Hello Gentle Reader
Why some writers choose to write large novels – and by large novels, I mean steroid and growth hormone injected novels, best described as “Meganovels,” is something completely beyond my comprehension. What is wrong with choosing to write concisely, decisively, precisely? Grand verbosity is not a talent. Blabbering and blubbering on and on and one, should not (and is not in my mind) considered anything remotely close to literary genius. Anyone can ramble and rant – much like the blind preacher down at the end of the street, proclaiming that once again, the world will end, this time in September two-thousand and fifteen – turning that into a five hundred to thousand page novel, should be considered a literary blunder, and an embarrassment; and the novel itself should be used as a doorstop as its physical demeanour would allow it. Writing a meganovel, is entering a wordsmith packrat or verbose hoarder. There could not possibly be any room to breathe or move, let alone kick up ones feet and relax. Reading such a novel in my mind, is as daunting as climbing Mount Everest, and must scrounge up, about as much effort to enthusiasm to do so. The real problem with meganovels, is they often fall into the heart monitor pattern: the climatic rises, the epiphany movements, the height of the language of the novel; and then: the recession, the decline, the flat line – the mind cries out: I need an Automated External Defibrillator; a shot of adrenaline (or any intracardiac injection); an intravenous of coffee – Something! Anything! – to revive what once had the promise of being a great novel. Yet unfortunately much like the peaking mountains of the heart on the monitor, it too must have its declines, carefully measured to appear much longer than necessary and to offer the illusion of important required information, in order to avoid being over looked, skimmed or skipped by the reader. The last book, I had read from my memory, that is best defined as a ‘meganovel,’ would be Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook,” an extraordinary novel, filled with high points, and at times filled with moments, that truly showed how much such novels of such extraordinary length falter in failure. Now every large novel is in some way or another, is now continually assessed by the impressions that “The Golden Notebook,” had placed upon me, and the weary exhaustion, it had left me with after reading. I immediately think of this passage from “The Golden Notebook,” which describes reading such large ventured novels:
“The entire kitchen is full of good cooking smells; and all at once I am happy; so happy that I can feel the warmth of it through my whole body. Then there is a cold feeling in my stomach, and I think: Being happy is a lie, it’s a habit of happiness from moments like these during the last four years. And the happiness vanishes, and I am desperately tired. With the tiredness comes guilt. I know all the forms and variations of this guilt so well that they even bore me.”
Such is what large novels are like. The beginning is filled with light, freshness in the air, and a sense of wonderful beginning. But continued reading, which may take place, after a few hundred pages or so, will eventually reveal, that cold feeling in the stomach; and all at once, the golden hour, vanishes, and the light behind the curtains turns to ashen grey, and the everything begins to have a more sour smell to it; and all of a sudden something has gone wrong. For veteran meganovel readers; who choose to bring such a novel on the long plane ride for business or pleasure; they immediately spot the waning light, the change in perfume of the décor, and have already braced themselves for the eventual recession, and they are bored before it starts. I would not consider a four hundred and eighty page novel, to be considered a “meganovel,” by any means. However upon looking at Mircea Cărtărescu’s novel “Blinding,” there was an immediate understanding: this would be a long read; hopefully it would be enjoyable; and for the most part: it was.
Mircea Cărtărescu is one of Romania’s greatest literary exports. At the age of fifty-nine Cărtărescu is considered a Nobel Prize for Literature contender, and can often be spotted on the speculators lists. Recently Cărtărescu won the Leipzig Book Award back in March, for his universal novel “Orbitor,” or rather “Blinding,” (all three volumes: “Blinding Volume 1: The Left Wing,” Blinding Volume 2: The Body,” and “Blinding Volume 3: The Right Wing,”). The novel (or trilogy) is described as an autobiography, in the loosest sense of the term, as it is considered heavily unreliable, with its surreal passages, twists and turns, and often hallucinogenic imagery, which depicts life under Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship in Romania. A era that has been represented by the Romanian born German author (and Nobel Laureate and personal favourite) Herta Müller. The depictions are very similar in there, same distaste for the dictatorship that had robbed both of them of their childhoods, their family, and their concepts of home. Both writes are only three years a part (Müller born in 1953 and Cărtărescu born in 1956), but both writers are considerably different in how they dealt with the atrocities of the dictatorship, based on their own personal experiences of the dictatorship.
Herta Müller was part of the German minority, which had settled in the Banat region of Romania, and did not consider themselves to be Romanian’s but rather Germans. The German men of Müller’s home village of Nițchidorf were adamant converts to Hitler’s National Socialism; one such supporter and Waffen-SS member, was Müller’s father. Herta Müller’s work has for the most part, been depictions of a world and landscaped completely filled with the disposed. Yet Müller work is more provincial; which imitates her own past and her own experience of the dictatorship: first the controlled and conformed atmosphere of the village, and family; then the brutality of the dictatorship slithering through the streets and alleys of the city, via its faceless and unknown peons; and the final infiltration of the home, which leads to routine interrogations and a startling obstruction of everyday life. As Müller stated, you could be on your way to the market or hairdresser, and find yourself being interrogated instead. Yet Müller (and her novels) each dream of the thought of flight, and fleeing the dictatorship and the country, for another country, for a safer place; only to find, that one does not quite belong there either. In Romania Herta Müller was German; in Germany Herta Müller was the Romanian. She was continually trapped between two worlds and two countries; and both languages: the German of her home; and the Romanian of the city, have infused her work with a dual perspective of both languages.
Mircea Cărtărescu on the other hand was a Romanian through and through. There was no other homeland to flee to. His own homeland and birthplace, was a nightmare of terror and paranoia, which has led to the depiction of a surreal, dark, and hallucinatory world in which Cărtărescu had grown up in. Cărtărescu’s work is far more urban. His work takes place in a surreal city defined and named as Bucharest. Bucharest for Mircea Cărtărescu is the same as, Fernado Pessoa’s Lisbon, Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo. The Bucharest of Cărtărescu is surreal city, of tortured citizens, and disturbing memories. It is a place, which is both womb and tomb; childhood paradise, and nightmare landscape of caprice and demented realities. For Cărtărescu Bucharest is both home and hell. “Blinding Volume 1: The Left Wing,” is the feminine side of memories; both of authors mother, but also the childhood wonder of the beauty of the urban landscape of Bucharest.
Mircea Cărtărescu does not consider himself to be a novelist, or a storyteller. First and foremost Cărtărescu considers himself a poet, and “Blinding,” certainly solidifies himself as a poet. Blinding is best described as a dream-memoir, or a poetic autobiography. The entire novel is filled with wonderful passages, which weight a varied colour palate to depict often dark and twisted images. The poet balances the light and shade of the narrative, in order to offer the greatest impact of the images; and the prose is deeply saturated with a poetic vocabulary. All of this is engulfed in the labyrinth of the narrative, which defies reality, and often moves between dream and hallucination; what is objectively observed and what is subjectively perceived. Time becomes immaterial; and the surreal landscape of Bucharest, is the only anchor that holds the narrator to the postage stamp corner of reality. This leads to complications with this novel. The book details a metaphysical cosmology, which one can quickly be lost in its ever changing axis and orbit. The images and juxtapositions will confound and fluster many. The questions that are asked may not be answered. Cărtărescu’s novel could have used more of a tangible plot, even in the loosest sense of the term, to offer readers a more grounded experience when reading the book. The novel is startling, flashing, and exuberant – but it is also nauseating as the book twists and turns, and readers once again loose themselves in a labyrinth of colours, surreal tombs, art exhibits, apartment complexes, and standalone elevators, that have survived the war and its bombings. The book is an enjoyable (though confusing romp), and it is a treat for the senses. However, for the subject matter, and the at times lack of a grounded bases of reality to come back, to the novel at times spins out of control, and then falls into a new axis as it orbits the metaphysical questions once again. However despite the ambitions of the project, and its catapulting the reader into a grand language infused novel, that pushes the limitations of language, comprehension and sanity to endure – it is this feverish intensity, and the desire to make the language express the surreal and absurd nature of the time, that makes the novel worth it. If one can get past the oddities, and the over saturated language of the novel, and find the gems, the beauty of the work of a poet writing in prose, then “Blinding,” (Volume 1: The Left Wing), becomes completely worth the uncertain nature in which the book is read. It just may take a while.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
And As Always
Stay Well Read
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