Skip to main content

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

I was told this would be a catered event.

I have always held the snug and comforting illusion that Eco, being a rotund, avuncular European in my mind (and in reality, once I’d bothered to look him up, judging from a photo grabbed from Wikipedia – Eco is the ever so slightly less hirsute mammal on the right) was a properly cuddly old European Intellectual (capital I no less) who wrote comfortable fables of a suitably magical realism or historical fantasy bent. No doubt, the rather good but clearly inadequate cinematic version of The Name Of The Rose is partially to blame.

A cursory investigation however dredged up a host of worrying and confusing concepts and authors from the swamps of my lost and forgotten academic hinterland – post-modernism, semiotics, intertextuality, honkadori; Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Roland Barthes. When I purchased a signed copy of The Prague Cemetery from the lovely people at Rossiter Books (you can follow them on Twitter so you can) I believed I was in for a challenging but entertaining belt through some of History’s (capital H mind you) most interesting events.

Not so cuddly.
What I got, however, made me anxious. Here I was, thoroughly enjoying the surprise, arising from the forgotten love of word-play, the fact that I didn’t need to care about Foucault or Kristeva to “get it”, the fact that my history lessons hadn’t let me down so much so that I couldn’t put all of the players into proper context, and the fun of the double and sometimes triple narrative (how the author likes to play with the Quixotic ‘found’ manuscript ruse!), and yet I found myself all too often identifying with a protagonist who fears and detests Jews to the point that his “work” eventually ends up on the tables of every anti-Semite in the Western world. Am I therefore an anti-Semite? Is Eco? Am I right to castigate myself?

Of course not - although at times I had to remind myself. My anxieties, as I understand it, are the pragmatic response of the reader to the symbolism and its uses in the novel. My own cosy assumptions were ripped asunder by the power and irresistible force of Eco’s prose. And of course, ‘Captain’ Simone Simonini does not just hate the Jews – he also hates the Jesuits, followers of Garibaldi, women, Palladians, Free Masons, Russians, psychologists and mystics to name but a few. To have all of that hate and bile decanted and distilled into one character, a curious gourmand whose actions might disgust but whose life – and therefore in this context, writings - you can’t help but wish to be prolonged, is quite masterful. I can’t remember a moment when I wished that he would get on with it, or when I found myself skipping a few lines to get back to the action. I loved it, a strong sentiment indeed you might say, coming as it does from a man who vacillates between delight and disgust when there are too many distractions in a novel. Eco is awesome, and I am truly cowed by the complete erudition that must underscore his writing talents – not that I was on his playing field to start with. However, as my boss once said, “aim for the stars, young man, and you will surely hit your ceiling.”

Comments

How's about that then?

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the …

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

In days gone by, when repeatedly pressed about what my favourite book might be, a banal question seeking an impossible and crude reductionist answer to which I was usually rude in response, I would offer Breakfast Of Champions as a pacifier. 

I first read it in University, and it has, to some degree, influenced how I think and feel about a lot of things. Strikingly, I've never wanted to re-read it. Perhaps I was afraid I'd find fault the second time around and wanted to uphold it as a paragon of meta-fiction. Perhaps, but then I'm a relentless consumer of fiction and was always on to the next consumable work, never having time or inclination to go back.

So in the spirit of a more considered and thoughtful phase of my life I decided I wanted to read something that once made me feel good.

I'd clearly not remembered it very well.

But before that, I'm amazed I've gone *mumbles* years without once mentioning Kilgore Trout in my reviews, even in passing. The same goes fo…

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…