Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I am decadently and self-indulgently

blogging in the middle of the day, I meant to do a couple of posts last night but it was too late by the time I finished working. And since I find myself chock-full of stored-up blog energy I think I will discharge some of it before returning to work this afternoon. (My beloved grandmother was the one who voiced the thing that girls of her generation and class were taught, which was that it was virtually immoral to read a novel during the daytime, particularly before lunch. If she'd finished all the things she really needed to do she would dig out some clothes that needed ironing or water the plants or whatever--anything that counted as work. And when she moved into the old folks' home she hated the way she felt so idle, it really made her very annoyed; and she ended up doing all the laundry and ironing for an elderly gentleman who also lived at the home, a former schoolmaster known semi-satirically to her as Mr. Chips. I don't iron anybody's clothes, including my own, but I take her point about needing to feel useful.) I am not so scrupulous as she was about daytime novel-reading but daylight blogging--at least the more-than-a-one-sentence-comment-on-something-on-line kind of blogging--does indeed feel luxurious. So here goes.

Two interesting novels, both by authors I like very much writing in each case at perhaps 90% of their best but with so much talent that their flawed books are preferable to more perfectly crafted ones by less talented authors:

The first was one I've been meaning to get for a while and finally procured from the library, The Field of Blood (has this mysteriously lost the definite article in its American version?) by Denise Mina. Mina's Garnethill trilogy was certainly one of the most striking--astonishing--things I have read in the last few years. It more than lived up to the hype--if you haven't read these books, I highly recommend them, female noir set in working-class Glasgow and with lots of really heavy stuff about families and sexual abuse and alcohol-related troubles--in short, absolutely lovely! They are clumsier in the writing than I expected, but the central character is so strong and all of the characters and settings and stories so vividly realized that you frankly don't care. Her next published novel was Deception (a.k.a. Sanctum in UK), which I didn't care for. But this one is much more my cup of tea. It's Glasgow, the early 80s, and the main character is a working-class Catholic girl called Paddy Meehan who wants more than anything to be a journalist, in part because of the story of her namesake (who was unjustly arrested and imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, then freed by a crusading journalist). The inclusion of the first Paddy Meehan's story seems to me an interesting idea but on the whole it doesn't work; yet the kind of reach and ambition that the attempt shows is part of what makes me like Mina's writing so much. In sum, I thought this one was excellent; the painful details of Paddy's struggle with what it means to be a woman in that time and place and yet someone who also wants a demanding and satisfying job is particularly well done.

The other one I've just finished reading was also very good, though for the first half rather hard to follow (or perhaps it was just me, I was reading it in New Haven with my mind rather on Boswell): Moth by the brilliant James Sallis. I really, really love the Sallis aesthetic, I've only read three or four of his but must get all the others. His books are steeped for one thing in Chester Himes who is an extreme short-list favorite of mine (here's the Amazon link for Sallis's biography of Himes, and if you only read one book by Himes--oh, god, everyone should read a LOT of his books though--it must be Cotton Comes to Harlem). Beautiful intellectual noir, anyway; occasionally a bit pretentious, occasionally a bit scattered or confusing in its back-and-forth-ing (but one thing I like about this Lew Griffin series is the narrator's unusual orientation towards time, it's not common--and the narrative effects are extremely interesting--to have a knowing present-time narrator who tells his story constantly jutting forward or allowing intrusive back- and fore-knowledge into the story he's telling); but really altogether great, including a very appealing digression on Raymond Queneau that reminded me how fond I once was of the French new novel and its even more experimental aftermath. Must go and read some of that stuff again.

(Actually what I've really been thinking has something to do with short stories. I never have resolutions--in my opinion you either want to do something and do it, or don't really want to and idly toy with the idea but won't act on it--expressing resolutions is therefore pointless and potentially even rather annoying. But I realize that it makes me crazy to only write one novel every 2-3 years and then spent 2 years revising it. I must write new fiction more regularly, and yet I also have many academic things I feel called to write. I think short stories are potentially a solution to this. Like if I wrote one every month, it would stave off the fiction-withdrawal pangs. I'm not fond of the conventional literary short story, but I have a real passion for what I always think of as tales of the uncanny--i.e. most fantasy/SF kinds of story would fit into this category, the classic ones are obviously the Conan Doyle/Robert Louis Stevenson thing but childhood favorites include Joan Aiken and those early SF guys and of course nowadays there are lots of amazing short-story writers like Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link and so forth. Resolution: stories. And that connects up with the nouveau roman thing because the last time I regularly wrote short stories was the same time I was obsessed with Beckett and Robbe-Grillet and so forth, I was seventeen or eighteen years old & I actually wrote some pretty funny stories that I might try and dig out of the old computer files if they are still in any sense available or readable. Actually I think they're not, that was PRE-COMPUTER! Not pre-computers existing, obviously, but pre-me having one of my own. Might have to wait till I can get to the old paper files and scan a few funny things. I remember a story called "Rice Torture," for instance....)


  1. Hello again, quickly before I crash out for the night (yes I know it is early but I daren't say what unearthly hour I have to get up in the mornings).
    I am very excited to read your thoughts on "Field of Blood". Well, correction, the first line of your thoughts, I deliberately did not read the rest. I am still waiting for the paperback to come out in the UK, it has been on my Amazon wait list for ages and only a couple of weeks to go now.
    What I am trying to get around to saying is, if you have not read her Garnethill trilogy, please do, it is brilliant! Also her other stand-alone book, written afterwards.
    The first two Garnethill books are excellent, I read them in paperback and was so desperate to read the third I just went out and bought it the day it came out in hardback, something I only do in the case of Harry Potter.(;-) )
    A truly excellent series.
    BTW have you seen that debate going on at the moment about maintaining quality in series? The debate is on Book of the Day (Mapletree7) linked to by Frank Wilson on Books Inq today or yesterday.
    Best regards,

  2. Yep, loved Garnethill as you will see if you look back later on. And I am happy to say that Mina's website announces this one as first of a five-book series, which is excellent news. I didn't like her standalone much, not my kind of thing.

    Will look into that whole series discussion--thanks for the tip.