Saturday, 15 September 2018

Reading the 80s - 1987

The Songlines - Bruce Chatwin

Most of this I loved - and I think even the parts I was less keen on while reading to a deadline (where he's arranging or spilling his moleskine notes on nomadic peoples for page after page after page) would have appealed more if I'd been able to take them at a more leisurely pace. A walking pace, as though they were poetry.

I actually started the book thinking it was fiction, and I've a sneaking suspicion that some editing and exaggerating and putting of things in an order that makes them more of a story than they might have been otherwise has probably happened, but I don't have any issues with that. 

I do like a book that makes me think - why is wandering seen as such a strange thing? What assumptions are we making now about the fossils we find or the people who live lives very different from ours? And are they based on their reality or our own? 

But that makes it sound preachy and it's not at all. It's hilarious, and just when it gets a bit too lofty it brings you down to Earth with a bump. I can't believe I've never read it before. 

Landscapes After the Battle -  Juan Goytisolo

Actually this is the English translation of a book originally published a few years earlier. 

To be honest it's the sort of book where you can't forget that you are reading a book (in fact Goytisolo breaks the fourth wall, so clearly you're not meant to forget) and you find yourself trying to work out what the author is trying to do, and unless it's done incredibly well it just becomes a distraction and you switch off. 

In fact, disconcertingly, it felt to me like that was what he was trying to do - to be so objectionable and somehow so dreary I'd stop reading completely, whereas instead I just got bored.  Somehow I could see it should be shocking or funny in parts, but it just.. wasn't. Not for me anyway.  

It centres about a man who lives in Paris, fantasises about little girls, spies on his wife, is possibly a revolutionary or counter revolutionary of some sort, or perhaps a failed revolutionary who now prefers to go to dirty movies. He's an unreliable narrator, he has a white mouse. 

I kind of felt like I wasn't understanding a lot of the references, or that there must be references in there that I wasn't spotting. There are some apocalyptic bits -  a massacre that's not actually happening now but centuries ago but also in some sense happening or un-happening now, or echoed now perhaps by contemporary events. There's a plague of mice. They dig up the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. 

It's unclear how much of this is in the narrator's head or the writer's head or if they're the same person. It flips between first, second and third person. Sometimes it's quite stream of consciousness, sometimes it reverts to dialogue..  

Probably better in the original Spanish. 

And on to 1988..

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