Sunday, February 05, 2006

Oh dear, I have had a failure of sensibility

Just finished Stona Fitch's Senseless. It seems to have been absolutely glowingly reviewed, it was sent to me by that brilliant man of impeccable taste Ken Bruen (who sends the best packages, full of good books and just plastered with cool Irish stamps--in this case a lot of Song Thrushes), cool premise about a man held hostage and deprived of his five senses one at a time by terrorists broadcasting the whole thing over the internet (vaguely Videodromesque only more about politics and the EEC and American economic imperialism and less about sex). And yet I found the whole thing overblown and humorless and silly! Actually it's--presumably inadvertently--pretty funny (best line: "Removing an eye is easy. All it takes is a confident man and a coffee spoon"). A goodish read, but not perhaps in quite the way intended.

Reading Delany on writing makes me more able to say what didn't work for me than I might have been otherwise. There's a very artificial flashback structure--man in captivity reflects back on his life story!--and the language is curiously abstract; the book's failure to provide particular detail thus makes the torture scenes silly instead of profound. My fact-checker-type brain objected, too, to the mechanics of several of the torture scenes. I don't think the cauterizing thing described here would really work to deprive a person completely of smell; I didn't believe that Fitch had really clearly thought through or visualized the physiological mechanics. Even if you're a torturer you don't pop the glass eye into the socket right after you've taken the eye out with a coffee spoon; you have to wait for it to heal a bit. This kind of distracting inconsistency detracts from the force of the would-be-Kafkaesque fable. It's not stylized enough to make you stop caring about accuracy. And perhaps the most serious problem: not much of a sense of the ridiculous on display here.

Anyway I am clearly in the minority on this, so don't let this stop you reading it if it sounds your cup of tea. (Yeah, yeah, I know I've just given a ton of "spoilers," but I couldn't help myself, I really am interested in the gory mechanics of this stuff. On which note, let me say that Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin has what is surely the best eye-gouging-and-glass-eye thing EVER.) It did remind me of Ian McEwan, it's just that I don't really like Ian McEwan; and it also reminded me (rather too much--they seem to have been published the same year, must have been the zeitgeist) of a novel by Rupert Thomson I sort of half-read and then had to return to the library (not very regretfully) before I could quite finish it, The Book of Revelation.


  1. Sorry, this comment isn't directly related to the post, but:

    You amaze me.

    How do you read so much?

    I want to be like you!

  2. Hmmm, I don't know about that--if it was TV (or video-game playing) it probably wouldn't seem so impressive--I think my reading habit is on the order of an addiction rather than an entirely controllable enterprise....

    Good luck with your own reading!