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 liminal geographical space between Cardiff and RCT.
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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,
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
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.”
I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage.
In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time.
However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…
Now is as good a time as any I suppose to admit that I
regularly confuse Italo Calvino with Umberto Eco and when struggling for the name
of one of them, invariably come up with the name of the other. What value does
this add to a review of either’s work? None whatsoever. I just thought it would
pay to be honest up front, so that if I start talking about semiotics, the
discourse of literary criticism, or beards, then you’ll know my train of
thoughts has switched tracks and is heading for a bridge under construction. Of course, reading the Wiki pages on the two of them (to
make sure I was talking about the right fellow) I noticed with some dread that Our Ancestors is one of the best known
works of the most translated contemporary Italian writer (at the time of his
death) and here I am, trying to make sense of it in my own personal context. Well,
I’m always going to be treading down some fool’s heels so why should I care if
it’s actually most people? Indeed, Calvino mentions in his own i…
Another laudatory post about Unbound should surely follow had I the heart to go on and on about them again. I do but I won't in this instance, as they've just somehow bilked from me £60 for an as yet unwritten historical novel inspired by a TV script by Anthony Burgess, the dastards. I do it to myself and that's etc.
One definite pleasure of the crowdfunding model, for us end users, is the delayed gratification, something with which I, and it would seem the main character in this novel, have no small difficulty. I had sort-of forgotten this book was in the offing, only for it to land suddenly in my wheelie bin one sunny morning (it wouldn't fit through the letterbox). I was delighted to be reminded.
It also came at a fortuitous time. I've been unwell and looking for distractions to keep me from internet mischief in my restlessness (being ill is mostly boring). After finishing the beautiful but rather depressing Stoner I was in need of something lighter, or rather, so…
Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on. There, that’s out of the way. I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame. I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind. You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lov…