Thursday, April 21, 2005

Female noir

A friend loaned me Susanna Moore's In the Cut; why didn't I read this book before?!? (Well, I see it was published in 1995, and there were a few years in the middle of grad school where I was so immersed in, ah, you know the kind of thing, Shakespeare-Milton-Locke-Swift-Hume-Burke-type stuff, that light reading was for once in my life severely curtailed.) It's great. Sort of a perfect book for me--bleak, well-written noir with an emotionally repressed but slightly decadent female narrator who is obsessed with non-standard English words and syntax! Seriously... Opening lines: "I don't usually go to a bar with one of my students. It is almost always a mistake." Another early paragraph that delighted me: "The wrong words are sometimes so close to a truer meaning that they are like puns. Many of the words have to do with the body, or disease. For example, Old Timer's Disease, rather than Alzheimer's. Abominal for stomach. Athletic fit for epileptic fit. Chicken pops. Very close veins. The prostrate gland." It's a great novel. Don't read it unless you have a pretty strong stomach and like gruesome and gory developments, but I loved it.

And another great one, Liz Jensen's The Ninth Life of Louis Drax. This one's more unusual than Susanna Moore's, and both stranger and more suspenseful than I'd anticipated. It's really well-written and the plot is most gripping as well. But the best thing about it is the voice of Louis Drax (who reminded me a bit--the whole novel reminded me, a little, though they're really nothing alike--of a particular favorite novel of mine, Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai, which is a book that absolutely everyone should read BTW). Here's Louis early on: "There are laws and you go to prison if you break them but there are secret rules too, so secret no one ever talks about them. Here's a secret rule of pet-keeping. If you own a small creature, say a hamster called Mohammed, and he lives for longer than a small rodent's lifespan, which is two years, then you're allowed to kill him if you want to, because you're his owner. This secret rule of pet-keeping has a name, it's called Right of Disposal. You're allowed to do it with suffocation, or with poison if you have any, say weedkiller. Or you can drop something heavy on him, like volume three of the encyclop'edie m'edicale or Harry Potter et l'Ordre du Ph'enix. Just as long as you don't make a mess." This is a really memorable and unusual novel, also a very good read.

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