Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Oryx and Crake


Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

After being forced through Handmaid's Tale in highschool, I vowed: "No more Atwood."

But this was good. The greatest improvement over Handmaid is the lack of preaching. It's funny (as in humour), a fast read, conscious of the present, imaginative of the future.

The best though, was its ambiguity. Ie., what happened? Who loved whom? What happens after it ends? Who did what, exactly? Structurally, I have the impression that this book leaves multiple possibilities open at numerous points of the narrative. I feel like I could pick a spot in the middle and read a whole different book depending on how I interpreted the text.

In literature courses, we actively search for these points, and put great effort into uncovering ambiguity and non-intuitive possibilities, but the unique feature of Oryx and Crake is that these possibilities are unavoidable.

And yet... we never feel let down that the author is hiding something. No, rather, she seems to intentionally "paint herself into corners" where she is obviously no longer able to explain what is going on, and therefore we must do so.

So where Handmaid was patronising, this rough vision is pleasantly Socratic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pelagie-la-Charette

Pélagie-la-Charette, Antonine Maillet

This is my second reading, this time in French to see what the big deal was. They do use a lot of funny expressions and grammar like "J'allons au noroît" ("Nous allons au nord-ouest.").

It made me want to cry again, so epic it gets at some points. Twice, I think, there's things that are very touching, because you realise they're true and they're enormous.

It also made me think how my education confounded the Acadians with the Quebecois; how all I was told came from maybe a single page of a textbook.

Oh, and it also struck me structurally: especially when the author's own ancestor appears in one of the characters' tales. I can't stop thinking of the people as characters, but on a parallel plane they were real people. I still can't get my head around it: usually books either talk about historical figures, or about fictional characters, and the situation is clear. Here, no; they're both.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Fine Balance


A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

I suppose I would sound smarter if I hadn't read Pico Ayer's afterword before writing down my thoughts, but what he says is spot on: this book is timeless.

I was sitting there trying to figure out what the story was, and I realised that the story is simply that of a bad government, or even more generally: destiny. The people whom the bad forces harm as they go along don't really suffer any discernible narrative progress. Other than learning how to live with calamity.

That, of course, makes it sound much more depressing than it really is; its fine balance comes from how much happiness the book is able to bring you amidst a sorrow that seems insurmountable.

It's just brilliant. The writing feels as natural as if the author was just making light, regular breaths, and they were floating down and lying on the page as sentences. And yet, this effortless, instinctive activity results in a remarkably structured and profound text. But then, hey, breathing is profound.

One flaw, I felt, was the Anna-Karenina-ending. That single instant wasn't as richly motivated for me as the rest of the events in the novel. It serves to highlight, though, that all the events, all the decisions and reactions of the characters, are explored through a crystalline myriad--tragic, comic, everything--of facets. It really does make you feel like you are living these people's lives.