The ideas in Rush’s second novel, Mortals, are as subtle and rich as those in Mating. But there is something slightly diminished in its ultimate effect by comparison; unlike the earlier book, Mortals is written in the third-person, and it is perhaps in this transition that a glimmer of trouble appears. Every mode of narration has its virtues and defects, of course, and there may be readers who find the first-person of Mating claustrophobic. What it offered Rush, however, was concealment—a means of expression for his own fascinating, intercalating, uniquely essayistic voice, which nevertheless, because a reader could ascribe all of its decrees to the narrator, existed naturalistically within the novel.I must confess I have never read Rush; this essay gives me a great desire, though, to reread some Iris Murdoch!
The free indirect voice offers Rush some shell for this style, but not enough. In Mortals it becomes a minor problem; in Subtle Bodies, very nearly a fatal one. That’s the blemish on Rush’s career, perhaps, an inability to recede behind his characters. The constant interruption of opinion into his work means that he never quite vanishes into the third person and therefore never achieves the fluid multivocalism that gives each character equal weight, what Bakhtin praised as polyphony. Rush’s natural pendant, another white-bearded novelist of lower Africa, J. M. Coetzee, is by contrast exquisitely skillful at self-concealment, at the neutral clarities of third-person fiction. By either method there is some price to pay. In Coetzee’s case it’s a chilliness; in Rush’s, a diminution of realism. Rush’s loss may be the greater.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Charles Finch on the fiction of Norman Rush. (Via Nick D.) Here's a bit I especially liked, but the whole piece is thought-provoking: