According to Gilles Deleuze, “the lives of philosophers are rarely interesting.” This may have come as a surprise to Jacques Derrida, who once spent a couple days in jail after cops in the Prague airport tried to frame him for smuggling weed. (This incident gets ample coverage in a new biography of the scholar).
Forster certainly didn’t take a bright view of his sexual prospects. His knowledge of sexual matters in general may not have been great: as he admits in the fragmentary memoir called ‘Sex’, written in the Locked Diary but sadly excluded by Philip Gardner, ‘My instinct has never given me true information about sex’; ‘not till I was 30 did I know exactly how male and female joined’ – that is to say, when he was writing Howards End, with its extramarital pregnancy that ‘deeply shocked’ Forster’s mother when she read the book.
The biggest problem with this part of the book, though, is how unsurprising it all is. Show me a talented musician who had a happy, stable childhood, and I’ll show you a kid who went to Julliard and now plays violin in the symphony. The opening chapters of Bruce, with its misfit kid from the wrong side of the tracks who talks his mom into buying his first guitar on credit, read like a comic-book rock star creation myth, just the sort of pabulum peddled by People magazine writers when they want to explain to Middle America how some scruffy-looking bar band frontman came to write a song that everyone is suddenly humming.
Each girl in Swan River is a ticking bomb — with the lore of the wild girls comes the assumption that every girl is at least a little bit susceptible once she hits puberty. “When you turned sixteen everybody started to look at you as if you were the suicide bomber at the checkpoint, the enemy in disguise.” Crystal Lemons, a girl from the Bloodwort community, was always a bit of a threat; she had, Kate says, “an interesting ripeness about her, an early voluptuousness…grown up too soon.” When Crystal becomes a wild girl and burns down a huge portion of the commune, it comes as no surprise. For if what makes a Swan River girl go wild is her circumstances, then it makes everyone in the town and academy an accessory to the violence
Intelligence work sounds a little bit like writing novels, and McEwan proves that he’s sufficiently deft at the latter to navigate the grey space between fact and fiction without getting lost in it. In the end, Sweet Tooth is successful enough as a work of well constructed, brilliantly rendered fiction for Serena’s voice to work within the larger whole. The author remains so removed from his fiction that, once you understand what he’s up to, you have to strain to see him pulling the strings of the narrative.
From this angle, Fra Keeler can be viewed as a critique of the attraction many writers, readers, critics, and scholars have to the clichéd glamor of evil, who fetishize the gorgeous anguish associated with men struggling with mental illness. And once we make this connection between novels that revel in spectacles of madness to the male violence at its roots (see Raskolnikov, Humbert, et al), and after we acknowledge that readers thrill to such spectacles and scholars add them to the canon – should this not prick at the conscience and urge us to examine our tastes?
Sure, it may only be fiction. But our enjoyment of it says a lot. Avoiding this issue seems to do ourselves and these male characters (and their male shadows in the real world), a disservice, waiting as it were for the next male-ghoul to be put on mad-parade in front of us to jab and laugh at as we turn the page — while pretending we’re actually learning more about the glory, jest, and riddle of the world.
“No, Yunior is not a bad guy, but he is growing up, and as Diaz is honest enough to admit in this collection, getting older isn’t necessarily all mellowing out and seeing the error in your youthful ways. Sometimes, it seems, you can spend your whole life clowning, turning all that rage into jokes designed to make the very people who anger you most laugh the hardest, and then one day that stops working. You’ve done it – you’re a success, a big-deal professor read by millions, and still you’re pissed off.”
- Michael Bourne, “The ‘You’ in Yunior: Junot Diaz’s This Is How You lose Her.”
“The Dream of the Celt first appeared in Spanish in November 2010, three weeks after Mario Vargas Llosa, its author, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Like many of his fans, my expectations were high. The little amount of information I could gather about its plot was sufficient to hint at a return to form for Vargas Llosa whose latest novels, The Bad Girl and The Way to Paradise didn’t show him, in my eyes, at the top of his game. My once-favorite contemporary author has always liked to fictionalize culturally loaded eras in relation to historically significant characters who make them.”
Kaya Genc reviews The Dream of the Celt.
“Capital is a novel in almost entirely discrete segments and many of the characters never have cause to meet. Their parallel lives are tied together by a subplot that starts with mysterious postcards being found on the doormats of every resident. On one side a picture of their house, on the other an ominous message: ‘We Want What You Have.’”
- More News from Nowhere: John Lanchester’s Capital by Ben Hamilton