What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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The Invention of Dr Cake by Andrew Motion
Once again the fickle hand of fortune has placed before me a book I had absolutely no intention to read before I was safely pensioned and with nothing better to do. Having asked my wife to pick two random numbers I counted off those unread piles and plucked The Invention of Dr Cake from the mess with something akin to distaste. It’s not the only work by Motion that I possess, but so far it has the unenviable status of being the only work by Motion I have read. However, as someone who has a history of ruining things via an unrelenting prejudice, liberally applied to everything of which I have an ignorant or ill-informed disgust and/ or hatred, I would like to take a step back and for once be objective. I hate people who aren’t objective in their reviews.
Someone recently mentioned that in a former life, they had met erstwhile poet laureate Andrew Motion and found him a little stiff. Having had to pull him off stage at the Cheltenham Festival due to unnecessary waffling I might well have concurred. However, The Invention of Dr Cake is a whimsical novel, playful and suggestive, with a veritable Romantic feel and a satisfying completeness. It’s brevity provides counter-point to the lavish purple prose and pseudo-Romantic style of Dr William Tabor, and the premise, if left to the reader to uncover, is amusing and subtly diverting.
The problem is that it is book-ended by what I can only suggest are two passages to instruct the reader how to infer that the key conceit of the novel is exactly that which Dr Tabor and Mr Motion suspect and suggest respectively. No plot spoilers here (I know, I know, but if I did spoil it, there would be absolutely no point in reading it), but the joy is sucked out by two dry and brittle passages which could have served as an introduction and / or been left out completely in favour of a quick and potted history of Dr William Tabor and possibly the Romantic poets, for those of us who couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss for the struggling artist. Grandmothers, eggs and sucking the yolks out thereof springs unbidden to mind.
Motion once said of his own art that, “My wish to write a poem is inseparable from my wish to explain something to myself.” It seems he has extended this wish to the readers of his prose, and unfortunately it is most unwelcome.
Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.
How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.
Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…
Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end.
You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …
If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.
We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …