Thursday, 12 February 2009

Crusaders, The Guardian Book Blog, and the Devouring Vastness of America

An interesting piece on the Guardian Book Blog yesterday by Stuart Evers, on the subject of the common preference of young-ish English readers for fiction written in American... Testing out his own preferences and prejudices, Evers plays an amusing game of compare-and-contrast with two English sentences, to wit:
1. Mary fills up at the gas station, then drives her Chevy Impala to Roy's Diner.
2. Mary fills up at the petrol station, then drives her Nissan Micra to Roy's Rolls.
Indeed, one has rather more dynamism than the other, somehow... But a lot of that is to do with the particular American romance of The Road. I remember at least two fine books that I bought as a young man mainly on the strength of their automotive cover imagery (and, ok, the glowing review quotes appended to said covers), namely Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays and William Least-Heat-Moon's Blue Highways. (Didion's protagonist always pumped her own gas, just like Evers' 'Mary'...)
Evers also cites yours truly in a kindly fashion near the end of his piece, sticking up for the writing of these isles:
"When I asked Richard T Kelly – whose debut novel, Crusaders, was one of last year's highlights from either side of the Atlantic – about British writers' and critics' relationship with American fiction, he suggested that the days of looking enviously over the pond were coming to an end."
Indeed, I remember saying this to Stuart when I met him after the Writloud event at RADA last summer. Because, as I recall, there were quite a few big novels in English about England last year, and they mostly seemed to get serious consideration and marks for ambition. Meanwhile, the typically near-cuboid size of the so-called Major American Novel has perhaps become a rather self-conscious business over the last 10 or 12 years. I'm all for Moby Dick, for U.S.A., for Harlot's Ghost, which is to set the bar a little high perhaps, but if it's a compendious novel then I expect an expansive subject matter to boot.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Dreaming is Free, mercifully, as I'm not sure I'd pay for it

'All that we see or seem', wrote Poe, 'Is but a dream within a dream.' Nope, you were wrong there, Edgar. Go easy on that laudanum. The hard-edged contours of our daily life may occasionally get a little blurry before our waking eyes, but rarely ever so warped as the stuff we see and seem while we're asleep. (Funnily enough Poe's poem was turned into a pop song by Propaganda, a band I liked a great deal back in 1985. And while tuning into the first couple reels of John Carpenter's The Fog on ITV4 the other night - something I must have done a million times - I realised I'd forgotten that Carpenter took the line cited above as his film's fancy epigraph.)
While I'm being scholastic, may we then contend that 'A dream is a wish your heart makes / When you're fast asleep?' I ask only because this Hal David tune is strongly featured in Disney's Cinderella, which I must have sat and watched with my daughter about a million times in the last week alone. But no, I have to be a blasted pedant and observe that when Cinders sings about 'a dream' she is referring in fact to what Dr Freud called a 'phantasy': a neurotic daydreaming or, if we are more generous, the imaginative activity that underlies all waking thought and feeling.
All this occurs to me because earlier this week I woke, rather troubled, from a dream in which I met someone I hadn't seen for maybe 15 years, the setting being a place much like that in which we last met, the person physically unchanged by the passage of those 15 years - and yet I in this dream was much the same person I am today, fully aged and weathered by said interim. It certainly wasn't the sort of encounter I would have bothered to daydream about, nor did it much resemble those that I have on a daily basis. Therefore I would venture that however one would best define it, pace Poe and Cinderella, would be the definition of what a dream is.
Thinking about the great enemies of Freud in our time puts me in mind of Vladimir Nabokov, whose writing I used to love. Apparently he explained his disdain to one interviewer like so: 'I think he’s crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me... I don’t have the dreams that he discusses in his books.'
There's a bit in Transparent Things which, I think, suggests that Nabokov thought himself much too good for the sort of dreams Freud discussed... That said, I don't think I have 'those' dreams either. And yet, still, I feel 'the Viennese Quack' was onto something.
(That Nabokov's other great professed hate was Dostoyevsky is the decisive reason why I finally stopped reading VN's stuff. Because what could one think but 'Get over yourself, man'?)

Monday, 9 February 2009

WBA 2 Newcastle 3: Late Breaking News - P. Lovenkrands also Geordie...

I lived through a predictable range of emotions on Saturday afternoon, with the radio on and off while I was 'working'. It has been known for Newcastle to race into early leads, just as they find it easy to lose them, but a 3-1 first-half advantage, with a goal for new boy Lovenkrands and a couple of assists from new lad Ryan Taylor, was obviously a big boon. By the middle of the second half, and Albion's inevitable halving of the deficit leading to sphincter-tightening Final Stages, a lot had become clearer about the earlier skirmishes - namely that WBA were managing to defend even worse than us, and that our counterattacking game was not at its sharpest given the frontline resources at Chris Hughton's disposal.
Still, this is what the Toon will need to do more of if they're to survive - win games away from home against sides who are not significantly better than us, or else hardly much worse.
In general when seeking football wisdom, I only read NUFC blogs and fansites, of course - no other clubs' banter or bile concerns me. But I did stumble across a funny Baggies blog after the game, the author of which claimed to have been on the same post-match 'plane home' as Damian Duff. According to said author, Duff's considered view was that West Brom were 'sh*te', but when asked Duffer couldn't venture a specific opinion on the opposition player deployed to mark him that afternoon, because he'd never noticed the guy... Ought to be true, even if by any chance it's not.