of an eclipsed moon shadowed by us
casts curved three-dimensional taint
a moon party – the sun is playing puppets with us
suspended moment – orbit caught on fire
and the moon her marble copper compass
in the lunar haze, blanketed and vertiginous on verandah
what if universe laws did change, and we were to fall?
exposing transience in gravitation, rebellious planets suiciding
to hold matter together. Soundless, cosmic dust, pop
lunar far far away, and the earth’s slow rotation dragging
Reviews + Analyses
Dec 26, 2007
On a weekend away with the neighbour small annoyances and a blindingly hot sun lead Mr. Meursault to kill a man. He never quite knows why he has done it. He explains to his lawyer that by nature his physical needs often distort his feelings. He accepts his fate of incarceration and the trial, understanding that this is the way society has to deal with him. In his cell, small pleasures such as seeing what tie the lawyer will be wearing, an old scrap of newspaper, and watching the sky change colour keep him from despair.
Mr. Meursault leads his life refusing to lie, to himself and to everybody else. Authority figures in the novel, particularly religious ones, are insulted, stressed and baffled by his attitude. Camus says in the afterword:
‘Meursault is not a reject, but a poor and naked man, in love with a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from lacking all sensibility, he is driven by a tenacious and therefore profound passion, the passion for an absolute and for truth. The truth is yet a negative one, a truth born of living and feeling, but without which no triumph over the self or over the world will ever be possible’.
Camus believed that happiness was only possible through the truth, and acceptance of the absurd.
As a novel The Outsider is straightforward, with plain, clean prose. It is somewhat similar to reading Kafka, attempting to extrapolate the philosophical morsels from the narrator’s observations, speech and opinions – an absorbing and stimulating task. I would suggest having a look at The Myth of Sisyphus before reading The Outsider, or at least reading some background on Camus, his vision of the absurd, and existential philosophy.
Here are some samples of Albert Camus’ wisdom:
‘The society based on production is only productive, not creative.’
‘Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.’
‘Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.’
My short story Birthday has appeared in Lip magazine #14 available from their website. Lip is a young feminist magazine, for real girls. My story is about a girl on her eighteenth birthday. She grieves for the loss of her childhood in five stages.
Here is an extract:
Alice awoke expecting excitement to well up and spring her from her bed. Instead she found a knot. It was pouring rain outside, beating on the roof, a smooth, constant comfort, making it easy for her head to find its way back to her pillow. She could hear her Mum and Dad bustling about downstairs, maybe already preparing for her party that night. The party to celebrate her ejection from childhood and propulsion into adulthood.
How come she wasn’t excited about this anymore?
She sat up slowly and looked in the mirror. She didn’t feel any different, nor look any different. There was the same spindly brown hair framing her delicate white face. Her eyes were aqua pools of questions, but she could not get beyond the surface. She looked at the pot plant by the windowsill, its leaves were drooping, channelling her mood. It’s dying. An adult wouldn’t let it die.
She jumped back under the covers, shivering with a sudden shock. She didn’t want anybody coming in with colourful presents when she felt so black. No, she thought, I won’t give up everything that I’ve known. She grabbed the teddy bear lying beside her and squeezed it into her chest, feeling temporary relief.
In that same bedroom, maybe ten years before, her sister and she were medical examiners on a ship, rescuing people from the grey ocean after their boats had capsized. They would pull them up with (skipping) ropes and (Magnadoodle) X-Ray them for complications. Often the victims were fine and could then help in the enterprise, other times, sadly, they had to be attended to in the hospital wings with dressings, warmth and medicine. They made friends. They came from different cultures—Disney, Mattel, Garage Sale—but they were all treated equally.
Everything felt unreal to Alice. Soon she would wake up and be fifty, she thought. But by then she wouldn’t have any posters on her walls—how come adults never had posters on their walls? Did they stop loving things? Despite her overwhelming feeling of wanting to be alone, she decided to go downstairs for breakfast and face the music.
Read more by purchasing the magazine.
Lip also have a great blog, so you can see what they are all about.
future nitpick, which way what?
tongue out for adventure
feed please feed?
pecking at seeds
A bit of background and an update to regular readers – I wrote the poem (Pecking, next post) while in a relationship. Some of you know I have recently come out of this relationship. It is strange to look back on my writing when I was with him. There is no doubt that I loved him passionately but in all the writing there are hints that I was missing out on things I wanted to do in my life. I have always wanted to travel, meet interesting people, move away from where I am. He knew this, and at first we made plans together, but then in truth to himself he decided these things were not for him. I’m sure it was a difficult decision for him to make. I was very hurt but am coming to terms with it all. I am enjoying my time alone, planning my trip to Europe in February and looking into the kaleidoscope of future possibilities! A part of my heart will always long for him and feel sad that he didn’t want to share this journey of life with me. But I do believe everything happens for a reason, and through suffering comes wisdom. My energy hasn’t been focused on writing a whole lot lately, but I must not be hard on myself.
Some good news on my novel manuscript ‘Smoke & Dancing’. It has been longlisted for the Varuna Awards for manuscript development! 378 manuscripts were entered and only 35 made the longlist. Fingers crossed for the shortlist, but either way, this gives me kudos with publishers.
I hope you are all still enjoying my reviews, poetry and fiction. There are some very exciting developments to come including video blogs. These may be poetry readings and author interviews, also records of my literary adventures in London, Paris and elsewhere in February.
Thank you for your constant support and keep up the comments and discussion.
All the best,
Angela (a.k.a LiteraryMinded).
There are people who can write, and there are ‘writers’. Ray Melnik uses his imagination to spin a yarn around issues and interests he is passionate about. The Room is definitely readable, and interesting, but the word ‘quaint’ comes to mind. The narrative revolves around Harry, a decent man from an abusive background. His marriage has fallen apart but he has two beautiful girls to keep him sane. Harry enjoys fixing things for his friends and neighbors. His mother is on the verge of death and he is frustrated that his brother will not make amends.
The plot trundles along with some intrigue as to where Harry will end up, and what the strange connection is in his Mother’s room between past and present. There is more than just emotion in the air. In the prologue, Melnik emphasizes that the book is not ‘science fiction’ but merely looks at a scientific theory in motion (but does take a long time in the book to get to it). I think Melnik should not deny the power of science fiction. Wells and Asimov and many modern science fiction works display alternate presents and futures sprung from issues in contemporary society. The possibilities explored in the texts act as commentary on past and present.
Melnik’s over-explanatory prologue detracts from the story when more energy could have been spent on plot, and particularly, character development. This is a world of ‘nice’ and ‘not so nice’ people. Unfortunately, they all speak with the same voice. I experienced no real emotive connections with the world of the novel. I could not smell his mother’s room. I couldn’t see Harry’s apartment clearly. Melnik is short on strong verbs and metaphor, in fact there is hardly any imagery at all. Melnik seems afraid to use any kind of colloquialisms to individualise character voices. The first person approach also confuses the reader as to how much is Harry, and how much is really the author’s opinions. It is much too obvious when he rants on in first person about the faults of religion and religious people, politics, war and family. While these are all logical arguments that I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with, I regretted the fact that he thought he had to shove them down the reader’s throat.
A book like this cannot have power over opinion because it doesn’t challenge the reader. Those that are already inclined towards Ray’s opinions will probably read it, nod, and then find something more stimulating (like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion). Those who disagree with his scientific reasoning, his atheistic rationalism, will simply not pick up the book. A book that is trying to get out a message needs to be both hard-hitting and subtle. Think of the horrors of war expressed in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. Vonnegut’s favourite adjectives were not ‘nice’ and ‘beautiful’. Melnik may be able to write, and has a story, but he needs to read more than just (brilliant though they are) explanatory scientific texts. If he’s going to write fiction he must delve into what it really means to be a ‘writer’. He needs to show the reader how to feel, think about, and see the world, not just tell them.
Rohypnol is about bad people. They follow the rules of the ‘new punk’, meaning that they can take what they want, when they want it. They are young, male, rich, and live by the motto – ‘f**k people’. The group’s main activity is spiking the drinks of women and raping them. Who would want to read about this? The book is horrific, sickening and difficult. It is also skillful, probing and fresh. Andrew Hutchinson gives his characters no motivational aspects – no sob-story childhoods, no incidents that made them what they are. The narrator just repeats that he is a bad person and knows it. It is challenging and stimulating for the reader to fill in the gaps. It allows a deep engagement with the voice and the narrative. Like Lolita, it both sickens and compels you. Without giving away the ending, a certain amount of justice is performed, but not to all. By the close you don’t understand the character any better, and put the book down with a sense of horror that there are really human beings who exist like that.
Andrew Hutchinson, speaking at the Newcastle Young Writers’ Festival, said that he wrote the book as a way of trying to understand something he simply couldn’t comprehend. One gets the sense that he came out of it still baffled by men who ‘date rape’. One theme that emerges throughout the ‘new punk’ spiels, and the rules of the group, is that of consumerist society and materialism being an influence on such behaviour. The characters are young, with an ‘I want it all and I want it now’ attitude. They are independent from their families, and would even turn on each other. This also thus reflects Western individualism.
Rohypnol is for readers who can handle grit, and who like to be challenged and stimulated by their literature. It will be very interesting to see Hutchinson’s skills develop in his next novel. After a book with such a strong character voice, I’d love to see him flex his prose muscles on a character/characters with more constructed depth, whilst maintaining that baffled search for meaning through aspects of society’s senselessness.
If your lover ended their life, would you feel you had ever really known them? Josie Tyrell is an artist’s model and student-film actress in punk ’80s LA. She escaped her white trash upbringing for a life of parties, drugs, music and intriguing people. She met Michael, who gave up a Harvard education, a controlling concert pianist mother, and a mountainous inheritance to live an artist’s life with Josie. They were happy living on her wage with their tiny room, their lovemaking, and their fictional dreams of Montmarte and other faraway places.
The book begins with Michael’s death and then works through the complexities of Josie’s grief. At first, the reader is privy only to the love they had, and the deep loss of this. Josie’s is a world of nothingness without love. Then the last months of his life are worked through. There are more complex issues behind Josie’s guilt and wondering. Did she kill the thing she loved? Michael’s history is explored. Josie seeks answers in a hate/embrace relationship with his mother and her big dark mansion. She seeks answers in his art, his photographs, his possessions. She invites drug and alcohol-induced stupors; escapes through work, suicidal thoughts, the company of others, and places he had been. She seeks out her own soul, to discover what it is without Michael.
Paint it Black is an intense read. No character escapes loss, heartbreak, deep despair and depression. Even by the end there is no answer as to why such things occur, no clue as to how they can be avoided. The novel’s strength is its lack of sentiment. The lessons learned by the close are elegantly simple and only obvious through suffering. The characters show that people will always find something to hold on to, even if it’s not exactly hope. The novel is sad realism in the vividly painted world of punk LA. Janet Fitch also wrote White Oleander which has been made into a film. Paint it Black is well worth reading, especially for readers inclined toward the melancholy.
Published in Slow Trains Literary Journal, November 2007.
Tattoos like stamped patterns on folded silk. She’d gotten them in Paris when she was eighteen, when a beggar was her friend, the concrete her pillow, and a hard knock her income.
9781741753356, Allen & Unwin, 2007
The perfect book for me is one that is about the extraordinariness of everyday life – the things that human beings acknowledge, and the things they deny; the amazement, comfort and simultaneous hurt in personal relationships; the wealth beneath the surface, but also the necessity of surfaces.
Charlotte Wood looks into a grown family, whose father has fallen off the roof in a terrible accident. Geoff’s wife, Margaret, slides with the sands of life. Cathy, Stephen and Mandy, the children, are all incredibly different. The complex interweaving of their pasts and relationships are explored. Mandy acts as a contrast to many of the other characters. She is a righteous and flawed vigilante, a war reporter who has just returned from Iraq. In conversation she is sharp and piercing, defending things she has seen that others like to turn a blind eye to. But in this way she also controls her own dark side, the menaces of her past and memories.
The character of Tony allows her to check herself. He is the hospital wardsman and a shady figure from both Cathy and Mandy’s pasts. He befriends Stephen during the ordeal, before displaying his true self.
The events unfold in only six days, but they are rich and vivid, as life is. There are no moments free of the effect of what has come before. Everything is relevant to something else. The novel expresses how much can happen in a day, a moment, and how as people, we are in a constant flux of change and unpredictability.
The book is melancholy. It reaches in and tears out your heart with the tragedy not just of death, but of the awareness that all moments lead up to it.
First published in the October 2007 issue of BOOKSELLER + PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2007 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC) http://www.bookseller+publisher.com.au/
Wilfred Lampe has experienced a whole century in the Snowy River town of Dalgety. He’s a part of the landscape, its consistencies and its alterations. The Olympic Commitee have him in mind as a representative of the values of Australia. But how can one life, so full of contradictions and challenges, be summed up in one brightly lit ceremony? Is it right to transform the complexities of a life into a series of symbols, and the life of a nation?
Aurora Beck stares in the face of death in Sydney. At 28 she has already traversed the country, dulling her experience with drugs. She lives in fear of her ex-boyfriend, Wynter. She, like Wilfred, lives alone. Graham Featherstone is a radio announcer whose personal life has fallen to pieces. He deplores the state of the country, the vacuity of consumerism, the voices that are not being heard.
These characters and others come together in a vividly descriptive and masterfully constructed narrative with questions about personal and collective history, the potency of place, and the disturbance and rapidity of change. The novel honours simplicity, substance, and peace, and laments the loss of closeness in a moment of quiet. An insightful, brilliant Australian novel, destined to become a classic. For fans of literary Australian fiction.
First published in the October 2007 issue of BOOKSELLER + PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2007 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC) http://www.bookseller+publisher.com.au/
I hadn’t been to the Snowy Mountains since I was a child, and on the visit that sparked The Trout Opera in 1996 I was overwhelmed by the stark physical beauty of the place, the yellow hills and purple skies, the whole muted and ancient feel. The minute I drove into Dalgety, on the banks of the Snowy downriver from Jindabyne, I was instantly struck by the ghosts. This was a town where a lot of life had been lived, once upon a time. I guess I felt obligated to examine that, and ultimately bring it back to life as best I could. Near the end of writing the book I went back to Dalgety (population about 80) for one last visit, and stayed in the ancient Buckley’s Crossing Hotel for a night. I didn’t sleep much that night.
The radio announcer in the novel is always cut off while ironically expressing the view that what is being seen and heard in the press is essentially one-sided. Do you think literature is something that can reclaim this ‘other voice’?
I think literature can take and hold a moment in time better than a newspaper, magazine or other media outlet. By the very nature of it being held, it can pose deeper questions than the press can offer day to day. I wanted to have a character in the book who could express opinions on the period – the 90s, leading up to the year 2000 – and figured a late night radio host would be ideal for the times. He is that ‘other voice’ you talk about, and his opinions are offered up not as a definitive treatise on Australian cultural and political issues, but as moments held in time. Readers can choose to take questions out of that if they wish to do so, or not.
You’ve created such well-drawn characters. I can imagine it would have been difficult to leave them behind. Who was the most challenging to write and why?
Of all the characters I’ve ever created, this cast was the most difficult to let go. I felt from the outset, for some reason best not explored, that I was akin to Wilfred Lampe, and felt all the joys and sorrows of his life. The friend who inspired the character Tick died just a few months before I finished the manuscript. But I think Wynter may have been the most challenging to write, in hindsight. He physically repulsed me, yet I felt compelled to dig deep into that feeling and understand him. I think I ultimately did, but I wouldn’t invite him around for dinner.
The motifs of trout, fishing, and nature are solid and persistent from the first glimpse of Wilfred in the strange trout suit. What kind of effect did you hope this would have?
When I began writing the book I became interested in the art of trout fishing, especially in relation to the Snowy River. I had reported on the strangulation of the river – our great, mythic, celebrated river – over time, and began to understand how important it was to so many communities along its banks through history. In the end, the metaphor of the river, and more importantly, the essence of trout fishing – the lure, the fly fooling the fish – sat perfectly with the themes of physical and emotional addiction, and the resilience of nature, and people, that began to emerge as the novel progressed.
That’s a complicated question, but I would hazard a guess that when we look back we both redeem and inhibit. This is one of the primary frailties of Wilfred. His habit of looking back at life to redeem a future for himself has the opposite effect. His looking back keeps him inert. He never moves forward. He lives a whole life in his head, and another in the actual world. As a human being, I suspect he’s not alone. The eye of a trout sees both its own river world reflected back to it off the underside of the water’s surface, and simultaneously through the surface to the outside world. Wilfred only ever sees the reflection. History has shown this can also be a collective condition.
Who are some of your favourite authors, and what kind of readers will enjoy your book?
I’m a great fan of Patrick White, Thea Astley, John Cheever, Graham Greene, R K Narayan, and on and on. I didn’t really discover, until I’d finished The Trout Opera and could get a sense of its shape, that I had actually written what might be considered and old-fashioned novel in the current climate, a book that has very few strong storylines, a rich cast of characters both major and minor, and a narrative scope that covers a century. I think readers who enjoy a good ‘old0fashioned’ epic, something you can luxuriate in, and who are prepared to spend time with characters that they just might fall in love with and care about, will enjoy The Trout Opera.
9780733620980, Hachette Australia, 2007 (link).
Lachlan Fox is an investigative journalist for GSR (Global Syndicate of Reporters). He’s an ex-Aussie Navy operative now in New York City. He is attempting to uncover just who may be trying to access the powerful information database ‘Echelon’, and to what purpose. The information could enable any smaller power to have significant run over the free world. Fox himself has several eyes upon him, one of them enraged by a liaison with his lover, Kate.
Fox’s best friend, Al Gammaldi (the poor man’s Al Giordino) is also hands-on in the investigation, but the majority of their banter involves pizza, fat jokes, arses, and Kevin Smith movies. The book actually features a cavalcade of under-30s attitudes and pop-culture references. Unfortunately though, the female characters are weak, willing and ultimately patronising.
The action is reasonably intense, but the proliferation of one-page chapters could have been worked into better hooks for the reader. Too much is explained too soon and the only surprise is at the very end. Fox is mixed between serious investigative journalism and the lighter side of life, sometimes uncomfortably.
As a thriller it is reasonably enjoyable. Phelan’s intentions are also interesting, to make the world aware of Orwellian threats to freedom. If you enjoy Robert Ludlum this may be right up your alley. Fox Hunt was the first Lachlan Fox book, and Blood Oil (the third) is planned for 2008, which Phelan informs me will be much darker. I look forward to seeing his development.
Oct 3, 2007
Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the whole festival, but I had a wonderful drunken time at the 'Mega-Mega Launch' last Saturday night. On Sunday I attended a couple of session
Ryan Paine – Is that a Voiceworks in your pocket?
David Prater – editor of Cordite and master poet. See also my earlier interview with him, Jill Jones, and Paul Hardacre.
Three ladies and a Sex Mook.
I didn’t catch his name but The Matrix changed his life, here with Andrew Hutchinson, author of Rohypnol.
Andrew, myself and James (thanks again for dinner guys!)
The crazy-wonderful presenters at the Mega-Mega Launch.
The team behind the Sex Mook – including Julian Fleetwood (editor) and Lisa Dempster (publisher – Vignette Press).
The ‘serious’ novelist versus the author of Fox Hunt and Patriot Act…
Reviews + Analyses
Oct 3, 2007
My latest review published in Cordite Poetry Review - Of the two chapbooks under review, Lucy Holt’s exquisitely crafted poetry in
My latest review published in Cordite Poetry Review –
Of the two chapbooks under review, Lucy Holt’s exquisitely crafted poetry in Stories of Bird pecks at single moments, both from an intimate as well as a bird’s-eye view. Her use of symbolism is focused and sensory. Hers are deep and personal poems, with some empathetic politics, that draw the reader in. Alison Croggon’s chapbook Ash, on the other hand, speaks with a more despairing voice. Hers is an exploration of mood. Her poems flow together through pain and awareness. They are more all-embracing than Holt’s, connecting history and broad spatiality to the personal; but fear, emptiness, darkness and blood are their prevailing themes.
Reviews + Analyses
Sep 26, 2007
It is this kind of ‘play’ that we see in (among others) the story Lilith (Nin 2000) where a woman has no desire for her demeaning husband. He tricks her into taking ‘Spanish Fly’, and while the intention is to tease her as it is fake, she attends the cinema with a female friend and is subject to a placebo effect. She realises she does experience the normal hungers of sexual desire. In the end she decides to keep this from her husband. This story is a direct response to a micro-level patriarchal relationship, but other male representers of power and institution throughout the stories are also subverted. Some, like the Basque in The Basque and Bijou end up internally lonely and saddened due to a previous sexual obsession. Some, like the title character in Marcel have homosexual relations. Some get pleasure from the female gaze, like Manuel, thus subverting the objectification of the female body. Priests and Barons and other powers of patriarchal institution are cast in violent, often violating positions – ‘…I began to write tongue-in-cheek, to become outlandish, inventive, and so exaggerated that I thought he would realise I was caricaturing sexuality’ (Nin 2000, p. viii). Nin was frustrated that the client did not notice, and disturbed at this signification and confirmation of male sexuality as brutish, forceful and overtly base.
It is lyrical because it focuses on a character’s internalisations and is not a descriptor of action. The passage can also be read as a motif of Nin’s own struggle – the narrator is attempting to find a place between her emotional (soft, passive) being and the need to ‘plunge in’ to life (strength, active). Felber (1995, p. 323) calls Nin a ‘colossus of gendered discourse’ who ‘straddles the gap between masculine and feminine language’. Unfortunately as a writer this problematises her identity. By declaring herself a feminine writer she may exclude male readers, but by pleasing (even tongue-in-cheek) male readers she may exclude female ones who are not willing to embrace subjects as extreme as incest, bestiality, fetishism, sadomasochism and even necrophilia.
Felber, L 1995, ‘The three faces of June: Anais Nin’s appropriation of feminine writing’, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 309-324, (online JSTOR).
The Simpsons is written by intelligent individuals who generally come from educated backgrounds. This is evident in the subversive satirical elements of the show, but as Paul Halpern points out in What’s Science Ever Done For Us?, it also means they know a lot about ‘physics, robots, life and the universe’. Regular writers like David X Cohen, Ken Keeler, Bill Odenkirk, Al Jean and Jeff Westbrook have a range of science-based degrees – from physics, mathematics and chemistry to computer science. Halpern explores the wealth of scientific information (and misinformation) in the show. He enjoyably recaps favourite episodes and then brings real research and evidence into play, utilising the show’s characters to metaphorically explain difficult theories.
The book allows us to see the multi-dimensionality of meaning in this cartoon that has shaped opinion and identity (and made us laugh) for eighteen years. Parents could use the book as a discussion point with their children. Inclusive themes are ‘nature vs. nurture’, as explored in the episode where Lisa despairs that she may have the ‘Simpson gene’, evolutionary theory, nuclear physics, the history and properties of radium, genetic engineering, invention, thermodynamics, robotics, chaos theory, the space-time continuum, the shape of the universe (is it a donut?) and so much more. While it might sound heavygoing, Halpern injects every explanation with relevance and humour. Much still floats over the head of the literary-minded individual, but I was pleased to learn that the toilets here ‘down-under’ do not flush all that different from the ones in the northern hemisphere! And no, we don’t ride kangaroos to school either. He mentions a favourite episode of mine ‘Lisa the Sceptic’ where Lisa uncovers what appears to be the skeleton of an angel. The angel turns out to be a cheap publicity stunt for a new shopping mall. The reason I have always enjoyed the episode is due to the brilliant satire on rampant and blind consumerism, following on from blind religious faith – both enemies to scientific rationality. Lisa’s reasoning leads her to attempt to dispel the myth of the angel. Halpern informs us that the guest scientist that stars in the episode is Stephen Jay Gould. Halpern tells us all about fossil history, Darwinism, and radiometric dating techniques, revealing that there is even more to the episode that I already enjoyed for its cleverness and validity.
What’s Science Ever Done For Us? is highly recommended for any Simpsons fan due to its ability to recreate the joy of viewing well-known episodes and putting a scientific spin on them. It’s suitable for curious kids and adults alike. It closes with a humorous and handy checklist so one can explore a scientific viewing of The Simpsons Movie. As I was going through Season 1 of Futurama whilst reading the book, I noticed the high proliferation of (often irrational) science in the show, and I hope Paul tackles it next!
Paul Halpern’s MySpace
Respected scientist Stephen Hawking on why he appeared on The Simpsons –
Reviews + Analyses
Sep 13, 2007
Humbert Humbert deceptively narrates a journey of self in Lolita (Nabokov 2006) attempting to justify actions that the reader may find morally problematic. He is both aware of the societally placed reader, whom he often refers to as judge or juror (eg. on the very first page) and he weaves a seductive lyrical web to entice them to his justifications. At rare times, though, Humbert seems to have sincere insight into his ability to harm Dolores, particularly at the end of the novel after the murder of his ‘double’ Quilty (Moore 2001).
The main justification Humbert uses is his explanation of ‘nymphets’ and of Dolores being the epitome of this classification – ‘…the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb…’ (Nabokov 2006, p. 16). The nymphet is an idealised and youthful female (between the ages of 9-14) who is recognisable to those who seek her and is apart from other girls her age due to a certain look and manner of comeliness. Humbert makes many elaborate references to Dolores’ youthfulness throughout the novel, but the best example of his obsession is the comparative explanations of non-youthful females – ‘… a large, puffy, short-legged, big breasted and practically brainless baba’ (p. 26). More disturbing is his incestuous imaginings of a ‘second Lolita’ (p. 197), the fruit of his and Delores’ loins, when she comes into that magic age of nymphetism.
The reason behind Humbert’s youthful obsessions can be attributed to the tale he tells about his first dramatic sexual encounters with Annabel (p. 10-14). The events are emphasised as being severely devastating to his young self, and thus may have contributed to his ‘fixation’ with pre-pubescent females. The sexual instinct has found its sexual object, as in Freud’s theories that explain neuroses and perversions (Horrocks 1997). But as Marcus (2005) notes, this may just be another aspect of either self-deception or other-deception by the narrator in order to create some empathy in the reader for his story and his plight. Moore (2001), however, believes that the very descriptiveness of the narrative actually acts to warn the reader of Humbert’s deceptive qualities. The more flourishing the narrative, the more it seems like an act, the more it seems intentioned. As he describes it:
‘While Humbert deludes himself that he assimilates us in his solipsism, our judgements are honed, not blunted, by his verbal pressure, and we bring sharper vigilance and creativity into play’ (p. 74).
This interactivity with the reader created by the metafictional format highlight why it is a joy to read (even with the moral challenges involved, or perhaps even because of them).
The last chapters of the novel, from when Humbert receives Dolores’ letter, show a humbler and more responsible-seeming narrator. Despite the fact that he hints at intending to murder either Dolores and/or her husband, there is the fact that he decides he loves her and wants to be with her, despite her departure from nyphethood (she is now 17). There are the first signs of his recognising her as a person and not an aesthetic object, such as his recollection of seeing her look of sadness in the mirror (Nabokov 2006, p. 323) and ignoring it at the time. While there are hints throughout the narrative that he is aware of his dominance and hurtfulness (eg. describing himself in a predatory fashion) he prefers to see himself as fatherly protector (p. 168) or victim of her seduction (p. 140), until these last chapters of the novel. But, as Moore (2001) notes, these may be merely last minute appeals to the reader to empathise with him as he closes his narrative.
Humbert’s attraction and idealisation of his Lolita may be caused by an unfulfilled sexual desire at a critical period, leading to fixation. But due to an unreliable narrator using seductive language the reader cannot pinpoint facts from imaginings in Humbert’s journey, and thus, is challenged in their moral interpretation of the novel.
Horrocks, R 1997, An introduction to the study of sexuality, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndsmills.
Marcus, A 2005, ‘The self-deceptive and the other-deceptive narrating character: the case of Lolita’, Style, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 187-208, (online ProQuest).
Moore, A R 2001, ‘How unreliable is Humbert in Lolita?’, Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 71-82, (online ProQuest).
Nabokov, V 2006, Lolita, Penguin Red Classics, London.
I have been tagged by The Uncanny Broadcasting Brain.
The Rules of this tag:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. List eight (8) random facts about yourself.
3. Tag eight people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving them a comment on their blogs.
(LiteraryMinded adds – I’m not going to get offended if you don’t carry on 🙂 I’m just interested in the concept)
LiteraryMinded’s random facts:
1. My unread book collection near my bed includes Utopia – Thomas More, Jacques Lacan – Anika Lemaire, The System of Objects – Jean Baudrillard, Hollywood Babylon – Kenneth Anger, Faithless – Joyce Carol Oates, Journey to the Stone Country – Alex Miller, Wren Lines – Billy Jones, and the current Southerly among 30-odd others.
2. My sister and I still remember a dance we made up to Michael Jackson’s Ghosts when we were about 10 and 8.
3. One of the books that transported me the most as a child was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
4. I exercise every day.
5. My two novel manuscripts are titled You Can Make Music by Banging on Cages and Smoke & Dancing. The main characters are Jean (Jean Genie!), Deb, and Rowan.
6. I love to eat muesli for afternoon tea.
7. My boyfriend has a brilliant Pink Floyd tattoo.
8. I would love to go to New York.
LiteraryMinded’s tags –
Reviews + Analyses
Sep 3, 2007
At the beginning of the 20th Century, nuclear weapons were the stuff of science-fiction. Writers like HG Wells imagined a future where the incredible power of the atom could be unleashed to great destruction, and thus create no need for warfare. He, and other writers, artists and visionary scientists, imagined a utopia powered by this endless energy. There would be no point starting wars if it were known what havoc the atomic weapons could wreak.
Before WW1 it was considered barbaric to kill civilians in the name of nationalism. But then came new technologies. The terror of chemical weapons in the trenches and the use of planes signalled a new era. At the beginning of the century a new element was also discovered which made headlines around the world – radium. Scientists were also baffled by the Rontgen’s (quite accidental) discovery of the X-Ray – a beam that enabled you to see the very bones in your hand.
The thirst for knowledge and modernity inspired the creative minds of the era. What PD Smith presents is a world where literature itself created a discourse of ideas that inspired the public, and hence, the scientists themselves, onto new discoveries. ‘The atomic bomb owed its existence to this technophile culture, with its saviour scientists and superweapons, as much as it did to the individual genius of its scientists and engineers’, he says.
One protagonist of the book is Leo Szilard, and each of his moments and revelations are explored poignantly by Smith, particularly when he realises (while crossing the street) that a nuclear chain reaction is possible. Szilard was always in moral conflict with other scientists and even himself. He dreamed the utopian dream but realised the gravity of what was possible. He was also the one who posited that a cobalt bomb would have mighty destructive power, on live radio. He knew that humankind was possibly too juvenile as a collective to wield this knowledge and power, and many times he predicted the end.
Szilard is only partly one of the ‘doomsday men’ of the title. Others include fellow scientists and military personnel who worked on the ‘Manhattan Project’ (building the bombs that were eventually trialled on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Szilard had brought the idea to America presuming they would be attempting to build it before the Nazis. When it was discovered that the Nazis were far from complete on their bomb project, it was decided to annihilate Japanese citizens, as revenge for Pearl Harbor, and to show the American might to the Soviets. No one heeded Szilard’s suggestion that they could display power by exploding the bomb in a demonstrative fashion in an uninhabited area. Of course, after WW2, the race with the Soviets began – atomic bombs to hydrogen bombs, and perhaps to the ultimate weapon – the cobalt bomb.
Besides the array of literature that inspired the scientific imaginary, Smith also explores the proliferation of cold war literature and film. Looking at novels like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, or even the monster films of the era, enable us to see (or remember) what the climate was like. Smith takes you inside the narratives of great writers and inside the narratives of history. He enmeshes them so that you realise just how science-fiction-like the world has become. You are present and nervous with Leo Szilard when the first nuclear reactor is tested in the University of Chicago football stadium. You witness Marie and Pierre Curie holding up a vial of ‘luminous’ radium. You experience a terrifying eyewitness account of Hiroshima. Smith gets right into the conflicts of these people, allowing you to relate to their situations, and be appalled at the attitude of some of the Strangelovean characters eg. Fritz Haber, Edward Teller and Robert Oppenheimer.
The book is descriptive, well-written and infinitely interesting. It is also incredibly frightening. Smith essentially offers us a warning, because the collective anxiety over the bomb seems to have disappeared. Yes, we have enough on our hands worrying about global warming, but nobody remembers to take a stand. He notes: ‘The nuclear weapons are still there, of course, in their bomb bays and silos. They could yet start falling, this year or next. For now, at least, there are no global wars, but the sciences of mass destruction continue to spread around the world. As is clear from the last century, knowledge knows no borders’. Doomsday Men is a step forward to awareness, is highly readable, and is also a perfect reference text for doomsday-related literature and film.
PD Smith’s informative blog – Kafka’s Mouse