The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 27 March 2022

– II –

All perfume commercials attempt to be art films. They are self-delusional creative concepts attempting to run from the fact that they are advertisements. After all advertisements is the lowest form of creativity. Just as marketing is the popular choice of business degrees. These commercials are just baffling. In canyons, to secret springs, deserts, and gold lotus like flowers, are meant to symbolize a deity of an alien world; or there’s the blue Mediterranean seascape with its models in white revealing swimwear, with an Italian soundtrack of sensuality; or a man in revealing swimwear surfacing from the monochrome depths of the sea. Then of course there is Greek mythic tropes, sculpted men on the verge of nudity; the zenith of legendary elegance of Versailles; the LED lit urban landscape; the sparkling romantic city of Paris. The tropes go on, I assure you. What I don’t understand is: why? Perhaps its because scent is abstract, escaping the linguistically tangible, which forces us to enact archetypes that are mythic, sensual, and sexually abstract in their visualizations. Affirming realizations of what we don’t have. Luxuries, elegance, fame or fortune. Yet with a specific perfume or cologne, you smell as if you have. Fashion is the illusion of depth for the superficial. The carapace of grandeur concealing delusions.

Saturday 12 March 2022

The International Booker Prize Longlist, 2022

Hello Gentle Reader,
The International Booker Prize has recently announced their longlist for 2022. Thirteen titles from across the geographical and the linguistic world. Since its inception (post-2015), the International Booker Prize has made a conscious effort to promote translated literature within the English language. Previous winners are:
Han Kang – 2016 – “The Vegetarian,”
David Grossman – 2017 – “A Horse Walks into a Bar,”
Olga Tokarczuk – 2018 – “Flights,”
Jokha Alharthi – 2019 – “Celestial Bodies,”
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld – 2020 – “The Discomfort of Evening,”
David Diop – 2021 – “At Night All Blood is Black,”
Han Kang was the first winner in its new format, with her gracefully penetrating violent psychological novel “The Vegetarian,” which has since sealed her fate as one of the most important literary writers of South Korea, whose graceful and emotionally impact novels are renowned for their subtle lyricism and elegance. In the case of 2018, Olga Tokarczuk had quite the year, her reputation sone of Poland’s most innovative and important writers of the late 20th Century and early 21st Century had finally secured its foothold in the English language. The following year, Tokarczuk was named the retroactive Nobel Laureate in Literature for 2018.
The International Booker Prize is not without controversy. Personally for 2019 and 2020, there appeared to be far more deserving candidates for the prize on the shortlist. The favourite writer to receive the prize in 2019 was Annie Ernaux with her masterpiece of social cartography and memoir, “The Years,” a true masterpiece of autofiction, showing the forms ability to move beyond the personal recollection and reflection, and in turn, become an encompassing social critique through the personal perspective, as one moves through the ages. “The Years,” was a time capsule of melding memories, thoughts, perspectives, and noted changes within society between the 1940’s and late 2000’s.
In 2020, the debut novel of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld won the International Booker Prize, which was followed by jovial praise, though stalked with a muted reception and disinterest. One can see how Rijneveld’s novel “The Discomfort of Evening,” could be considered a striking contender for the prize, yet it seemed to still show the hallmark of growing pains and a writer still coming into their own. Personally, I thought Yoko Ogawa’s recently translated (and long waited for) novel: “The Memory Place,” was by far the more deserving the book. I suspected as the COVID-19 pandemic had only just begun, and the novel was a dystopian parable of memory and absence as they impact reality, became to be seen as a topical treatise on the amendments of perceived normal structures of reality, as the pandemic raged on. In this sense, the novel may have been considered too topical, too immediate; even though it was written more than two decades prior and was inspired more by Anne Frank’s experience then any societal changes caused by a public health crisis.
In short, the International Booker Prize doesn’t always get it right; but the goal to spotlight and highlight translated literature into English is admirable and should not be dismissed on the grounds of conflicting literary taste.
This years International Booker Prize includes 13 titles from across the linguistic world, it includes both returning writers and winners, as well as welcomes new first-time nominees. This year’s longlist consists of the following writers:
Olga Tokarczuk – Poland – “The Book of Jacob,”
David Grossman – Israel – “More Than I Love My Life,”
Mieko Kawakami – Japan – “Heaven,”
Jonas Eika – Denmark – “After the Sun,”
Bora Chung – (South) Korea – “Cursed Bunny,”
Jon Fosse – Norway – “A New Name: Septology VI-VII,”
Geetanjali Shree – India (Hindi Language) – “Tomb of Sand,”
Paulo Scott – Brazil – “Phenotypes,”
Violaine Huisman – France – “The Book of Mother,”
Sang Young Park – (South Korea) – “Love in the Big City,”
Claudia PiƱeiro – Argentinian – “Elena Knows,”
Norman Erikson Pasaribu – Indonesia – “Happy Stories, Mostly,”
Fernanda Melchor – Mexico – “Paradis,”
It not a Booker Prize if Previous winners are not included on the longlist and more then likely inducted onto the shortlist, as in the case of both Olga Tokarczuk and David Grossman. In the case of Olga Tokarczuk, “The Book of Jacob,” has been called her crowning achievement, her magnum opus in her bibliography. “The Book of Jacob,” is massive as it is ambitious, an encyclopedic novel as it traces the life and discourse of Jacob Frank, in a fashion that is all Tokarczuk, the novel is a kaleidoscope of constellations, fragmentations, and perspectives. David Grossman in turn finds himself nominated for his novel: “More Than I Love My Life,” recalls three generations (told through the perspective of three different women) who must account and disclose the personal within the context of the political. Its unfortunate to state, but Israeli writers are inevitably thrust within a political context when writing, and their work is always framed within this context. David Grossman embraces this context and skillfully melds both the political and the personal with ease, providing a panoramic perspective of the Israeli condition and the complications this experience has on the individual. “More Than I Love My Life,” is a Matryoshka doll, where secrets within secrets are unfolded, unpacked, and pulled back. Its an onion marriage of personal tragedy within the nuptials of the political. David Grossman embraces and understands the situation of being a Israeli writer, where political allegiances or statements are expected to be declared or made, and ironically even in avoiding such affairs becomes in itself a political decision. Grossman’s ability to embrace and work within this context is admirable and respectable. “More Than I Love My Life,” appears to be praised as expected of any Grossman novel.
Geetanjali Shree has been singled out on the longlist for being the first Hindi language writers to be included on an International Booker Prize nomination list. Her novel “Tomb of Sand,” has been described as a marvelous treatise on changing course and confronting the past, both personal, historical, and of course political. Through sly humour and gentle wordplay, Geetanjali Shree brings to life the colourful land of India and brings to light the trauma of partition but also the reconciliation undertaken in a post-partition political landscape. Mieko Kawakami has also made it onto this year’s longlist. Mieko Kawakami has long been established as a literary star and darling in Japan and has only recently begun making waves int the English-speaking world, along with Sayaka Murata, and the newly rediscovered Hiromi Kawakami. I suspect the attention presented towards Mieko Kawakami is English language publishers are intensely looking for a Haruki Murakami successor. Another Japanese language writer who can speak to their youthful dissatisfaction on the modern world and its existential dilemmas, while parading oneself as being approachable and literary in sensibilities. Further interest I am sure was presented to Mieko Kawakami, when Haruki Murakami endorsed as one of his favourite younger writers. To see Kawakami nominated with her novel “Heaven,” which recounts a unique freedom inducing treatise on the idea of bullying. I have not read Mieko Kawakami, though an overview of her literary themes and preoccupations does state that she seems increasingly interested in societal and social themes, where Murakami was more introverted or adverse to providing any commentary on social conditions or societal expectations. In the larger context, Meiko Kawakami appears to be lumped into a group of other female writers who share similar thematic preoccupations or perspectives: Sayaka Murata, Natsuko Imamura, and Hiroko Oyamada; these writers are of similar age and have taken a more critical view of Japanese society, often through a female perspective, where they critique social norms and expectations, often within surreal or deamesque landscapes, be it imagined or uncertainly real (at least in the case of Hiroko Oyamada); while in the case of Sayaka Murata and Natsuko Imamura, the protagonists have rich interior lives that influence their relationship with the external world.
Sang Young Park and his novel, “Love in the Big City,” would be aptly described as a Korean chimera of Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood,” and the dissatisfaction and casual nihilism of Michel Houellebecq. Between casual sex, alcohol, cigarettes, and aimlessness the narrator of the novel confronts the directionless trajectory of his life, the hedonism he employees as escapism, and the all-consuming nihilism of urban realities. I am sure its one of those novels, that young people and professional will gravitate towards, and in the pages find elements of their own experience within it. Another young writer on this year’s longlist is the Danish writer, Jonas Eika, whose short story collection explores how reality can be more surreal then even our most vivid and twisted thoughts. “After the Sun,” explores the engrossingly surreal world of our globalized world and its transactional cruelties and pleasures, its indiscriminate pointlessness, Eika provides an orgiastic thrill of new and exciting, as well as bizarre stories reminiscent of the literary tycoons of American postmodernism.
Two years ago, Fernanda Melchor was nominated for the International Booker Prize with her novel: “Hurricane Season,” she now returns with her novel: “Paradise.” Fernanda Melchor has formed a literary reputation completely contrary from the Latin American Boom. There is no magical realism or fantastic flights of fantasy to be found. Melchor does not seek to exoticize the painful realities of Mexico, instead, with steely strength and iron certainty she provides an overview of the Mexican reality of the people. “Paradise,” is no different, recounting the dissatisfaction the people of the county feel towards their situation, however privileged or grueling it is. I do find it interesting that this year’s judges included Jon Fosse and his novel: “A New Name: Septology VI-VII,” is part of a series of novels following the lives of Asle and Asleik and is written in the signature hypnotic prose Fosse is renowned for, creating a bewildering dream like narrative which ebbs and flows within the shifting tides of the languages steady rhythm washing ashore and receding back. Still, it is odd to think the judges who single this work out on its own. Literary series, usually require some context and precedence in order to be understood via each installation. Even when Jon Fosse won the Nordic Council Literature Prize, it was for his complete Trilogy (“Wakefulness,” “Olav’s Dreams,” and “Weariness,”). There is no denying that Jon Fosse is a great writer and is considered one of the modern masters of the drama, who has equal command of the prose form. I do find it odd, however, that this part of the series would be nominated or be considered more worthy then the other two components.
And so is this years International Booker Prize Longlist, a mixture of both past winners and nominated writers and new writers.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

Thursday 3 March 2022

Shirley Hughes, Dies Aged 94

Hello Gentle Reader,
The hallmark of a great children’s writer is their ability to treat their subject and their intended reader with maturity and a certain seriousness that defies patronizing or demeaning and belittling attitudes and overcomes them with a sense of grace. This describes Shirley Hughes, who is renowned as an illustrator and children’s writer of picture books from young children, who many young and emerging readers may fondly remember, who in turn may find her books in their own children’s rooms. Shirley Hughes’s illustrations were elegant as they were graceful. Full of realistic detail and life, capturing the full spectrum of emotions and body language children have. This most likely comes from her detailed observations and keen eye for subtle (and at times capricious) changes these young beings could make. Yet her illustrations encapsulated the beauty of the world, the truly spectacular and imaginative world that exists around us and is continually new and intriguing. Her works were realistic and took place within familiar and family related settings, situations, and conflicts which will be reminiscent and understandable and relatable for children, such as losing their favourite toy or locking their parents out of the house. These are the characteristics of Hughes’s work: the reality of life, encapsulated in lithographic beauty. The neighbourhoods are warm and safe, parents are present and involved, the streets are multicultural and diverse. It’s a reflection of the world. A reflection of reality for young children to read over and seek to comprehend further, or perhaps in other situations, bring comfort and dreams of what they yearned for. the fact that Shirley Hughes took childhood and children’s emotions, and experiences seriously is what makes her such a iconic and genuine writer, who is believed, endeared, and enduring, to the point her work has insured her immortality. Her readers do not encounter her work for didactic messages or moralistic certainties, but rather to enjoy the wonders of life in a wholesome manner on the page, as well as marvel at Hughes’s magnificent illustrative talent that is both artistic as it is technical and precise. Shirley Hughes’s character in turn is equal legend, warm, elegant, graceful, compassionate, and overflowing with generous kindness that was extended to all, these traits certainly make their way into her work, the power of love and kindness cannot be overturned or rejected so easily, as they are woven into the world around us, and in turn we are the recipients of it. If there is any message Shirley Hughes were to present to her young and adoring readers, it was that love and kindness are not just ideals, but realities, the true currencies of the human experience and should be exchanged not on a transactional basis, but with the spirit of altruistic generosity. It is sad to think that Shirley Hughes is no longer apart of this world, having passed on February 25th, but her workbooks and her illustrations will continue, and they will delight and be adored by a new generation of readers to come, and from there new lifelong reading careers begin.
Rest in Peace Shirley Hughes, truly a remarkable writer and illustrator.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary