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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Wanting by Richard Flanagan
First encounter with Flanagan came via Gould’s Book of Fish in hardback, a victim of some aggressive pre-post Christmas price slashing back in twenty tickety boo (along with a first edition of Martel’s Life of Pi in hardback at 2 for £20), and with the beautiful colour plates so sadly missing from future flimsier incarnations. As much as I loved and coveted more of the same, it’s taken me nearly ten years to catch up on the backlist, and I still haven’t gotten to Death of a River Guide – there are just too many things that need doing.
‘Oh, woe is me!’ etc etc. Time-theft from work isn’t often available to be recycled as reading time when in full view of the open plan office. But I have managed to squirrel away a bit of reading elbow room in which to fully appreciate the latest offering from Tasmania’s answer to Thomas Bernhard.
At this point I should perhaps clarify such a throw-away remark as that just this second made, just there. In no way does Richard Flanagan resemble Thomas Bernhard, except in one very specific instance. He is not wiry of hair (having none), a playwright (to my knowledge), and did not spend any time in a sanatorium as a youth due to a severe lung condition which robbed him of the opportunity to become a professional actor or singer. Unless you know any better. In fact, the only way I can compare the two is by revealing a very personal reading of his work which could, gallingly, be seen to be a misreading. How embarrassing for me.
Bernhard clearly hated Austria, the land of his birth and death, and made use of every opportunity for contumely. In my reading, Flanagan has a similar (but slightly diluted) misanthropic distaste for all things historically Van Diemonian, despite some rather beautiful passages towards the end of this particular novel where he traces the sunlight on the water and portrays the nobility of work in the fields with a respectful nostalgia. In general he seems to feel a degree of shame for his unfortunate heritage. Of course, it’s not restricted to Tasmania – his descriptions of Dickensian London are equally vitriolic and gruesomely tactile. However, from other books I have spotted the trend. Feel free to disagree and disabuse me of the notion.
Back to Wanting and Flanagan’s dissection of desire, and it is an achingly good read, with some great passages, notably depicting Dickens and Wilkie Collins and, amongst other pieces, their periwinkling trips to various houses of disrepute. The back and forth between Van Diemen’s Land and London are well spaced, allowing free flow of his copious imagination, and historical detail be damned! he wilfully uses the main points of history as threads on his wonderful literary loom. The result is a soulful, crushing and ultimately addictive novel, and Dickens’ avatar is quite remarkable.
Ultimately, I have probably done a stupid thing by reading Gould’s... first as it really did blow my literary mind at the time, so every follow-up is likely to be a disappointment, but Wanting is a significant harking back to that scent of greatness, and is probably a book I will come back to in the future. And it’s not often I can find the time for that sort of thing.
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 …