Arquivo do mês: fevereiro 2008

GILEAD: It could be a state of mind or of soul

gilead.jpgGilead is the name of a city, but from the luminous homonymous novel written by Marilynne Robinson it might be as well a state of mind or of soul. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, “Gilead” is one of those rare novels that requires more than focus on it when one set one’s heart into reading it. It asks you to simply abstract from the real world and dive beneath its surface into a world apart.

The fact that Robinson has a prose that is close to perfection is a huge help in order to enter into the world she has created in this book. It is also a good advice no to expect a fast read. To read “Gilead” the reader must adjust his/her speed to the narrative’s. In other words, one must let the words guide you in this journey and not the other way round. People who don’t realize it will probably be frustrated and not understand the story that is particularly beautiful.

The narrative is a long letter from an old father (almost biblically so) to his young son. It isn’t said, by anyone can realize this man will not see his son to grow up, and be with him to tell his (the father’s) story, therefore, the letter is best way he found to letter his boy know, in due time, how his life was.

This man is John Ames, a preacher, and religion, God, love and fear become the central themes of his letter. What is most fascinating in this narrative is the writer ability to part from one man’s journey and move to universal themes. The way she deals with complex subjects become more and more timely and able to communicate to any person – no matter how old or where he/she lives.

“Gilead” is not a book for the masses. It requires patience and dedication. Those fortunate who let themselves be kidnapped by its beauty and relevance will never regret. One may not agree with Robinson’s ideas, but it is impossible not to give credit for such important book she has written.

Originalmente publicado em em 21/02/2006


THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER: The Heart of the matter

mccullers-carson.jpgNot many writers are able to at his/her early twenties to have such a exquisite view of the world and complex subjects as Carson McCullers displays in her beautiful “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”. Maybe the fact that she was a sort of precocious genius she wrote the book helped her to sharp her senses to create a world apart inhabited by ordinary people, just trying to live their ordinary lives.

Her condition of being young also influenced her in the novel. As most young people, she didn’t have many life experiences yet; therefore much of her inspiration comes from her own life and the people she knew. Her father was a jeweler, like Mick’s father. She also studied piano — and this is one of Mick’s dreams. Moreover, Mick’s coming of age has a lot in common with Carson’s. She started working on this book when she was at the university and her idea was to make a novel about five isolated people, in which the narrative’s structure would be inspired by a fugue (a musical composition featuring several repeating themes).

In the first part, she introduces the characters, the settings and the main thematic, which deals with of “man’s revolt against his own inner isolation and his urge to express himself as fully as possible”. Her main man in this case is the deaf-mute John Singer. The second part is the failure of each character, due to his options (and lack of them) and free will. The third part shows the faith of each character, and what they made of their lives after they met Singer.

the-heart-is-a-lonely-hunter.jpgUnquestionably the main theme is the isolation and the alienation of the human being. Each character — even the supporting ones — tries to break out their condition. The isolation is the result of the combination of personal and environmental factors. In this process, Singer — who has the most difficult to communicate — plays a key role to help each of the four main characters to find their own voice. He represents the hope throughout the whole narrative.

Carson has a hand to deal with the lost dream. Everyone in this novel cannot fulfill his/her dreams. The girl Mick, for instance, is too smart for her family, for her town; therefore she has to suffocate her talents and become an ordinary person. But, in her mind, she can keep the flame of her dream of becoming a musician alive.

Carson deals beautiful with language and character development. From the beginning one can notice that this is a writers who dominates her tool — and not the other way round. Every character has his/her own motivations and these people change throughout the narrative. Because of it, “The heart is a lonely hunter” is a complex slice of life. More than a book, this novel X-rays ordinary lives and expose them, bringing us a little bit of hope to diminish our own sadness.

Originalmente publicado em em 06/02/2005

THE RAINBOW STORIES: Somewhere over the “Rainbow”

rainbow-stories.jpgWilliam T. Vollman is one of the bravest writers in United States still working. He is not afraid of dealing with controversial issues, and he does so not be in the media, but because he has an urge to talk about lives that are forgotten, lives that the average citizen doesn’t bother to learn about — in other words, low lives. His collection of stories “The Rainbow Stories” goes deep into those lives with beauty and delicacy.

Set in various landscapes, like San Francisco, India and ancient Babylon, the book depicts the lives of people that are easily called outlaws, like skinheads, prostitutes, HIV-positive people and so on. What Vollman does with beauty for these creatures is to show that above all they are human beings — no matter how much we don’t agree with their choices. He doesn’t take sides, but sympathize with them. The writer illuminates some dark corners of their souls, so that we can understand our very owns.

In his stories that deal with neo-nazis, for instance, Vollman paints a very conscious painting, exposing them as people that live, love, have a job and so on. The same happens in the most beautiful story of this book, called “Ladies and Red Lights”, in which the writer tackles the lives of prostitutes, cops and their costumers. Vollman brings himself as a character and narrator in most tales, what gives him a closer approach to this universe.

He did extensively research, living with people who ended up being his characters, a listening to their stories. In the end, this device makes “The Rainbow Stories” some sort of literature verit?. This book certainly isn’t for everyone — some disturbing images and ideas may upset some readers –, but those who are open-minded enough to dive in this colorful world won’t regret the trip.

Originalmente publicado em em 09/04/2006

POSSESSION: Impossible not to be possessed

byatt4.jpgRead A.S. Byatt’s `Possession’ is one of the highest challanges a reader can face. The novel is wonderful, but very demanding, not only because its length but also its structure. I had to read it twice in order to get better all the references and magic of Byatt’s work and I still have the feeling that I’m missing many things.To put in a nutshell the novel is the story of two British academics, who study two late poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. After finding some never seen letters of these writers, the scholars discover a secret love affair between the poets and start to investigate it and its consequence their lives and works. It is hard to classify this novel: it is part a drama, part a thriller and much of an analyze of the sexual behaviour of the Victorian Era and the `80s.

To begin with the title, the word `possesion’ allows many interpretations related to the novel. One of the academics, Roland, who is the first to find and steal Ash’s letters says he was possessed when he did it. Another good explanation is that he and the other academic. Maud, are so `possessed’ by the late poets that they revive the love affair. Or the word `possession’ refers to love itself: being in love is being possessed by some unknown entity. Ash says many times he was possessed by something he didn’t know when in love with LaMotte. Possession may also be related to the obsession that all the academics can have to their object of study. All of them in the novel go deeper in the poets’ lives than in their own, mainly Croppe. There are some other explanation that anyone can come up with after reading the novel. All of them can be right, all can be wrong.

As a modern work as it is, `Possession’ allows many interpretations and conclusion. Byatt’s wrtinting is very semitotic: everything is related to everything. Acts from the past still have effect in the present time. Things that the poets did in the XIX century, interferes in the life of people in the late XX.

Another effective technique used by the author is the interrelationship of verse and prose. More than creating two characters who are poets, Byatt created their work. One can read many verses and tales written by these poets through the novel, and their meaning and importance are in a higher level. Their works are clues to understand their lives and their affair. And, yes, Byatt is this good. She can created verses as good as her prose and so different that one may doubt they were written by the same person. By the way, these kind of writing reads a bit hard at first, but once you get uesd to it, it is very pleasant to have many different sources as poems and letters than the plain narrative as usuall. The poets’ letters are very vivid and beautiful, it is impossible not to be touched by their relationship and feel sorry for all the problems they have to face.

possessionbookjacket.jpgThe comtemporany characters are very well developed also. Roland and Maud are the ones who face the most drastically change. Not only all the work they have developed about Ash and LaMotte have to change, but also their own private lives faces a challenge. The other three main academics, Croppe, Leonora and Blackadder, also see their working falling down. These characters are very realistic: it is not hard to find people who spent their whole lives devoted to study one single subject that they become obsessed to it.

Byatt’s prose is insightfull and discriptive. Colours have an mayor role through the narrative. She uses many shades of colours just to give to the reader the right feeling of the moment, particularly green, that seems to be associated to the female pole of the novel. The sexual tension between the characters is very subtle. The differences between the Victiorians and the XX Century people is very thin, although we think we can point it out easily. Byatt’s shows we still share some of the same doubts and fears that were so common in the other century.

All in all, `Possession’ is possessive. It is impossible not to fall for Byatt’s writing and characters. After finishing the novel you got the actuall sense you’ve read a true story. It is impossible to believe that Ash and LaMotte have never been alive and lived that deep love affair.

 Originalmente publicado em em 05/03/2002

THE ICE AT THE BOTTON OF THE WORLD: Short stories with collateral effects

ice-at-the-botton.jpgMark Richard’s collection of stories “The Ice at the Bottom of the World” is a rare gem. Not many writers are so capable of dealing with so much and being so profound using so short a form of narrative. Some writers need hundreds of pages and don’t develop so beautifully their characters or plots. Here with something like 10 pages, the author is able to break our hearts, heal it and explore some dark sides of human soul.

At his best, in stories like “Strays”, “This is us, excellent” and “The Ice at the Bottom of the World” (my favorites, by the way), Richard takes his reader to a wild ride to an unknown place. But, every story has something in common: it takes a little while to realize where the writer wants to take us to – in other words, it takes some pages until he reaches the actual plot of the narrative. This is a risk device since readers may find themselves to be lost in the first paragraphs, but Richards is so good that he keeps you reading until you find where you are going to.

On the other hand, they are not easy stories. Neither the theme, nor the language is easy. This is a barrier that we have to overcome every new beginning. A daring move that every reader should accept with pleasure. His characters are normal people trying to find a place in their own world, therefore, what ‘we’ would call outsiders. Most stories are about them getting to know themselves better, but readers are aware of them a lot better.

Richard’s “The Ice at the Bottom of the World” is a book that should be read every now and them. His stories are short – it doesn’t take to long to read them – but their effects on the readers lasts even longer.

 Originalmente publicado em em 04/01/2006

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES: My new best friend

confederacy_of_dunces_cover.jpgAt some point in his masterpiece “A Confederacy of Dunces”, writer John Kennedy Toole quotes Macaulay who says that “a great writer is the friend and benefactor of his readers”. Having that in mind, Toole is such a great writer that he should be the best friend of his readers. It is virtually impossible to write about this novel without talking about its writers sad destiny. Toole never saw his work published, and like Walker Percy says in the famous introduction it is a pitty that its creator is not alive to see the success of his writing.

“A Confederacy of Dunces” has one of the most important and memorable characters of North American literature. Flat and flatulent Ignatius J. Reilly in an unforgettable creation. So are his companions –like his mother, Officer Mancuso, Darlene, Santa Bataglia and Jones, to name a few.

This book is the kind love-or-hate novel — there is no in between. Either the reader starts laughing from page one and love it, or he/she finds it bore from the beginning and put it down. Those who embark on Toole’s journey will be only pleased to find more laughs until the end of the book.

Toole has a special awareness for dialogues. Much of the narrative moves through its characters lips. There are, of course, descriptions, digressions and all devices used in literature, but as a matter of fact, it is the dialogue that keeps the narrative going. And if the writer didn’t have a special talent for it, the book would be a mess. The conversations are sharp, funny and witty.

On the other pole are Ignatius’s text from a book he’s been writing. His texts can be at the same time funny, weird and tender. If at one point we think his ideas are far-fetched, we can’t deny there is much truth behind many things he says. And he was living in the early sixties. Probably Ignatius wouldn’t survive to the end of century, to the vulgarization of culture etc.

With “A Confederacy of Dunces” we laugh of our own intellectual misery. This was the best advice he could have given us. Ignatius is weird, but there is a little of him inside of everyone, and that’s not a bad thing.

Toole suffered from the same malady that he uses in his epigraph from a Jonathan Swift’s essay that goes like every time a true genius appears, dunces are all in confederacy against him. The prove that this writer was a genius is that he never got his book published — indeed, dunces were trying to sabotage him.

Originalmente publicado em em 17/04/2005

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: The good intentions that paved the “Road” to hell

revolutionary_road.jpgIt is a suburban town populated with people with good intentions. But as we all know, the road to hell was paved with the acts of this kind of folks. Among those good acts is a play. It was supposed to be something simple, nice and sweet. A group of amateur actors join to produce a play called “The Petrified Forest”. But everything goes terrible wrong. Actually, embarrassingly wrong.

This is the very first chapter of Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road”. This beginning sets the mood for the whole novel: something simple that was supposed to work fine, but ends terribly bad. The presentation of the play works as a metaphor for the Wheelers’ marriage. They could be happy, but inner and outer forces force them to have a miserable life.

Young, beautiful, with two lovely kids and with enough money to live peacefully, April and Frank Wheeler seem to be the perfect couple at the surface. But, as Yates allows us to see under the roof of their home, one learns that they have emotional issues that are destroying their union.

The strongest force to separate them is the post-War melancholy. They can’t relate to anyone else, let alone to each other. April and Frank has drifted apart, and what is left is emotional abuse that may destroy everything.

Yates paints a portrait of a relationship that has no place to survive anymore. April doesn’t love Frank any more – has she ever loved him?. Neither does he. So why do these people are still married? It was the time, it was the commodity of being together. The kids are a good excuse too. On the other hand, all this self-abuse has reached its peak, and they may not tolerate each other until the end of the narrative.

“Revolutionary Road” reminds us of what the good prose is capable of doing. As Yates is painting his characters in their time, he is also painting us. Human beings are the same, no matter what, when or where. Always unsatisfied.

Originalmente publicado em em 13/05/2007