Dan Sandman

Archive for June, 2017|Monthly archive page

#27 The Pyramid

In Books, Fiction, Romance on 30/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#28 The Pyramid

With the deadline for the first chapter of my Golding dissertation coming up, I have been rereading the 1967 classic The Pyramid. For those of you not familiar with the book, it’s a love story about a young man called Oliver and a young woman called Evie. If you’re looking for an easy way into Golding’s less famous novels, this is an ideal starter.

The plot makes sense, the characters are realistically portrayed and the story is told by Oliver in the first-person.

In a minor essay, part of an MA course I’m taking, I say lots of clever things about Golding’s exploration of class in To the Ends of the Earth; A Sea Trilogy, none of which will be of any interest to the general public. Basically, Golding wrote about class; I have spent all of my life living in Britain: a country I love, but one where people from all classes still, still struggle to face the age old anxieties and prejudices of the British class system.

This historic problem, which effects us all, will always rear its head when voting occurs.

Examples:

  1. The vote to leave Europe (a direct split between one class of Britain and another)
  2. The vote to keep Scotland inside the United Kingdom (another barbed-wire fence)
  3. The brick wall between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party

 

Throughout his work, Golding argued that class was a universal problem for the British. Our recent history continues to reinforce the power of this inescapable fog, a dark force, continuing to cloud the judgement of every British person today.

#26 Boyhood

In Autobiography, Books, Fiction, Non-Fiction on 23/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#26 BoyhoodAs its title suggests, Boyhood (1997) is about a South African boy’s childhood and schooldays. Each chapter is an essay on one particular aspect of boyhood: summers spent on his uncle’s farm in the Karroo desert; days spent avoiding the cane in a provincial school in Worcester; intimate moments with his mother in the kitchen. By writing about his younger self, Coetzee offers a critique of his own family and on post-WWII South Africa in general. This is successfully achieved through the use of several artistic tools.

Firstly, there is the choice of the present tense, which focuses attention away from the past and onto the moment of imaginative creativity itself. Secondly, Coetzee refers to himself as he, in the same detached way that he refers to characters in books not about himself. Thirdly, he wastes no time on description and spends much time on action. These three factor, when combined, produce a voice which is imaginative, detached and active. Events flash past at the speed of creation, as fast as pen being put to paper.

My main criticism is that Coetzee uses this voice to blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction. Obviously, every memoir ever written has a problematic relationship to the truth of actual lived experience. As intelligent readers, we are aware that the writer has selected and discarded certain material in order to create an artwork. History does the same; but a history written in the present tense, as if it did not actually happen, would be pretty pointless. On the one hand, this memoir can be read as an arrogant attempt to discredit those critics who cling to historical truth; on the other hand, it can be seen as a triumphant cry to break up the novel form and make it new again. Either way, it can be quite annoying to read a memoir which refuses to include the word I.

#25 Emma

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 16/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#25 EmmaEmma Woodhouse, an heiress of £30,000 and two-and-twenty years old, plays match-maker with her less fortunate and younger friend Harriet Smith. But when her social schemes backfire, she is terribly upset.

As the writer Sebastian Faulks has said, Emma is a snob and her snobbery has emotional consequences, both for herself and for those within her society. Emma’s self-satisfaction, her selfish pretenses and her manipulative social behaivour make her a figure of fun because she takes herself too seriously. To Emma, the false manners and codified language of her class exist for her pleasure and delight. Admittedly, as a young woman living in a man’s world, Emma’s approach to her own courtiers needs to be cautious and considerate; but this does not, should not, excuse her hobby of interfering with the love life of her naive friend Harriet. Faulks is right to argue that Emma is a snob; and I would go further to argue that she is one of the worst snobs seen in English literature: interfering and selfish to extremes.

I have mixed feelings about Jane Austen, whose novels are often imitated but never surpassed. Clearly, Austen is a writer of some genius—she almost single-handedly resurected the sentimental novel from the dustbin of literary history and transformed into the modern romantic comedy. However, Austen often attracts harsh criticism because her novels appear completely detached from history, ignorant of the servant-class and devoid of any serious political intrigue. And much to the dissatisfaction of the male species, Austen portrays men as binary opposites to woman. For Austen, war is a man’s business; marriage: a woman’s affair. In Austen view, the struggles of the lower-orders are ignored in favour of the struggles of chivalric love—-i.e. whether X will marry Y for a good fortune or X will marry Z for love. In Austen’s defense, I might add–at least when it comes to the under representation of ordinary people–minus the occasional gravedigger or porter—Shakespeare has been accused of the exact same narrow-mindedness.

#24 Augustus

In Books, Fiction, History on 09/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#24 Augustus.JPGJohn Williams’ final novel is set in ancient Rome and is built upon a series of fictional letters between historical figures: the first Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, the poet Virgil, the tragic leader Mark Anthony, etc. It also deals with Caesar’s rise to power and his estranged relationship with Julia, his daughter.

Although I know very little about Roman history, if I do not include the BBC television series I Claudius, I am assured that the novel is impeccably researched. Shakespeare fans will recognize the Anthony and Cleopatra story, but will be less familiar with the Octavius and Julia story which threads here into the later half of the novel. And Williams, skillfully using the personal address of the epistolary form, is the ideal guide to light up this dark corner of ancient history.

My one criticism would be that the letters, memoranda and dispatches come from too many sides, making an at times too heady mix of character portrayals. However, apart from the confusion caused by the many viewpoints, I think that Williams last work of fiction shines a bright light onto this fascinating period of ancient history.

#23 The War of the Worlds

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 02/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#23 The War of the Worlds.jpgObserved by astronomers, in the quiet and peaceful English countryside, a star-like object falls from the sky, blasting open a huge pit in the ground. Later, hostile Martians start to emerge with one mission: to destroy mankind. With only late-Victorian weaponry to fight with (Maxim guns and artillery men), Earth must defend itself against alien invasion. But the Martians have developed a destructive heat-ray and a devastating unit of giant metallic tripod-like machines. The army, and humanity in general, stand no chance against the superior technology of the brutally advanced invaders. There is no negotiation and no prisoners are taken. Civilization is set to be destroyed and our planet is set to be colonized without hope of reprisal. Will we survive the War of the Worlds? The first clue to answering this question is apparent from the novel’s earliest chapters. Clearly, the story is that of a survivor, writing in the first-person.

As Adam Roberts points out in his introduction, at the time of publication, the invasion novel already existed as a popular genre.  But whereas the invasion fiction of the late nineteenth century dwelt on fears surrounding the Germans, the Chinese or whoever, Wells pits his plucky English townspeople against aliens from Mars. This stroke of genius, drawing on Wells’s knowledge of the science and the fears of his day, would go on to both create and define a new branch of popular fiction: science fiction. It is fair to say, from Blade Runner to the X-Men, that this book is the central modern influence on all subsequent science fiction. And to add to its power, it remains a good read and a good page-turner.