Reading dates: 12–30 August 2014
This is a very good example of a book that tries to do too much. It is a detective story, an American novel, a book about writing. Yet, it is not David Peace, Don Delillo or Henry Miller (or Strunk and White, for that matter). It has references to Lolita, to Twin Peaks, echoes of Jonathan Franzen; yet, Joël Dicker is none of them. The chapters are in descending order, as if it tried to tell the story backwards, but it is not Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’. The novel is like one of those disappointing meals without a genius recipe, made mixing nice ingredients one has in the fridge. I like rich food: olives, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, capers, pickled limes, goats cheese. I have mixed all of them together in a single dish and the result is always less than the sum of its parts.
It is an enjoyable book — all of my favourite ingredients are here — one that I am glad I read but which I don’t think I will re-read. It is a playful punch in the stomach, friendly sparring; not the blow that makes me spit blood, like Houellebecq did one time, like Delillo achieved with ‘White Noise’, which is funny as well, what a feat. And, above all, the writing — not the translation, I read it in French — is mediocre. Not a single shiver down the spine. Well, perhaps with the reveal, which is also close to my heart, but that was due to clever thinking. The book is clever, just not a masterpiece.
Dicker won the Goncourt prize with it, and perhaps this is what prizes have come to — like when Laure Prouvost won the Turner Prize in 2013, instead of Tino Sehgal. It was nice work, but I had seen it before, and perhaps better realised.
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Reading dates: 22 June – 11 August 2014
Note: This is just a review of the book, a few notes for my future self on what I thought about it. It is not a cogent argument on the referendum (which I keep calling Independence day and know I need to analyse that). In fact, it is not even a cogent text on the book, as my reviews are sketches, impressions, feelings, orientations on the text, more than its context or content. There are many people out there writing excellent works on the referendum and I would not want to put my writing on the same category than texts that are well researched, beautifully written and argued. If you are in Scotland, though, and can vote on the 18th September, please do get informed, find those writings, read compulsively, discuss compulsively. This is the chance of a lifetime to decide on our future. It is a big deal.
Perhaps start here:
We read this book for our DiaMat gathering, hosted by Ellie, who has a work on the referendum on show at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh.
Apart from the book, we reviewed a variety of campaign materials from both sides of the argument. Despite this being a gathering of four YES voters, I think there was a bit of pessimism around the book. I found it good, in fact, very interesting and informative, but not convincing, at least not for the people it needs to convince. I think only yes voters will read the book and have their arguments affirmed (I found it illuminating to learn about history and economics). But undecideds will most likely rely on other materials. Sadly, I found the 10 reasons leaflet from Better Together to be compelling in its format, accessible, speaking to the buzzfeed crowd of lists. Don’t get me wrong, we discussed each of the 10 points listed and found them to be devious, simply not true. But engaging in politics, although our responsibility, is also hard. I am not sure many people will find information and get involved in the debate other than through what gets through their doors. Yet, I was tired, maybe I had a pessimistic day and felt humanity to be a little stupid. In a previous gathering, I bet money, in favour of a yes outcome, with one of the other members of the group. I still stick to that and will continue dreaming and talking of a better future until the 18 September. Then, I hope to be able to work for that future.
One good exercise we did was to think what single issue has persuaded us to vote yes. Mine was Scottish governance, the fact that it is another country. We also thought what would make us change our minds and vote NO. I thought that if Westminster came up with a programme of nationalisation of key services (health, transport, energy, mail, education), I may consider it. It has to be persuasive, robust and true (not like the LibDem promise not to implement top up fees). We also had abolishment of the royal family and establishment of a republic and, if I remember right, implementation of the last chapter of YES for the whole of the UK.
Next time we meet will be to discuss Julia Kristeva’s ‘Revolt, She Said’, my choice, after reading about it in a previous DiaMat book. Whatever happens on the 18 September, whether I win that bet or not, a little revolt and psychoanalysis will never go amiss. Exciting times.
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Reading dates: 12 July – 03 August 2014
As unsettling as the first one in the quartet, Nineteen Seventy Seven is not for the faint hearted. The temporal setting, and the crime, is the Yorkshire Ripper murders. Blood, sex, pornography, grit, corruption, vice, deception and love drive the investigations of Bob Fraser—police officer— and Jack Whitehead—journalist—as their chapters rotate. Preceding all is a strange transcribed dialogue from a morning radio show of the time. The clues. The prose is wonderful, full of echoes and repetitions, insistent dreams in italics and energetic dialogue. Just when you think David Peace is going to shoot the genre to pieces, he doesn’t. Well, he does because he doesn’t . You just have to read it to find out what I mean and who the Ripper is.
Fundamental to the Red Riding is the place and the Leeds-Bradford-Wakefield triangle is mythical because it is too real. Hot then rainy, all too strange, a setting where real people live, even now, 37 years later. Yet, the place and the story are also distant in time and place. The reader is a character in the story and, like all of the characters, somewhat disengaged, not quite there, secretive.
Peace provides a curious reading experience, a disorienting but a compelling one. I always feel I need a break after reading one of his books and two hours later I contemplate starting Nineteen Eighty. Won’t be long, I think.
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