Excellent interview with A.M. Homes, novelist, on how she works and also how she thinks about the characters, places, and situations in her fictions.
This is a poem I wrote quickly on Twitter, on seeing that the women of Pussy Riot had been moved from their Moscow prison cells to separate prison camps outside of Moscow.
the tsar of all the Russias
has a sense of humour.
he will not make
the women suffer
only until they get the joke
I just bought two recent novels by young women:
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, Emblem/McClelland and Stewart, 2011
Holding Still For as Long as Possible by Zoe Whittall, House of Anansi Press, 2009
Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
There But For The by Ali Smith
I’ll review each of them in the coming weeks. From first glances at their pages, they seem to be written in the so-called Young Adult style, though they’re not listed as such.
I tried to read Books Burn Badly, by Manuel Rivas, and got about halfway, looking ahead for clues to where the mass of words was leading, but it is unreadable. BBB is a sort of epic treatment of life in Spain from the beginning of the civil war, in the 1930s, to god knows when. It is beautiful in its million parts, but the scenes and characters are so numerous and so dimly glimpsed through the smoke of the book pyre in the centre of Madrid, that I found it impossible to follow. This novel could be classified as “magic realism,” I suppose, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is, but where Marquez created an epic in which the magic and illusion of memory is intertwined with the real world of colonialism, war, social inequality, family pride, tradition, and modernism, while managing to keep the chronology and characters in order, Rivas creates an ever-shifting cloud of characters and time that cannot be penetrated. Only the futility of Franco’s book burnings and the unstoppable desire of the people for written works of imagination and information are the constant images to which one can cling. The prose style we call “stream of consciousness” is useful for taking the reader into the minds of characters and into their sense of time passing, but Rivas asks us to go along on his, the author’s, thought stream; his thoughts, unfortunately, are too hectic and unfocussed to allow any story to be told.
All right, I peeked ahead to some later chapters and found that things had become more focussed on one character, but now, although the story was interesting, the narrative had become slow and dull. I couldn’t wade through to the end. It’s too bad, because the subject matter is extremely interesting, especially now, when secrets of the civil war and the long, repressive years of the Franco regime are coming to light. It is a period that needs to be treated in fiction of a high quality. No doubt this literature will be written, and Books Burn Badly will be considered an important, likely seminal, work. In my opinion it is sadly flawed, but it is for Spanish readers, first, to make their judgement.