The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 15 June 2017

On: Purchasing Books & Hesitation

Hello Gentle Reader

Every pedigree is not without bad breading. All apples have their bruises. No home is without dust or dirt. No friend is not without fault. The same is said for books, and purchasing them. To purchase books on my end is a strenuous vetting process, which is done in order to avoid: a waste of money and time; but also to enjoy the most succulent treasures of literature. Alas, no matter how much research, review reading, reflection and consideration given, there are always the grains of salt which slip through the net, and sour an occasion or two. Sometimes its done out of an attempt to see what the whole hoopla an fuss is over; as in the case of the Hungarian master of the Apocalypse: Laszlo Krasznahorkai, who is the literary darling of literary critics and hipster literary readers. There can be no denying his genius, his abilities or his talents. And yet, he seems more like a wind bag of long convoluted sentences. The experience I once relayed to a cohort that reading Krasznahorkai was like: going over Niagara falls in a barrel, yet getting so inpatient to reach the conclusion and adrenalin of going over, that you fall out of the barrel and drown—and are slightly grateful of the release. The man has merit, but the message and grains glitter are completely lost in the cooling obsidian of the molten lava of his text. Of course this rules out others just like him, such as: António Lobo Antunes and Peter Nadas. They have their merits, but our relationship between reader and write, will most certainly be one based on general resentment and boredom.

Recently, I have the sense that I have enough financial security to go on a slight book binge and purchase six books. After all the last purchase was quite a while ago and contained: Jon Fosse: “Trilogy,” Eileen Chang: “Love in a Fallen City,” Attila Bartis “Tranquilly,” Magdalena Tulli “Moving Parts,” and Maja Haderlap “Angel of Oblivion,”—also including: Homero Aridjis “A Child Poet,” and Mieko Kanai “The Word Book.” All of the books have been read; with of course expectation to “The Child Poet,” which I have been dipping into now and then, and have enjoyed, but it’s a vignette style of book, interconnected here and there, and left at that. As for “The Word Book,” it has been read, I am just slothfully putting together a review, in which I can contemplate and reflect my thoughts on the book, and must admit to my dismay, it was disappointing, and though there was great apprehension of this, going into the book when I had purchased it, I had decided to give it a chance and was proven the benefit of the doubt was misguided and ill advised.

My recent order consists of the six following books and five authors:

Fleur Jaeggy: “Lost Vanities,”
Bae Suah: “Recitation,”
Bae Suah: “A Greater Music,”
Olga Tokarczuk: “Flights,”
Yoko Ogawa: “Revenge,”
Teru Miyamoto: “Kinshu: Autumn Brocade,”

There is no greater feeling or sensation then the thought: did I make the right decision in my purchase? On this list in particular there were a few writers who left me questioning and wondering. But let’s go over them all.

[ I ]

Bae Suah, has interested me for a while now. Yet, this interest is only a recent spark. When I had first heard of Bae Suah, and her debut novel in English “Nowhere To Be Found,” many were quick to praise her abrupt shifts in perspective, which took place sentence by sentence; but the novel itself felt like it was centered around young women, and was even marketed to young woman going through the difficulties of early adulthood and youth—a rather unremarkable time, best left forgotten, because of all that figuring everything out, and going through the complications of almost abject poverty, looking for support, feeling abandoned and alone by your family, and completely forgotten about by the world who could not be bothered one way or another about your situation. I was left to think: perhaps Bae Suah is some dark and tormented writer who is the South Korean equivalent of Japan’s Haruki Murakami—discussing urban existentialism and the plight of youth and its limited prospects—really not to my cup of tea. Yet, my interest was vitalized, when two more of her novels were recently released: “A Greater Music,” and “Recitation,” which completely blows the Murakami comparison away (or at least I hope so). In her recently translated novels, many of commented on a new found themes and more stylistic advancements.

The writers most recently translated novels are noted for blending essay and fiction, and have even been called: anti-narratives; which immediately brought to mind: Clarice Lispector and Virginia Woolf, respectively. Bae Suah has been criticized in her native South Korea for: ‘committing violence to the Korean language,’ and is known for being an outsider in the Korean literary scene; she has no formal education in literature or writing; she herself has a degree in Chemistry, and when she wrote her first novel “Nowhere To Be Found,” she was working in a airport. Since her debut and continual work, Suah has been noted regularly for her unique linguistic decisions and stylistic experimentation.

After reading plenty of reviews from: “Nowhere To Be Found,” to her recent translations; as well as a little more about the writer, I decided it was time to her a try. Besides, I do enjoy a little outsider, someone who neither belongs but participants because they want, not because they seek to conform. These writers—these individuals—they do greater work for literature then MFA produced writers do. These writers breathe a invigorating and slightly unintentional breath of fresh air into the language, style, format, and concept of literature—simply because they have not been brown beaten with conventions and precedence. Also, I am interested in reading some work from South Korea; though even there Bae Suah, is an outsider, because of her linguistic violence, and influence from German literature (which she herself translates from).

[ II ]

The only epistolary novel I can recall enjoying was: “It’s Getting Later All the Time,” by the late Antonio Tabucchi, and even then it was more of a novel made up of monologues, dreams, and discussions directed at some vague and unknown women, more so then it was a literal novel outlined in a traditional format of diary/journal entries, letters/correspondence, and supporting documentation. Though I did read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” in my youth; I much preferred the film (the nineteen-ninety two, version). There is now hesitation concerning the purchase of Teru Miyamoto’s novel “Kinshu: Autumn Brocade.”

“Kinshu: Autumn Brocade,” is an epistolary novel, as it concerns the dissolve marriage of two characters and their ten year reunion, which they reflect on in between letters. I’ve wanted read something by Teru Miyamoto for quite some time; especially since I included him on last year’s Nobel Speculation List. The title and book cover were enticing; and reviews and critical reception praised his language, his restraint on forced and false emotional responses and resonance. Yet the format of a novel in letters leads with great uncertainty of what to expect. Writing a novel in letters, always leads to biasness, and it is rather difficult to maintain a realistic perspective of someone through their letters; how do they remember an entire conversation? Do people normally reflect on landscapes with such an acute and painter’s eye for detail, and a poets tongue for language? An epistolary novel is perhaps one of the most difficult formats to write in, because of its limitations, and the difficulty to make authentic enough to offer the illusion of reality. I am looking forward to reading the novel, though there is great reserve on my part. Yet, it appears that Teru Miyamoto is considered a master craftsman when it comes to literature, heralding back to the twentieth century renaissance era of Yasunari Kawata, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, and Natsume Sōseki.

[ III ]

Fleur Jaeggy is a new writer, who upon first discovery inspired intense interest. She’s a Swiss born author though speaks Italian; she has since moved to Rome and married Roberto Calasso. Her work is known for being sparse and delicate though injected with iron and displayed with a surgeons precision to detail and subtle breakdown of human relationships. Her most recent work to be translated into English: “I Am the Brother of XX: Stories,” is still away from being released; but in order to get acquainted with this overlooked master, I happen to discover: “Lost Vanities,” which recounts the menacing and subtle horror of dark complexities and complacencies of day to day life, through the detailed steely perspective of Jaeggy. At any rate: it appeared to be a great starting to point to get acquainted with the writer so when I decide to go after “I Am the Brother of XX: Stories,” I’ll have a good understanding of what it is I am walking into. I of course have high expectations.

Olga Tokarczuk is not a new name for me or this blog. I thoroughly enjoyed her previously translated novels: “Primeval: And Other Times,” as well as “House of Day, House of Night.” If my suspicions concern me correctly “Flights,” is a translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s novel “Runners,” from two-thousand and seven; I’ve been waiting a long time for this novel to finally be translated and released, after hearing and reading accounts of it drifting about on and off the internet. I look forward to reading Tokarczuk’s hybrid narrative, where essay, philosophical dissertation and short story and novel are all interconnected around the themes of nomadic life, travel and always in motion.

[ IV ]   

Yoko Ogawa has always been in the peripheral of my thoughts. I’ve always resisted picking up one of her books and reading it. Justly or unjustly, Yoko Ogawa has been paraded as a competitor of Haruki Murakami, and a serious version of Banana Yoshimoto. People praised “The Housekeep and The Professor,” which in my travels, struck as some strange sentimental emotional light reading; something on par with a Nicolas Sparks novel, with some added touch of the surreal and unusual. Many quickly came to the defense of the novel, trying to convert or convince me that not all great literature is deprived of sunshine and smiles, and does not always need to take place behind some strictly bleak and dark totalitarian state or be set in the former Soviet Union or Iron Curtain. I was not convinced.

Then came, “Revenge,”—which is stated to be a greater representation of her actual bibliography and literary output which deals with the thin twilight between the reality and the surreal, with a menacing air of horror, and disturbing abnormal scenarios, all presented in a realistic context. Despite this, I resisted her further. Everywhere I looked Yoko Ogawa always faced similar comparison to Haruki Murakami—who is Americanized pop novelist, who maintains his literary title by slipping in some introduction to philosophy class thoughts, before moving onto discuss disappearing cats and women, and the urban displacement of Japan today; and is then marketed as some exotic literary adventure for the everyday reader. My tastes are little more refined then pop culture confectionery. .

Ogawa did not help herself with convincing me to read her either; she herself has expressed that she has been influenced by Haruki Murakami, especially his casual use of magical realism in his text; but others minimized this claim, stating she was further from him then she was closer to him. Her work does not contain leeches randomly falling from the sky; but rather a certain subtle violence and deep sense of depravity of human beings and their relationship. She is more closely related to Jun'ichirō Tanizaki with her depravity and sexual scenarios then she was with Haruki Murakami, and her subtle deft and plain prose in how she goes around the absurd and horrific events, is considered a typical and traditional Japanese ghost story.

My expectations of Yoko Ogawa are a mix: on one hand I am expecting disappointment; another Murakami pop culture philosopher with great perverse sexual depravity; while on the other she is well known and famous in France with numerous translations and praise. With muted expectations and high hesitation I look forward to reading Yoko Ogawa, and secretly hope to be surprised and impressed more than disappointed. If it’s any consolation, I tell myself: Kenzaburo Oe has praised her perhaps that amounts to something.

At the end of the day Gentle Reader: that is the list of books and authors I will be reading! I look forward to writing reviews and sharing my experience and perspective with you—after I sluggishly finish my review of “The Word Book,” which should be posted next week.

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

M. Mary 

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