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.
I can confirm that I have now completely caught up on Glen
Duncan’s backlist and can happily begin reading the werewolf trilogy (starting
with The Last Werewolf) when time and
tide allows – that’s the waxing and waning tide of my habitually meandering
attention. The Bloodstone Papers is
now safely under the belt and committed to the somewhat over capacity
bookshelves in the lounge.
I often feel that to talk about a favourite writer’s writing
(albeit metaliterally, if such an adjective exists) is somewhat disingenuous,
that it cannot always do justice to the effort, intelligence and craft of an
author. I may have used this somewhere before, but I vividly recall reading a
quote attributed to Dylan Thomas but which I can no longer find and therefore
verify, where he likens the putting onto paper of an idea to the catching of a
large and terrible fish, which once landed following Herculean effort must
necessarily end up lifeless. This tends to encapsulate the anxiety I feel when
I consider reviewing a book by an author for whom I have the utmost respect and
awe, a category reserved for writers such as Glen Duncan. Reviews of these
works must necessarily lack the adequacy to truthfully represent what the author
and book itself could mean, and from experience, end up being rather fitfully
relevant or overly obsequious. How is this pertinent? Let me explain.
The Bloodstone Papers
is a book which I had shunned on the assumption that I didn't care about
colonial history, this being the presumed context of the novel from what I read
on its rather attractive cover. Despite it being ‘A Duncan’, I really didn't want
to read it if it was going to be a disappointment because of the subject
matter. Having begun to read despite my objections, and having found that
instead it entwined two timelines, that of “real-time” London-based son/author/teacher/Anglo-Indian
Owen Monroe and 1940s India-based parents/Anglo-Indians Ross and Katie Monroe
to create a passionate and beguiling narrative with a bloodstone ring at its
fulcrum and very little real history
to cloud the issue, I was beset by the predictable anxiety of reviewing
something of which I was absolutely enamoured.
What a self-important chump – you might say – get on with
the good stuff!
It began, I felt, and sorry for the weak simile, a bit like
a new and improved version of an earlier work, Hope, with a narrator beset by
his own demons, self-awareness a lifestyle he chooses rather than an awakening
in the truer sense and therefore only a glossy veneer instead of a deep
foundation – something Pasha Ross Monroe touches on towards the end in
conversation with gay house mate (of son Owen) Vince – and all sorts of hints at
darkness – the ubiquitous Scarlet / Hope figure – in the background. Quickly
ushered in is the central premise of the book, a collation of the life stories
of his parents into capital-T-The capital-B-Book, a publication more likely destined
for the shredder than the bookshelves and vying for attention with a much more
often visited dossier on capital-T-The capital-L-Lost capital-L-Love (my
capitals, not his) and we’re back to Scarlet again. There are eddying sub plots,
twists of moral reticence and rectitude, garnished heavily but appropriately
with Duncan’s sad yet joyful wisdom, apposite remarks on time and life and middle
class guilt and pretty much everything else. And as always, Duncan has so much
time for love and sex that one wonders where the space was for all of the other
amazing stuff he manages to smuggle between covers. On reflection, post-read,
it left the indelible impression of a book about loss – of meaning, of identity
or cultural purpose* and as always, ends near to where it begins, in this case with
our narrator considering the start, middle and ending of The Book.
*The condition Stefan Zweig laments in his autobiography Die Welt von
Gestern (The World of
Yesterday) – namely of being in his case European but essentially stateless
and therefore lacking a sense of cultural self. Of course, Zweig went on to
kill himself and his wife in their last-visited refuge of Petrópolis,
Brazil, whereas I can’t honestly see Duncan following suit, no matter how
strong his personal beliefs. And I'm sure Duncan would choose something more
exciting than barbiturates to do it too.