakes of the younger generation whose liberal leanings and naivety often lead their own lives to be unhinged in desperate moments of passion; and when the secrets of the old trickle down to the young only devastating consequences take place. One of the most common being the misplacement of identity.

When the mother one thought was their mother turns out not to be their mother, or their father is someone else, it leads to unspoken family feuds and very strained relationships. One just merely needs to look at the story that Olive Wellwood wrote for Dorothy Wellwood, about the shapeshifting world of a small animal people in the story “Miss Higgle,” – which appears strongly connected to the German fairy tale “Hans Mein Igel,” – which eventually leads one to start putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and the strained relationship, even resentment, that Dorothy feels for Olive, becomes more apparent and at times justified.

However this novel is large: at a door stopper of six hundred and seventy five pages; and it has many threads running through the tapestry of this novel, which leads to a very interesting book but becomes rather difficult after a while when dealing with all the disjointed plots and the overlap and then it all becomes rush at the end. However the ride there is wonderful. From the depleting era of the high Victorianism and its moral code of conduct, to the more relaxed and even leisurely life of the Edwardian Era and the Golden Afternoon before World War I, which is all shown in great detail – all the peculiarities are shown of the era’s and the views of the people are equally shown. The rise of socialism and the desire, for more rights of the working class, to the hopeful cause of the Fabian Society, and it all appears to end with the loss of innocence, yet to sum it up one could say that it is best described by the following quote:

“These were the people who had evaded the smoke, and looked forward to a utopian world in which smoke would be no more.”

Though it describes the Victorian Era and its smoke stacks and polluted air, it could also be a tragic description of the heavy hopes of what the Great War, was supposed to ideologically do – end all wars. Yet those utopian and naïve thoughts were best left, out of it – as tragedy once again had followed – as it has followed the characters throughout this book; their secret and private lives become cancerous and disease like. They slowly corrode and rust the relationships and the world that these people knew.

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