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Not a Torchwood post. Shocking, I know. I'm surprised, too.

Books. Which I read. No, seriously. (Jan. & Feb.-ish)

Feridun Zaimoglu, Leyla

Liked it a lot, although I was perhaps more seduced by the prose than by the story itself, and somehow, after more than a month I find that not too much remains that I want to write about...

Perihan Mağden, The Messenger Boy Murders

Strangest book I've read in a long while. Charming, memorable, couldn't make sense of it at all. I'm not sure there is one. A bit surreal, dream-like. But I like her writing and wish more of her work was translated.

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

Absolutely fascinating.

Picked up entirely by chance from a half-price box. When I'm picking out new books I usually read the first paragraph, and then either I'm captivated, or they're discarded again; Shallow? Probably. In this case -- mostly, I guess, due to the lengthy introduction -- I didn't open it on the first chapter (which probably wouldn't have induced me to buy it), but the second: It's spring. From beyond the Green Wall, from the wild plains out of sight in the distance, the wind is carrying the honeyed yellow pollen of some flower. This sweet pollen dries the lips -- you keep running your tongue over them --and every woman you meet (and every man, too, of course) must have these sweet lips. This somewhat interferes with logical thought. Bought it.

It was written in the 1920ies as a dystopia built on communist Russia, but it's timelessly interesting and not bound to the historic circumstances of its creation. It's not about tyranny for power's sake: even when we (and the narrator) finally meet OneState's ruler, the Benefactor, that isn't brought up; instead their discussion verges on the theological. What's at the heart of the book is the fallacy that there can a be a 'final number', the end of all development, that we can arrive at a perfect state of being, or society, from which no more change is necessary or desirable (and it's a bit ironic the last time this was at least implicitly claimed was after the fall of communism); as well as the logical consequence of the belief that it is possible to ordain and guarantee 100 percent happiness by removing uncertainty, chance, choice, pain, and ultimately, imagination: erasing everything that makes us human to begin with. Zamyatin repeatedly uses the image of history having come full circle from the ideal of biblical paradise to the OneState's perfect control over all its citizens: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. What is it that people beg for, dream about, torment themselves for, from the time they leave the swaddling clothes? They want someone to tell them, once and for all, what happiness is -- and then to bind them to that happiness with a chain. What is it we're doing right now, if not that? The ancient dream of paradise...

And it's beautifully written. (And though I can't compare -- yet? can I say 'yet' already after two lessons of Russian? probably incautiously presumptuous... --, the translator must have done a very good job) Lovely, lovely language, very original, and often breathtakingly beautiful descriptions, since everything in the city where the story plays out, including buildings is made of some transparent, glass-like material.

Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil, Verbotene Lieben

Turkish novel originally from 1900 which I picked up because of a very favourable SPIEGEL review; Interesting psychology and characters, very fin de siècle. But on the whole too exclusively driven by romantic relationships to really draw me in.

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover

::sigh:: I do like his writing; the prose is beautiful, and just what I'd enjoy under different circumstances. And I liked Connie in the beginning, I really did. I understand her longing for something purer, simpler, more 'real' than 'the life of the mind', the emptiness of words with no emotions behind them. (I can't really define it, I doubt for me it'd be sex, but I understand the longing for it.)

But even early in the conservative streak, the constant looking back and yearning for a better, simpler, pre-industrial England was a bit too insistent for my taste. Again, this is something I can understand and even sympathise with on an emotional level, but from a historical point of view I think it's a dangerous way of thinking, because it idealises something that never was ideal and simplifies things that were never simple, which tends to lead to black and white thinking and oversimplifying, too-easy solutions to complex problems.

And the further Connie and Mellors's relationship progresses, the more they find this ideal in each other, the stronger and more outspoken their rejection of everyone and everything that does not conform to their vision becomes. She's the only real woman, he's the only real man, theirs the only valid experience. Everyone else is dead, not alive, not worth considering. Ultimately not worth living.

This is brought to the logical conclusion in the last meeting between them, when faced with the obstacles of Connie's husband and his own wife Mellors exclaims:

Yea, even the tenderest thing you could do to them, perhaps, would be to give them death. They can't live! They only frustrate life. Their souls are awful inside them. Death ought to be sweet to them. And I ought to be allowed to shoot them.

And right there the book lost me, and I lost every sympathy I might still have had for the two of them. No one should be allowed to decide the worth of another's life; or their right to it.

For all the (at the time) shockingly explicit sex the spirit of the book is pretty reactionary.

And I'll just ignore Lawrence's strange views of female sexuality and Mellors's shocking out-of-nowhere rabid hatred of lesbian women.

The biography I own says nothing about whether E. M. Forster ever showed Maurice to Lawrence (but speaks of a somewhat strained relationship), but I think he must have, or else some mutual friend passed on the book, or gave a very detailed account of the plot. If it were just the game-keeper thing, I'd put it down to a common back-to-nature sexual fantasy at that time, but there are just too many similarities for it to be entirely coincidental. In many ways Lady Chatterley is simply a heterosexual (and generally more explicitly sexual), modernised ('The far ends of the Earth are not five minutes from Charing Cross, nowadays' seems very much a response to Forster's idealistic, escapist ending, which 'belongs to an England where it was still possible to get lost.') version of Maurice.

Connie trapped in a sexless (to this end, Clifford's paralysis, because an arbitrarily non-sexual marriage would have been a bit unbelievable) and emotionally increasingly sterile marriage to an intellectual, a man for whom the life of the mind is much more important than the life of the body; the class issues mixed with the sexual theme; Clive's trades philosophy for politics, Clifford gives up writing and involves himself in the coal mining business. It's his marriage to Anne that marks Clive's descent into conventionality and hypocrisy, just as Clifford's increasingly dependent relationship with his nurse, Mrs. Bolton, is the start of his mental decline until he almost regresses to mental and emotional childhood.

(And speaking of which, I think I might have liked the book better if one could have had a little more sympathy for Clifford. Forster quite candidly admitted: Henceforth Clive deteriorates, and so perhaps does my treatment of him. He has annoyed me. I may nag at him overmuch, stress his aridity and political pretensions and the thinning of his hair, nothing he or his wife or his mother does is ever right. [...] it may be unfair on Clive who intends no evil [...]. Lawrence does the same, I think, but on the whole he's more brutal and the result more unpleasant, especially since Clifford's injury is none of his fault. Must the reader be made to hate, and in the end despise, Clifford to be sympathetic to Connie?)

Mellors standing outside the house at night, trying to figure out whether there was a way to get to Connie's room (and failing, though lack of a helpful ladder)... And the final confrontations between Maurice and Clive and Clifford and Connie respectively, the shocked and horrified reactions: Clive sprang up with a whimper of disgust, Clifford -- if he could have sprung out of his chair, he would have done so. This can't all be coincidence.

Vladimir Sorokin, Der Tag des Opritschniks

Shocking. Fascinating. By turns horrifying and funny. I'm not that intimately familiar with what is currently happening in Russia, so I there may be more specific jabs and bits of satire that I've missed, but if so it didn't take away anything from the book. I'm not usually a fan of first person narrators, but in this case it's the perfect choice: the book is only 220 pages long and covers not even 24 hours, but by the end of it you're thoroughly immersed, and while the brutality and perversion are still shocking on one level, one has already started to see them through the narrator's eyes and regard them as something almost normal, and it's frightening to experience how fast this happens... Definitely recommended, and I'd be very much tempted to immediately check out more of his work if I hadn't already such a very long backlog reading list...


solitary summer

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