the beep two

Welcome to the beep two. The beep two stands for the bret Easton ellis project. The two is just a number – two because this is the second one (in a series of maybe seven?) In this project, I intend on reading Ellis’s bibliography in the order of publication, and afterwards write maybe a few words about the book.

bret easton ellis is a novelist, an author who writes books, based in L.A (Los Angeles, the city of angels, dreams, lights, tinsel town. Broken dreams. The bubble (according to mark cousins)) mostly known, maybe, for his third novel American Psycho. He was born in 1964.

The second book he published is called The Rules of Attraction, and will be the topic of this here post.

It is September 27th today and almost a month (or more? whatever. . . .) since i posted the first instalment of the beep, the ‘’review’’ on less than zero. There might be spoilers in this one I really don’t know(?)

Like Ellis’s first book, Less Than Zero, this novel also focuses on college students, what (or who) they do.  the whole book is narrated by different characters throughout, and the narrator changes constantly, maybe every two – four pages or so. There are several narrators and characters but the three main ones are Sean, Paul and Lauren.

They go to school in Camden, studying different liberal arts subject, always either uncertain about exactly what they actually study, or they’re constantly changing majors so its hard for them to remember. One of their past-times is looking at other students/Freshmen, guessing at what they study by the way they look/if they, or how they dance/talk/what they drink etc and then cursing (or not cursing, that seems like the wrong word, judging them maybe? belittling /  ridiculing them?) them for that major.

but even if their students, there’s not much studying going on (we hear of overdue papers, library books) & when two of the characters find themselves in a private party consisting of, among others, literary agents, one of them “gets a fit”, wants to start a fight with his companion, or to leave, drinks too much and falls asleep. similar to less than zero, the characters are constantly high on something (some of the interesting parts, I thought, was to read what they were high on this time, or how they acquired the drugs etc) and the narrators (all of them pretty much) find it amusing to point out the people they had sex with ( I was actually surprised at how many times this happened – or at how frequent the phrase “I fucked her/him” (or any derivations of this phrase) appeared. Not so many “explicit sex scenes” just this one observation. Mayhaps ellis was warming himself and his audience up for his third book,,, who knows)

and the main conflict seemed to me to be a love conflict between theree of the main characters / narrators, Paul, Lauren and Sean – who end up together?

Sean is also, interesting to me, Patrick Bateman’s brother. Patrick, of course, being the main character of ellis’s third book american psycho – and being that it is the “third” book, that means it is next up in the beep – the beep three. (which is obviously not started and at this point i cannot make any promises as to when it will be started let alone finished)

here is something I wrote in my notes while reading the book:

  • Prose more descriptive, detailed, clearer. Makes me feel theres a ‘bigger’ sense of optimism in Ellis. (even if the things described are . . bad? negative?)
  • Generally more emotional writing

I’m not very good at making notes – – –

But the point still stands; I do feel like this book, compared to less than zero is more descriptive in detailing mood, emotions, events. (maybe I just have forgotten important things in less than zero but this is ow I feel) Especially did I like Lauren’s narrative parts. They seem more authentically feminine. (Again, maybe I’m wrong, but again, that’s how I “felt”) I felt like Ellis successfully tried to make Lauren more ‘womanly’, ‘feminine’, a good role model(?) this is not only true for Lauren’s narrative parts particularly. again I was surprised at the level of emotional credibility and genuine authenticity in Elli’s writing and prose. this is something i did not recognize in less than zero. Seems he has “grown as a writer” the two years between less than zero and the rules of attraction.

Another thing this novel introduces in Ellis’s authorship, is the experimentation of beginning and ending of plot. The very beginning of the book is in the middle of a sentence (“and it’s a story that might bore you but you don’t have to listen (…)”) and ends in the similar matter (in the middle of a sentence: “my hand squeezing her knee, and she”)) i find this interesting because, the first thing that struck me, was that this book,and the story it tells is just a nihilistic(?) circle / representation of fate, or something else, something that no one can escape. Whether it’s nihilistic or not, hopeless or not, is for the moralist to say ..

(There is also one part (Lauren’s, toward the end of the book) that is simply empty.) I believe this also happens on more than one occasion in his next novel, american psycho,as far as I can remember at least from when I read it for the first (and, up til now, only) time in 2015 so it will be interesting to see whether im right or not now that I am going to read it again – and to see whether I put any importance on it or not – –

the rules of attraction was made into a film in 2002, directed by roger avary where sean is played by james van der beek, lauren by shannyn sossamon and paul by ian somerhalder (and obviously other actors are in it too). (i have yet to watch it, or the less than zero film)

~ milk

 

 

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the beep one

Welcome to the beep one. The beep one stands for the bret easton ellis project. The one is just a number; one because this is the first one (in a series of maybe seven?) In this project, I intend on reading Ellis’s bibliography in the order of publication and afterwards write a few words about it.

bret easton ellis is a novelist, an author who writes books, based in L.A (Los Angeles, the city of angels, dreams, lights, tinsel town. Broken dreams. The bubble (according to Mark Cousins)) mostly known, maybe, for his third novel American Psycho. He was born in 1964.

The first book he published is called Less Than Zero, and will be the topic of this post.

As I write this, I am listening to a suicidal tendencies CD. Suicidal tendencies is a punk band, also from la. I only just discovered the band, and I have rented two CDs of them from the library. I appreciate the hardcore and “crossover” quality to them. Their lyrics are also good, although sometimes they can seem a little paranoid in what their singing about?

It is early evening on august 28th and I probably will go to bed soon. The weather outside is cloudy but not cold. (In fact, it`s been surprisingly warm since I got home from work. Not desert warm but, you know, like, warm.) On September 2nd, this post will be out.

I am drinking a coke and the music is streaming out of my laptop.

It is not windy here, but in ellis’s less than zero there is, at times, a lot of wind. Clay, the narrator/‘protagonist’ comments on the warm and hot desert wind multiple times. I wouldn`t say he “complains” about it – he simply states that it’s windy and move on. One time he is afraid the windows of his house may shatter because of the wind. Maybe that`s some kind of complaint? I wouldn`t say so.

The windows don’t shatter, or it hasn’t happened yet anyway. (I am still not completely done with the book, and even though this is my second read-through, I can’t remember if that will happen later.) When he’s not commenting on the wind, Clay spends his time going to parties with friends, doing dope, driving home early in the morning after one night stands with people he thinks he knows or remembers from a time past, and “hangs out” with his family. (he has two sisters, and his parents are divorced) He is a student at the university of new hanpshire and is home for Christmas break.

(as I wrote the sentence with people he thinks he knows or remembers from a time past I remember there are parts of the book written in italics. These parts, passages, are about a time before Clay’s house presumably was sold, and when his family presumably was still together. These parts, passages reveal that even if he doesn’t like to admit it, he still misses these times. Maybe they remind him of better and more stable times. Maybe in a way he is like Holden Caulfield in that he doesn’t want to grow old. Or maybe he just hates college and wants to go back to a simpler time before college.)

The novel is praised for being a so-called zeitgeist novel. It was published in 1985 when ellis was still attending college. He was twenty-one years old. How cool must that be, to have a debut novel out before you’re finished with school – you literally go from one to the next and just skip the whole “trying-to-make-it” phase. That’s what he did, it seems. (more on this in a later post, I think, when doing Lunar Park but I can’t promise anything.) He was “only” 21 when less than zero was published but the way less than zero is written makes him seem like a much more “experienced” writer. The way the overall language and narrative flow and work together makes it feel like Ellis knew what he was doing, knew where he wanted the book to go, knew how to get there and certainly knew how to stay true to his style the whole ride out.

Ellis himself claims to be a moralist (source: first sentence on his author page on goodreads, check it out) but there is an uncanny feeling of demoralized nihilism in less than zero. Short scenes, uneventful events, “deadpan” dialogue contribute to making the book seem “boring” to some readers, yet undeniably “deep” to others/ the same readers. This ambiguity is what makes the novel so interesting to readers through the years, and is a big part of what has made it survive for so long. The novel offers the fundamentals of what it means to be human in a capitalist society. It’s a study on what human values mean and its place in popular culture (such as music and film), as well as the role of drugs (as a means of escape) in the midst of all this. An escape from what? Ellis provides both the answers and the correlating questions.

It is now the next day, August 29th. I have finished editing some of what I wrote yesterday, and also wrote more new things in this review. The review is practically finished, even if I haven’t finished reading the book yet. (I finished the book earlier today, 2nd of september)

It’s been cloudy today and a little rain. Not as warm as yesterday. I had hot dogs and fries for dinner today, no Coke, and I drank more coffee than usual.

The rest of the beep is a no-brainer. I just have to actually read the books and write the texts – you know, do the actual work.

Sorry for the divergence. . . Back to less than zzero.

As the readers ride along with Clay (and his friends/(ex)girlfriend/dealer Trent, Daniel, Blair, Rip as well as other various characters who drift through the novel) from one Los Angeles party to another in a Lynchian fashion (Clay receives phone calls from strangers who spend three minutes in silence and then hang up), the way the novel is written grammatically makes them (the readers) sit constantly on the edge of their seats, waiting for something else to happen. The climax constantly keeps building up, but there never is a flood of release. In essence, less than 0 is a postmodern anticlimactic novel, reminiscent of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in prose-form. Postmodern – Ellis is breaking a writing convention when he is telling the reader what happens, merely presenting facts of the events of the story, without any unnecessary commenting of opinions or emotions of the implied narrator/author – and not “showing”. This leaves the reader to make her own decisions and interpretations. Is this what makes him a moralist? That when the reader can decide for herself whether a certain situation is good or bad, then the author can relax and chill in the background and go out and call himself a moralist? (You decide!)

Clay, the narrative/’protagonist’, plays a role in this reader-interpretation. He is cleverly named, as he is (like the rest of the major and minor characters in the novel) formless, featureless and the reader is allowed to form him into what shape or size she wants to, like actual clay. The narrative is as featureless as Clay and the other characters; there is no abundant emotions in the narrative. The narrative is narcotized, as numb as its drug-infused characters are.

(This abovementioned writing technique we see later on in his later fiction as well. It’s part of his overall “project”.  (– his own beep, perhaps. But probably not) They reappear, at least as far as I can remember at this moment, in Lunar Park and American Psycho. Part of this beep is to find out whether it could be said that Easton actually had/have a project of his own in his fiction. Maybe we can find out that he is a moralist after all.)

My suicidal tendencies CD is getting to its end, and so is this text. But there is at least one more thing I need to mention before this review/incoherent thought-spewing/word salad (?) of Less Than Zero ends. And it’s quite monumental in fact. (I wrote part of this next paragraph on a note-app on my phone this morning, waiting for the bus to work after having had troubles sleeping the night before thinking about what I should write) I mentioned Clay drives home in the early morning from (what I presume is) a one-night stand. On his way home he drives past a billboard that says DISAPPEAR HERE. Throughout the book, he occasionally returns to this phrase in his own head. In his thoughts, he also occasionally returns to what is part of the first sentence of the book: PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO MERGE. Put together, these two phrases remind the reader of where she is (HERE), what to do (DISAPPEAR) and what not to do (MERGE). It is a reminder that we exist here and now and there is nothing we can do about it except try to move on, disappear into everyday life. It’s a reminder of who we are, and who the people of the book are. Like an echo of the title of the book itself, we are less than zero.

~ milk

 

 

“UFO In Her Eyes”, by Xiaolu Guo

UFO In Her Eyes, by Xiaolu Guo.

Around a month ago, I read a book called A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by a Chinese author who I`d not heard of before, Xiaolu Guo. Xiaolu Guo is a Chinese novelist, essayist and filmmaker who, born in 1973, belongs to a wave of Chinese writers and artists known as the ‘Chinese Post 70’s Generation’. It is a term to denote artists who were born in the 1970’s, and who grew up in China after Chairman Mao’s death in 1976.  It is also known as the ‘Post Cultural Revolution Generation’, or ‘Post Maoism Generation’.

One of the trademarks of this movement is, compared to the previous generations, they were allowed to immerse themselves in a more liberal way of writing, not limiting themselves to the desires of the Communist party.

What I especially liked about Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, was her ability to capture a meeting between two entirely different cultures and languages. She shows how one (seemingly) universal, yet (undeniably) hard to define concept as love is able to connect people. Another aspect I immediately became interested in, is how in the book, Guo illustrates how important language is to our understanding and interaction with the world, culture and emotions around us. (I wrote a post on this book, so if you want to read a somewhat more elaborate explanation of this, I recommend you read it!)

After finishing A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, I wanted to check out more of Guo’s authorship. After some research, I find out that she has written eight novels, where the two first publications are written in Chinese, while (as I can understand) the remaining five are written in English. UFO In Her Eyes was published in 2009, and one of the novels written in English – i.e not gone through an English translation from the original.

In UFO In Her Eyes, The National Security and Intelligence Bureau are investigating an event in which Kwok Yun, a 37 year old illiterate peasant, has been reported to witness something peculiar in the sky; a spinning metal plate. Agents from the bureau interview the inhabitants of Silver Hill Village, the place where the sighting happened, individually. They encounter different personalities, who all have their own role in the pre-Industrialized village; butcher Ling Zhu, stall holder Kwok Zidong, tea farmer Fu Qiang and rice farmer Wong Jing, to name a few. They all have different opinions on the village’s political status quo, the social situation in China in general, of the circumstances surrounding Yun’s strange UFO sightings, and whether there might be any connection between the three.

Kwok Yun is also under investigation for having assisted an unknown Western traveler she sees immediately following the UFO sighting. The middle-aged white man is laying on the side of the road, clearly in need of help. It turns out he is bitten by a snake, and Yun takes him with her to her home in order to tend to his wounds. They are unable to communicate verbally to each other, and they know nothing about one other – except she is wearing a T-shirt with Western writing on it that the man is able to understand.

A few months later, the village receives a letter from this man, sent from his homeland of America. In the letter, he explains who he is and why he was in Silver Hill Village in the first place. He also shows his gratitude of being helped by the stranger Yun, by including a check of 2000$USD, a considerable amount of money for the villagers.

This sparks a debate between the inhabitants; how should they spend their newly acquired money?

UFO In Her Eyes is a light, humorous and most of all satirical take on China’s problematic social history, focusing especially on Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. While the novel takes the paranoia, and real-world effects, of surveillance by Big Brother seriously, it is also able to depict the inhabitants of the village as down-to-earth people with a self-reflection over their situations. While being isolated from the benefits of living in a big city – such as education and health care – they do not come across as naïve or unaware of their own social misfortunes. But implying that the village inhabitants have reasons to be socially misfortunate would be incorrect and even condescending of me. What I`m trying to point out is that, even though the agents from The National Security and Intelligence Bureau give off an aura that demands respect and formality, the villagers are able to meet them, talk to them, and recognize them as one of their own, and they are not afraid of speaking harshly or humorously to them. The villagers do not try to glorify their situation, either. They speak their minds and share their opinions and experiences without being afraid of saying negative things about Big Brother.

It is the interaction between the villagers and the agents that makes UFO In Her Eyes delightfully satirical. Knowing far too little about the subject, I have nevertheless made a tentative conclusion as to what might be the reason for Guo to be able to write a story like this. I believe the answer is because she belongs to the before mentioned ‘China Post 70’s Generation’. The writers belonging to this generation did not feel the direct effects of Mao`s restrictive China, politically, socially or culturally. Maybe Guo, and the other writers, was able to be more liberal and non-restrictive with her writing, and her filmmaking, than what the generation of artist prior to her would have been.

And so I end this review in much the same manner as my last one of Guo`s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, namely by expressing my desire to read more of the author. In order to approach an answer to my musings, I would like to read her latest novel Once Upon a Time In The East, a chronicle of memoirs, or her 2004 autobiographical novel Village of Stone. Both these books discuss her childhood, what is was like growing up in China, and eventually moving to the West, and all the changes this might imply for her.

UFO In Her Eyes has also been made into a film, released in 2011 and directed by Guo herself.

(Actually, before I leave you alone, I encourage you to read this (very short) interview of Guo from 2004 in connection to the publication of Village of Stone, that I found on her website: http://www.guoxiaolu.com/REV_WR_VS__secret_life_coral.htm. It tackles a little of what I`ve pondered in this text.)

Ok, bye.

~ milk

“A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers”, by Xiaolu Guo

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo.

If one wishes to learn a new language, one does not only get insight into a new way of speaking through cramming glossary, rules of grammar or correct spelling. One also learns a new way of seeing and perceiving reality. This is one theme Xiaolu Guo discusses in her book A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

Xiaolu Guo is a writer and moviemaker, born in a fishing village in China. Her literary and cinematic project takes it’s basis on her own experiences and travels from growing up in a small Chinese village, to becoming an established writer in a foreign language. She explores alienation – how young people go forward in unknown territories and situations, and how they go about acquiring new knowledge.

The book A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is originally written in English. (Keep a look-out on this blog for my forthcoming post about her book UFO In Her Eyes for closer information on how Guo has written her other books.) I read this book in a Norwegian translation.

We follow protagonist Zuang Xiao Qiao moving from the village she comes from in China, to London, where she is going to learn English. We start as Zhuang: as beginners. We are beginners in the West, and understand the things around us, the culture and society as Zhuang immediately does. This is expressed, among other ways, through language. At the beginning of the book, the language is simple, the sentences short. However, as she learns the language better, the text’s language also becomes more advanced.  Every chapter deals with a new word, or a term – as if the book was a dictionary – and this word is the theme for that chapter. We learn how Zhuang is used to using the term in China, and how this is different from in London.

Not so long after she moves to London, Zhuang meets a man – twice her age, ex-punker, vegetarian – who she falls in love with. The meeting between the two, and their interactions together throughout the book, is Guo’s main tool in her project to highlight the biggest cultural differences between the East and the West’s perception of the world. One way in which Guo mirrors these, is how Zhuang consistently introduces herself to this nameless man and his friend, as simply ‘Z’. ‘Z’, and only ‘Z’, allegedly because she believes her real, full name would be too complicated for naïve English speakers to pronounce, or even to remember.

The book is also very much about differences, and the acceptance of differences, on an individual level. One example of this, is Z’s reaction to the man’s vegetarianism. She is unable to understand how he is capable of obtaining proper nutrients without eating meat. She is served self-grown greens and vegetables, while she misses the chicken and pork from home.

One of the first things that hit me in the reading of this book, was the author’s way of depicting how cultural differences – as well as individual perceptions of reality – is expressed through language. One country’s language is immensely important, not only when communicating with another person, but also when it comes to understanding the very way of thinking, and the philosophy of existence, belonging to another culture. Should we connect this to something abstract and difficult to define as the idea of love, then we have a foundation for a very interesting conversation – and Xiaolu Guo handles it masterfully. The book is above all an educational one: we get the opportunity to put ourselves in a completely different culture on an individual level. It is one thing to learn about a different culture in a huge and comprehensive lexicon – and quite a different thing to be placed in a simple, innocent destiny (as with Z’s).

My opinion is that in the work to achieve a bigger acceptance of a growing universal, social diversity, it’s important to try to widen one’s cultural horizon, put ourselves in foreign shoes, and question the most obvious of things. This book offers a step in the right direction. I look forward to reading more from Xiaolu Guo!

~milk

`Fremmedordbok for kjærester´av Xiaolu Guo

Fremmedordbok for kjærester av Xiaolu Guo

Ønsker man å lære seg et nytt språk, får man ikke bare innsikt i en ny måte å snakke på gjennom pugging av gloser, grammatikkregler og rettskriving. Man lærer seg dessuten etter hvert en ny måte å se og oppfatte virkeligheten på. Dette er et tema forfatteren Xiaolu Guo tar opp i boken Fremmedordbok for kjærester.

Xiaolu Guo er forfatter og filmskaper som kommer fra en fiskelandsby i Kina. Hennes litterære og filmatiske prosjekt tar utgangspunkt i hennes egne erfaringer og reiser fra å vokse opp i en liten kinesisk landsby, til å bli en etablert forfatter på et fremmedspråk. Hun utforsker hvordan unge mennesker går frem i ukjente områder og situasjoner, hvordan de tillærer seg nye kunnskaper i en ny hverdag.

Boken Fremmedordbok for kjærester er originalt skrevet på engelsk, med tittelen A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. Jeg leste en norsk oversatt utgave.

Vi følger hovedpersonen Zhuang Xiao Qiao, som flytter fra landsbyen hun kommer fra i Kina, til London hvor hun skal lære seg engelsk. Vi starter som Zhuang; som nybegynnere. Vi er nybegynnere i den Vestlige verdenen og forstår tingene rundt oss, kulturen og samfunnet som Zhuang, i hennes møte, umiddelbart forstår dem. Dette kommer til uttrykk blant annet i språket. I begynnelsen av boken er språket enkelt, setningene korte. Men etter hvert som hun lærer seg språket bedre, blir også tekstens språk mer avansert. Hvert kapittel tar for seg et fremmedord, som om boken var en ordbok, og dette ordet blir tematisert gjennom kapittelet. Vi får lese om hvordan Zhuang er vant med å bruke begrepet fra Kina, og hvordan dette er forskjellig fra i London.

Ikke så lenge etter at hun flyttet til London, møter Zhuang en mann – dobbelt så gammel som henne, eks-pønker, vegetarianer – som hun forelsker seg i. Møtet mellom disse to, og samhandlingen deres gjennom boken, er Guos hovedverktøy i sitt ærend å sette lys på de største kulturforskjellene mellom Østens og Vestens virkelighetsoppfatning. En måte Guo speiler disse forskjellene på, er hvordan Zhuang introduserer seg selv som ‘Z’ til denne navnløse mannen, og hans venner. Kun ‘Z’, og ikke noe mer, angivelig for hun tror hennes fulle navn vil være for komplisert for naive engelsktalende mennesker å huske eller uttale.

Boken handler om forskjeller på individplan. Et eksempel er Zs reaksjon på mannens vegetarianisme. Hun kan ikke forstå hvordan han skal kunne få i seg ordentlig næring uten å spise kjøtt. Hun blir servert selvgrodde grønnsaker, mens hun lengter hjem til sitt kylling, – og svinekjøtt.

Noe av det første som slo meg i lesningen av denne boken, var forfatterens måte å skildre hvordan kulturforskjeller – så vel som individers virkelighetsforståelse – kommer til uttrykk gjennom språket. Et lands, en kulturs språk er uvurderlig viktig ikke bare når det kommer til å kunne kommunisere hverdagslig med en annen person; språket er dessuten viktig om en ønsker å forstå selve tenkemåten og tilværelsesfilosofien til en annen kultur. Kobler man dette opp mot noe så abstrakt og vanskelig definerbart som kjærlighet, har man et interessant utgangspunkt for enhver diskusjon, noe Guo med denne boken utfører på mesterlig vis. Boken er dessuten en lærerik en – vi får muligheten å sette oss inn i en totalt annerledes kultur på et individ, og – hverdagsplan. En ting er å lese om det i en stor, omfattende faktabok, en annen å forsøke å sette oss inn i en enkel, uskyldig, skjebne.

Jeg mener at i arbeidet med å oppnå en større aksept av et voksende universelt mangfold, må man forsøke å utvide den kulturelle horisonten vår, sette oss inn i andre måter å forstå hverdagen på enn den vi er vant med, og sette spørsmålstegn det vi ser på som de mest åpenbare tingene. Denne boken tilbyr et skritt i riktig retning. Jeg gleder meg til å få muligheten til å lese mer av Xiaolu Guo!

~milk

“The Accursed”, by Joyce Carol Oates

 

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates        

the-accursed

In one of the review-excerpts of Joyce Carol Oates’s novel The Accursed (2013) featured in the first pages of my edition, Stephen King wrote: “Joyce Carol Oates has written what may be the world’s first postmodern Gothic novel”. This intrigued me greatly, as I am very much interested in both the Gothic and the postmodern – so, offered a novel with both these elements, I set out to read it with a tentative question posed in my mind; What makes this novel postmodern and Gothic?

Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed include many of the tropes one finds in Gothic literature: specters and ghosts, murderers and ‘cannibal sandwiches’, overworked scholars and professors, mysterious and inexplicable events and landscapes, and a frame narrative to pack it all in. The frame narrative is important, as, while it is not a wholly original turn of the Gothic, it gives the reader a sense of reading a document ‘lost and found’, and of h**self being a part of a professorial research team devoted to investigate an age old enigma yet to be solved, something that is, I dare say, inherently Gothic. (We find this in other Gothic and horror writers as well, best showcased in Lovecraft, for example.)

The enigma to be solved in The Accursed occurs at a wedding between ‘part-retired Presbyterian minister’ Dr. Winslow Slade’s granddaughter Annabel Slade and Lieutenant Dabney Bayard in Princeton, New Jersey – June 4th, 1905. A few weeks before the wedding, Princeton has been visited by ‘a lawyer from Carnahan, Virginia, with an association with the Presbyterian Church’, a man rather malicious named Axson Mayte. There is, however, something odd about Axson, something that everyone who meets him prior to the wedding picks up on, but are not entirely able to accurately pinpoint. Through the investigating narrative of scholar M.W. van Dyck II we get to read different academics and historians perspective of Mayte, but the most consensual understanding is that Mayte is the first public manifestation of the Curse. Broadly explained, Mayte shows up at the church door during the wedding and, variously perceived by the invited guests as re-told by van Dyck II, inexplicably draws Slade to him before they disappear like ghosts, “as if into thin air”.

During my master’s course The Gothic Imagination, I wrote an essay about how the existence of two different, yet parallel spaces in Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967)  – the real, physical space of Rosemary’s reality, and the abstract, metaphysical space of her dreams – combine in order to create a new kind of space; a transcendental reality, if you will. Impossible consequences manifest themselves in her real life – impossible because they are consequences only of something she claims to have dreamed, and not of something from her physical reality. (As I look back and browse the earlier blogposts on this site, I become aware that, for some reason, this is something that greatly amuses and interests me.) Joyce Carol Oates achieves some of the same effects in this novel, too. Through hard work, the scholar who narrates the tale (again, his name is M.W. van Dyck II) has been able to get a hold of Annabel Slade’s own journal where she has written about the time spent with Axson Mayte, after disappearing from her own wedding. Without spoiling too much, I would like to simply point out that the technique used in Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby here discussed, is also used by Oates in this segment of the novel. Mayte takes her to a place that does not necessarily exist in ‘real life’ – somewhere called ‘the Bog Kingdom’. What happens in this Kingdom is incomprehensible for both Slade and van Dyck II as they’re happening – but once we return to the ‘real world’ we see that the consequences from these events nevertheless manifest themselves in the ‘real world’ – so they must have happened, whether in this world, or the next.

(There is, additionally, another, even more striking example of this, one that shows Oates’s borrowing of this technique in a much clearer light. But telling you that would be a spoiler of significant magnitude, so much so that I will refrain from writing it here.) (You’ll have to read the book and see if you can spot it. (It’s towards the end of the book.))

Another turn of the Gothic in The Accursed is the fact that the supernatural (the ghost), or in this specific case, the Curse, is never always the same person – or ‘thing’. As in all good and solid Gothic fiction, the supernatural evil is capable of taking on different shapes – the Curse is essentially a shapeshifter. That is to say Axson Mayte is not the ‘only’ manifestation of the Curse. But is he the ‘pure’ Curse – the Master –  or just a deviant of it – a servant? Or maybe there does not exist such a hierarchy of evil, and Mayte is just one of several ways in which the Curse can be allowed to stay in Princeton. Whatever the answers to this, the result is more or less the same; We can never be sure who (or where) the primary source of the Curse is. We, the readers, become paranoid. Even the characters we think we know well may be part of it. We never know where – or to whom – the Curse might strike next.

What is fresh and something I haven’t encountered before, in Oates’s Gothic novel, is the inclusion of a (rather) in-depth discussion and study of American socialist history. The readers get to follow Upton Sinclair’s revolutionary ambition about equality founded on Nietzschean philosophy, his life situation during the writing of his The Jungle, and his appreciation of fellow American socialist Jack London. On one side, I think this socialist, revolutionary aspect of the novel, while particularly interesting and engaging to me in and of itself, is ill fitted in the overall Gothic, ghost/’vampire’ atmosphere of The Accursed. I do appreciate, however, the parallel it draws up at the end of the tale, and the resulting effect of it is a trope very much belonging to the Gothic; Using Sinclair’s hard-working discipline, his vigorous vegetarianism and his admiration of London, and by raising the expectations, hopes and dreams of Sinclair (as well as the reader), of the just cause (for then only to shatter them again toward the end), Oates is able to intriguingly question the validity and power of personal ambitions, dreams and passions. So, by looking at it (‘it’, i.e, the inclusion of ‘a (rather) in-depth discussion and study of American socialist history’) like this, it is more understandably relevant in The Accursed, as the resulting effect does fit rather well in a Gothic setting.

Although the novel is rather long (my edition is 667 pages), with some passages in it that made me personally question the relevancy of this particular topic to the whole of the novel, I would certainly recommend experiencing it. The passages in questions might not strikingly or obviously fit the rest of the Gothic atmosphere of the novel, but after having finished them all and been able to put them together in the bigger picture, I realize what Oates is doing is rather innovative, creative and, ultimately, transgressive (which, keep in mind, is what the Gothic ultimately is all about.)

Stephen King was right when writing of The Accursed that it: “may be the world’s first postmodern Gothic novel.”

~ milk

 

 

 

 

 

“Seveneves”, by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

seveneves

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson’s newest science fiction novel published in 2015, clocks in at about 860 pages and presents interesting and hopeful ways in which humanity might preserve itself after an apocalyptic event. It is a roller coaster of a science fiction novel – a firework – and there are several reasons for that. The topics it deals with – ranging from possibilities in scientific engineering, political conflict, as well as ethics in genetics (genethics?) – is one. Stephenson looks at the various ways in which humanity might deal with an astrophysical event that most likely will not happen in real life, but is still not completely impossible.

The narrative atmosphere kicks in at the very beginning – as does the plot; in the novel’s first sentence, the moon inexplicably blows up. People on Earth – scientists, politicians, doctors, cab drivers, royal families, Buddhists monks alike – as well as on the International Space Station – engineers working on projects not associated with the moon’s blowing up – all either accidentally witness the event in real life, or understand what has happened after seeing the remains of the moon swirling in space. They all give their own personal, immediate opinion on the matter. At first it seems like a beautiful thing to look at but after a little investigation it turns out the consequences are far more dire than what the everyman might have imagined.

The reader gets to follow a group of highly regarded smart people as they investigate and try to understand the reasons for the moon blowing up. One of these personalities is astronomer Dubois Jerome Xavier Harris, Ph.D., who works from Earth to make calculations on what might be expected to happen in the coming years, and how the people on Earth should prepare. On the International Space Station, the readers meet Ivy Xiao and Dinah MacQuarie, who both get discharged from their projects they were busy with before the event in order to focus all their energy on teaming up with astronomers and other scientists down on Earth with finding answers.

But these three aren’t the only ones. By far. They might have the most important roles at the beginning of the book, but as events unfold, more and more characters are introduced. Don’t get me wrong; by no means does Stephenson utilize too many, or at any point use irrelevant characters in the narrative. What I was personally surprised to find out, was that the people I thought was the protagonists, not necessarily was. And this worked the other way as well; characters introduced at the end of one chapter might have a bigger importance than what I originally thought. By the end of the book it was almost like reading a completely different novel. (But only almost.)

The use of literary characters in Seveneves is another element that makes it a firework of a science fiction novel.

Science fiction, to me, is the ultimate transgression. No other literary genre walks the fine line between what is real and what is imaginary. Only in science fiction is an author able to play with the unlikely-but-not-impossible. It is in science fiction people can create what today seems laughable but might be true tomorrow. Stephenson is no exception. He manages this incredibly well, sketching out possibilities not only associated with scientific engineering, but with the dilemmas accompanying taking control of the use of human genetics as well. The moon blows up in the first sentence; but other problems and consequences arise that I will not explain as it would be a spoiler (read the book!), but what I need to say in order to make my next praise is that humans need to find a new way of living if they are to persevere. It’s an “ultimately uplifting” (Financial Times, on the back of the book) story, I agree. But the meat of it does not strike me as uplifting. Nor is it directly pessimistic. There is a narrative distance in the way the narrator conveys the events, and the characters in the novel all seem to be very realistic and not very Romantic (with a capital R), nor nostalgic about what they all eventually know what will happen. They have problems, complications and troubles they need to deal with, and that’s what they do.

Stephenson has no problems relating these troubles and complications. It is almost like reading an architectural blue print of a planned building. Not that I ever have read one of those. But the point is, as I was reading the various structures Stephenson imagines, I was lost in my thoughts, trying to envision them as I read. Which is something any author of any fiction should strive to make the reader do.

However, this presents a potential problem in the narrative. The finely written descriptions of the various structures sometimes come in the way of plot advancement. This is not only evident in parts where structures are being described, but does also become true when explaining the history of the plot, or of the various new characters that come into play. To me, this could at times be distracting. When I was focused on the plot, and wanted it to proceed forward, Stephenson was busy accounting for, and explaining, the nature of something periphery to the immediate narrative action. That being said, I was never bored while reading Seveneves. In fact, on the contrary; Stephenson’s narrative power never dulls, and he keeps it interesting even in places where the plot might have been put on pause in order for other elements to be conveyed. The power in his storytelling is so consistent, that – as I mentioned earlier – it keeps true to itself from the very first sentence to the last part of the book. (The part that I felt like belonged to a different book completely. Because of the narrative power – among other reasons, of course -, I knew I was still reading the same book, even if it felt like a different one.)

A sidenote: As I was writing this post, it came to my attention that Skydance Media has hired William Broyles Jr., Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to adapt the novel into a feature length film. Very cool news, I will most definitely be looking out for more news on this!

 

~ milk