Frankly, I found Henry James’ prose unbearable, the story inconsequential — more confusing that eerie – and the characters, despite the winks to my favourite topic of hysterical women, rather unbelievable, although the sentences in these 160 really annoying pages made me learn to control my breath as Neil and I read the whole book aloud to each other, thinking as we did that it would fit Halloween and not knowing that our reading would be so extended beyond the holiday of the dead.
Writing Jamesian sentences is hard and, I must say, the effort does not pay of.
Bruce Fink is my absolutely favourite Lacanian writer. His texts have not only helped me understand Lacan, but find enjoyment in Lacan’s language, which is not at all easy. He is also the translator of Lacan’s Ecrits and Seminar XX. He has gone through the pain to allow us to read these wonderful texts. In 2010, as I was submitting my PhD, he published the first adventures of Inspector Canal. I am an avid detective story reader, as anyone perusing these reviews will no doubt notice, so my favourite analyst publishing a collection of three Lacanian detective stories had the momentousness of a clear eclipse. There was a cosmic alignment about it and despite some reservations, I gave it 4 stars. This was mainly due to the first story, The Case of the Lost Object, which explained desire so well. When Death by Analysis: Another Adventure From Inspector Canal’s New York Agency was published, I left everything I was reading to enjoy it.
Despite what it is trying to achieve, which I acknowledge is complex and difficult, the novella is not very good. The case is trite, unsophisticated and circles around an issue that is not perhaps of interest to most readers: the internal wars in psychoanalytic institutes. The book offers some insights on the workings of neurotics and psychotics and I think this is where its strength lies. Sadly, though, is is glossed over, gone through it too quickly, unexplained and unexplored. A shame. Canal is annoying; his Scarlet Pimpernel ability to dress up quite unbelievable. The rest of the characters have impossible, silly names which are just there for the purposes of a little not-so-free association. I loved the French introjections and word plays, but, then, I speak French and I felt the joke was lovingly personal. I also learned many new words (vulpine, mondegreen) but I do that with most books anyway. It read like a draft, a draft of something that might have become a very interesting novel, but we only got a draft of it. It does not have the wonderful circularity and analytic insight of the Lost Object, and that is precisely what it is missing. I will very possibly read any further adventures of Canal, but that is more my own need for completion and my commitment to the genre, not to the slightly jejune Quesjac Canal, even if …
psychoanalysis is the fine art of responding to questions without answering them. p. 143
I cannot say I enjoyed reading this. It has the characteristic Dickens pace, the interesting details, but when he is describing Paris pre-1789, he is like fish out of water. Yet, the last third of the book, the period of La Terreur where all the threads tie together, is absolute genius. It is elegant, dramatic, incredibly orchestrated. For example, towards the end, there is an encounter between two women in an empty flat, assessing each other, mortal enemies. One speaks French, the other English and without knowing the other’s language, they understand the threat they represent, the moral, political and national opposition they are to each other. That part is phenomenal to read. The first two thirds of the book, of course, set this up. I know this is necessary, but these parts are too unconnected, too bitty, too difficult to understand in terms of narrative. The book is a perfect example of why you should bear with it sometimes, complete its reading and assess it in its entirety. This story needed the drama of the guillotine, the true protagonist of the novel. For the feeling it left me with, and for those last wonderful passages, it gets more than the 2/3 of 5* it deserves.
After the difficulty she must have experienced in writing her first graphic novel memoir (Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic), the fact that Alison Bechdel goes back to explore her Oedipal relation to her mother is no less than a Sisyphean feat. The novel is heartbreaking, deep, yet vulnerable as, at the same time as her mother, she explores her own writing of Fun Home and her relation to D. W. Winnicott, Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich. Those are three writers I either don’t know very well or at all, and she made me explore their ideas in a more systematic way.
Alison’s mother, also a writer, tells her, once her book about her dad is published, that no good writing comes from an engagement with the self. Walt Whitman, her favourite poet, never wrote with ‘I’ and yet composed some of the most wonderful transcendental works. The gulf between her (do we ever get to know her name?) and Alison is unsurmountable. Winnocott’s list of why would a woman hate her baby, however, makes it more manageable. Mothers and daughters make for a complicated relation. If you are a daughter, or a mother of a daughter, I am sure you have your own comic drama to tell.
This graphic novel has a lot to it (in the references, in the drawings, also by Bechdel) and, in the personal, it is political and universal.
So, after reading Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette? I found it very hard to continue reading my current list — The Rainbow, A Tale of Two Cities , Du côté de chez Swann — because I did not find them energetic enough (especially the Rainbow, which I am on the brink of ditching). Neil suggested I try David Peace, as I really enjoyed the TV adaptation of Red Riding. I also wanted to experience his style, marked by repetition, quick fire dialogue and non-resolutions. My copy of 1974 has an endorsement from the Independent on Sunday: ‘Breathless, extravagant and ultra-violent’. For once, this is spot on, especially if I simply take ‘extravagant’ to mean lacking in restraint. I want to read the rest of the quartet, of course, but I need to pace myself. This book is of the stuff from which obsessions are made. It helps that I know the terrain; I know Yorkshire, and it is very well portrayed, especially in language. I read it with an accent. The story takes no prisoners, a little like the TV show The Wire: you consider the worst that could happen and something even worse develops in the narrative, leaving you drained of your blood. This is the North, where they do what they want to, and I witnessed it with eyes half-closed in disbelief and disgust. I did most certainly find energetic writing, and in my favourite genre too.
READING AS ART. TURNING THE PAGES OFVICTORIAN PSYCHOLOGY
Convened by Sharon Kivland and Mura Ghosh
SENATE HOUSE LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY of LONDON
Malet Street, London
TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER 2013
5.45 p.m. for a 6 o’clock start
and ending some time around 7.45 p.m.
Evoking a wind that blows through a library, opening books, prompting unexpected stories, this evening of readings, art, and performances engages with Victorian psychology from the library’s collections
Debbie Booth, Kate Briggs, Jan Campbell, Jamie Crewe, Vincent Dachy & Bridget MacDonald, Karen David, Annabel Frearson, Rachel Garfield & Janet Hodgson, Chris Gibson, Laura Gonzalez, Jane Harris, Peter Jaeger, Kreider + O’Leary & Paul Bavister, Catherine Linton, Hayley Lock, Sophie Loss, John McDowall, Forbes Morlock, Hester Reeve, Naomi Segal, Sarah Sparkes, Holly Stevenson, Julie Westerman, Sarah Wood, Gillian Wylde
This event is free but places are limited and must be booked through the Bloomsbury Festival.
What a lovely book this is! I devoured it with enjoyment. I don’t remember reading more energetic prose than Maria Semple’s. The story is wonderfully woven and the satire of American upper middle class is spot on. I never thought I would like a book like this but its writing and its rhythm lifted me up, made it compulsory to read, pleasurable, also thoughtful. This is not poetic writing, but she does not set to do that. I think what I like most about the book is that it fulfils the promises it makes and delivers something extra in the form of lovely twists and settings. I did like Antarctica and I did learn something about it. It is such a satisfying read. The only reason why it does not get the full 5* is due to the fact that I am not sure how it would fare re-reading — my criteria for the top marks. I may need to try in a few months and review my rating. I very much wish to forget all about its details, or misremember, so I can encounter it anew.
I read Kafka On The Shore while in Japan. Without this context, I would not have known what pachinkos are, the significance of Lawson’s, the true smell of ramen or a sense of the geography of the country. I did enjoy the book, at least for the most part. While I liked the parallel stories (like Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World), I was not so keen on the teenage angst angle (like in Norwegian Wood). I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that does not grab me about this novel: perhaps the translation, perhaps that some aspects of the story that are too drawn out, perhaps the unlikeliness of some of its magical realism, perhaps the fact that it does not quite follow through (he could have done more with the Oedipal angle, I think). Murakami sets out on an ambitious enterprise and he has a very well defined style of his own. These two things are very worthy but somehow the whole does not deliver. It might also be a boys’ book, from the high praise of some of my male friends …
One day in my young youth at high summer, lolling with my lovely companions upon a haystack, I found a needle. (The Portobello Road)
There are so many stories I loved in this collection … I began reading it while also reading Martin Stannard’s biography of Spark. When things were not looking very good for her, she won a prize with ‘The Seraph and the Zambesi’, the first story I read in this book. The experience of reading it reminded me of the contemplation of a Fra Angelico painting now; there was something eternal, maybe transcendental in it. I fell in love with her African stories: ‘The Go-Away Bird’, ‘The Curtain Blown by the Breeze’, ‘Bang-Bang You’re Dead’, ‘The Ormulu Clock’. But her European ones were wonderful too. The stories mentioned by Stannard — such as the stunning ‘The Portobello Road’ which contains one of my favourite first lines, together with Beckett’s Murphy and Nabokov’s Lolita — and those unknown to me — for example ‘The Girl I left Behind Me’ — made an impression. There are a lot of stories in this collection, and a lot of very diverse narrative strategies. I did not find them as absorbing perhaps as her novels (but that’s me, I like novels more than short stories) but I did enjoy most of them despite my long involvement with the book (I was not so keen on ‘The Young Man Who Discovered the Secret of Life’). I read them at breakfast, or in between books, or while waiting for someone and they always left that peculiar Sparkian feeling. She deals with the supernatural like no other writer, not even the Latin-American magic realists …
Laura Gonzalez is an artist and writer. Her recent practice encompasses film, dance, photography and text, and her work has been exhibited and published in the UK, Spain and Portugal. She has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When she is not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with her camera, she lectures postgraduate students at the Glasgow School of Art.