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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Open Door by Iosi Havilio
The third revolution in Hispanic literature?
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often considered that monster movies are most effective when the monster is merely described by its environment and the effects is has thereon. Fiction, by approaching a subject, a truth, beauty, head-on, attempting to name and describe such directly, is doomed to fail, indeed, Guardiola-Rivera suggests it ends in nightmare. Borges, to borrow the author's metaphors, advocated a circling approach, a peeling of the onion nearing a hard kernel of truth which isn't there; a candle in a dark room, the tiny circle of light revealing fragments of the whole; blind men feeling an elephant.
What am I trying to say exactly?
The position Guardiola-Rivera takes is that Havilio, despite explicitly telling the reader (in a cover note on the original Spanish edition sadly missing from the quite simple but lovely And Other Stories edition) that the monster in the novel is capitalism and 'every man for himself', still manages to skirt it, to avoid it, and in skillful, minimalist prose describing effects not causes, leaves our monster as an elephant in the room, an oppressive yet invisible force which the blind men can't even find to get a good feel of. I agree, with both of them; our monsters lack faces, their presence indicated by an omnipresent sense of dread which pervades everything.
The narrator, who herself is never given a name, loses her partner and on a whim moves to the country, a town called Open Door named after the open asylum situated there, the first of its kind in Argentina. She shacks up with an aged and taciturn ranch owner whilst also allowing herself to be toyed with by a local girl with nothing on her hands but time and curiosity but very little empathy, or rather, compassion. A bleakness permeates everything, and the action, what there is, is almost without cause or thought. Eloisa, the girl, does what she wants whenever she wants, with no thought to the consequence. The narrator is passive almost to the point of nihilism, eating plaster torn from the walls rather than getting up to buy food, regardless of the life growing in her belly. Indeed, she thrills at the thought of discarding her own compassion in order to go with Eloisa's flow.
Sounds dreadful, I know. But that's because it's me trying to describe the essential truth of the book, when the book itself chooses not to do so. And, if you're looking for some hope, then the epilogue has what someone might consider to be a relatively happy ending, with the narrator experiencing a strange and unfamiliar sense of contentment.
It's not a difficult read, the translation is excellent and the language is used simply, to create a visual landscape which shifts under your feet, which you can't trust and need to consider carefully in different ways. A friend mentioned Samuel Beckett in passing the other day and the way in which he pared everything down to the essential. It stuck as I read this, and a Beckett comparison, whilst gratuitous, seems apt. But it also has a vagueness, a smokiness at the edges that hints at many levels as yet unexplored. For such a simple book, it holds some serious profundity, and I can add it to the pile of books that will forever hold me to account when I pick up a pen for myself.
*Wait, I've thought of a great example, serendipitously reviewed within these very pages, which begins with the quote, "No-one realised that the book and the labyrinth were the same thing."
**If you conveniently disregard all of Dickens, most classical Greek texts, any female writers, Goethe, 'philosophy' and all of the great French writers. And the Romans, of course.
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 …