I’m afraid I won’t be able to review any more of the Lost Booker shortlist before the voting period ends on Friday — but at least we got that extra week, right? I still don’t think the public was given nearly enough time to read and properly vote on the winner, especially when there are a couple of long, dense works that should be strong contenders. Troubles (1970) was one of those long, dense works. It took me quite a long time to read. Some of it was because I have been incredibly busy with work, taking away my nights and weekends to the detriment of my reading and blogging, among other things. However, it wasn’t only the work that made this a long read. Troubles, though a pleasure, is a heavy historical work dealing with a very complicated mess. In a matter of pages, many things can happen, each with its parallel meaning, so I ceded to the book’s demand and slowed my pace. I’m glad I did, too, because in the end I was happy to have spent so much time with this book on my mind.
Troubles is part of Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, books that take a snapshot of the British Empire in various states of decay. Also included is The Singapore Grip, which I haven’t read yet, and The Siege of Krishnapur, one of my favorite Booker winners. Troublestakes us to Ireland in 1919. Major Brendan Archer has survived France in the Great War and is on his way to Ireland to meet up with his fiancée, Angela, an Anglo-Irish daughter of the once-wealthy Edward Spencer. The Spencers own the Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough. Just a generation or two ago, the hotel was a thriving, luxurious abode of the gentry. In 1919 it has a few remaining elderly guests whose presence brings the past more sharply in relief; they feel like ghosts of a better past still haunting the grounds. Here is how Farrell introduces the Majestic; he devotes to it his first lines in the novel:
In those days the Majestic was still standing in Kilnalough at the very end of a slim peninsula covered with dead pines leaning here and there at odd angles. At that time there were probably yachts there too during the summer since the hotel held a regatta every July. These yachts would have been beached on one or other of the sandy crescents that curved out towards the hotel on each side of the peninsula. But now both pines and yachts have floated away and one day the high tide may very well meet over the narrowest part of the peninsula, made narrower by erosion. As for the regatta, for some reason it was discontinued years ago, before the Spencers took over the management of the place. And a few years later still the Majestic itself followed the boats and preceded the pines into oblivion by burning to the ground — but by that time, of course, the place was in such a state of disrepair that it hardly mattered.
The state of disrepair is obvious to the Major when he arrives. He is surprised to find rooms that haven’t been touched in years, rooms where cats are thriving, and eventually, trying to find a suitable room, he has inhabited a good number of the Majestic’s space. As he arrives, a bit disoriented, the Major is surprised not to have Angela waiting for him. He meets her father, her brother Ripon, and many more inhabitants before encountering Angela as she sits taking tea. She had written him so many letters, but he is surprised to find she is not at all how she was in the letters or indeed as she was when they first met. Not that that meeting had been anything impressive:
They had kissed behind a screen of leaves and, reaching out to steady himself, he had put his hand down firmly on a cactus, which had rendered many of his parting words insincere.
Still, over the course of the years since that kiss, he felt confident that they were engaged. One of the best features of Farrell’s writing, however, is how he creates ghosts in the narrative. The Major rarely meets with Angela throughout the course of the entire book. And there are other ghosts in the narrative. First is Sarah Devlin, one of Angela’s friends and the woman with whom the Major will fall in love. Where Angela is Anglo-Irish, Sarah is pure Irish and a Catholic:
“Angela told you all that, of course. But you’ve forgotten the most important thing.”
“The fact that I’m a Catholic. Yes, I can see that she told you but that you regard it as a fact too shameful to mention. Or perhaps you regard it as good manners not to mention such an affliction.”
“What absolute nonsense!”
“Pay no attention, Sarah got out of bed the wrong side as usual.”
“Be quiet, Ripon! It’s not nonsense at all. Ripon’s father calls us ‘fish-eaters’ and ‘Holy Romans’ and so on. So does Ripon. So will you, Major, when you’re among the ‘quality.’ In fact, you’ll become a member of the ‘quality’ yourself, high and mighty, too good for the rest of us.”
“I hope not to be so bigoted,” said the Major smiling. “Surely there’s no need to abandon one’s reason simply because one is in Ireland.”
Though the Major falls in love with Sarah, and though we do encounter her every once in a while, she still is, for much of the book, an absence felt. Months go by without their meeting, and she haunts the Major all the time. He even finds a warm room full of sheets in which he retires to imagine her with him. Farrell’s humour can be highlighted (the whole book is full of comedy) by looking at a few passages with the Major and Sarah. Here he the omniscient narrator speaking about the hopeless Major:
Until now, incredible though it may seem, the Major had never considered that love, like war, is best conducted with experience of tactics. His instinct helped him a little. It warned him, for instance, against unconditional surrender. (“Do with me as you see fit, Sarah.”) With Sarah he somehow knew that that would not work. He was learning slowly, by experience. Next time he had a love affair he would do much better. But to the love-drugged Major that was not much consolation.
And here is a bit of the comedy of manners that comes out:
Although his indifference to her had been amply demonstrated, the Major still could not prevent himself from haunting the couple, in the hope of getting further opportunities to demonstrate it.
Of course, the book has a very dark side. There is a lot of destruction going on and a lot of death offstage (and onstage, periodically). Which brings up another conspicuous absence: the Sinn Feiners, the rebel Irish who are, according to Edward Spencer, destroying the country. Or, according to others, the Patriots who will settle for nothing less than home rule. There are frequent tales of a Sinn Feiner shooting a cop or blowing up something, but we almost never see one. And even when there is a group of them present, it is written in such a way that we can feel them but not see them. It’s wondrous how Farrell does this.
In this context, Troubles becomes an intricate allegory of the British Empire in Ireland. The Majestic, it is obvious from page one, represents the Empire itself. But the Major’s motives for being at the Majestic are tied to the historical context. The cats, the bamboo, the statues, the sea: all come together in surprising ways.
But, if allegory scares anyone, Troubles is also a great historical read. Farrell is not obviously allegorical, as some are. His narrative goes on naturally and one need never look for symbols to understand the tragedy that is occurring in the lives, historical and personal, in 1919 Ireland.
Most of Bolaño’s New Directions book covers are similar in style. I’ve liked them. However, because Antwerp (Amberes, 2002; tr. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, 2010) looked so different, I’ve been more excited to read it. It arrived in a coverless hardback, small-sized and well designed, simple and bold. It suggests weight.
Still, despite the cover, I wasn’t sure the content would hold up. I always have doubts when I approach Bolaño, like I’ll realize what many suspect: that there’s nothing there. Perhaps this feeling is some vestige from my initial experience with the Chilean when I read 2666. I loved the book while reading it, but I was so frustrated at the end. Now I think my feelings would be different. I’ve come to realize that much of reading Bolaño is the experience of reading itself, the search for meaning, the disturbing images, the powerful prose. Antwerp exceeded my expectations.
The book is divided into 56 fragments, each a paragraph that spans a page or two. They begin with a statement many might attribute to Bolaño’s work itself:
Once photographed, life here is ended. It is almost symbolic of Hollywood. Tara has no rooms inside. It was just a facade.
These fragments, at first, drift from one subject to another with no apparent link, though if you’ve read Bolaño the characters might sound familiar: there’s the corrupt and brutal policeman, the prostitute, the poet. Part of the enjoyment in reading Antwerp is allowing these lives to just happen in front of you, to just accept that you will not understand everything for a while, but that the experience itself is worth its time. And what does that initial fragment say about the fragments that follow?
I’d like to quote in full one of the first passages that really grabbed my attention:
11. AMONG THE HORSES
I dreamed of a woman with no mouth, says the man in bed. I couldn’t help smiling. The piston forces the images up again. Look, he tells her, I know another story that’s just as sad. He’s a writer who lives on the edge of town. He makes a living working a riding school. He’s never asked for much, all he needs is a room and time to read. But one day he meets a girl who lives in another city and he falls in love. They decide to get married. The girl will come to live with him. The first problem arises: finding a place big enough for the two of them. The second problem is where to get the money to pay for it. Then one thing leads to another: a job with a steady income (at the stables he works on commission, plus room, board, and a small monthly stipend), getting his papers in order, registering with social security, etc. But for now, he needs money to get to the city where his fianceé lives. A friend suggests the possibility of writing articles for a magazine. He calculates that the first four would pay for the bus trip there and back and maybe a few days at a cheap hotel. He writes his girlfriend to tell her he’s coming. But he can’t finish a single article. He spends the evenings sitting outdoors at the bar of the riding school where he works, trying to write, but he can’t. Nothing comes out, as they say in common parlance. The man realizes that he’s finished. All he writes are short crime stories. The trip recedes from his future, is lost, and he remains listless, inert, going automatically about his work among the horses.
I know the basic concept here — a man who cannot escape his circumstances — is not original. But in Bolaño’s universe, this writer of crime stories comes up again and again, both antic and listless at the same time. This passage also begins to tie the book together — er, at least, tie it together a bit more. The riding school comes up several times and we start to see how the various characters fill the space around it. We find out who is dreaming of women with no mouths and whom he’s talking to here. We get a sense of the community: ”Nothing shocking, really, people upset because they were out of work, etc. These are the sad stories I have to tell you.”
While the characterization was fine, I found that I valued other aspects of the book. I liked the fragmented quality. I liked that it was at least somewhat self-conscious: “Our stories are sad, sergeant, there’s no point trying to understand them.” Again, I really didn’t fret this time when I couldn’t put the pieces together. Perhaps it is because the book is set up in fragments that made me care less about structure. It reminded me strongly of a poem, lonely and longing and hopeless, which the following passage reinforces:
36. PEOPLE WALKING AWAY
Nothing lasts, the purely loving gestures of children tumble into the void. I wrote: “a group of waiters returning to work” and “windswept sand” and “the dirty windowpanes of September.”
Here are the six shortlisted titles for the 2010 Orange Prize. The winner will be announced on June 9.
- Rosie Alison: The Very Thought of You
- Barbara Kingsolver: The Lacuna
- Attica Locke: Black Water Rising
- Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall
- Lorrie Moore: A Gate at the Stairs
- Monique Roffey: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
I haven’t read any of these yet, and for the near future (well, relatively near) I only plan to read Wolf Hall, which, because it has already been picking up loads of awards, must be the favorite here. I’ve heard much too much bad about The Lacuna and The Gate at the Stairs to make me want to read them, but they keep getting positive publicity too. The other three I haven’t looked into. Does anyone have a prediction?
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting with Edwin Frank, the editorial director of NYRB Classics. NYRB Classics is one of my favorites, both as a publisher and as a brand. Their books are lovely to behold and lovely (or, at the very least, always interesting) to read. They’re an important publisher because they seek to print literary treasures, whatever the genre, lost to time by simple neglect or because the commercial publishers simply didn’t think they were commercial. While visiting NYRB Classics, Mr. Frank offered me two of their new books, one of which was Skylark (Pacsirta, 1924; tr. from the Hungarian by Richard Aczel, 1993) by Dezsö Kosztolányi. The one, he said (in my words, because I can’t remember exactly what he said), was great; Skylark, he said (in his words), is a masterpiece.
Review copy courtesy of NYRB Classics.
Skylark has an interesting, yet somewhat mundane, premise. Set in a small provincial Hungarian town in 1899, Mother and Father are sending their daughter Skylark away for a week-long holiday to visit an uncle’s estate. Skylark is in her mid-thirties, yet her parents fret over her preparations as if she is a little girl. They worry about how she will cope. Were they foolish to send her away for a week? How will they cope? Skylark takes care of them, fixes all of their food. What are they going to do without their beloved daughter? During all of the preparations, as we attempt to figure out the family dynamics, we get this wonderful description of Father and Mother — as mouses:
Father wore a mouse-grey suit, the exact colour of his hair. Even his moustache was the same light shade of grey. Large bags of crumpled, worn, dry skin hung beneath his eyes.
Mother, as always, wore black. Her hair, which she slicked down with walnut oil, was not yet altogether white, and her face showed hardly a wrinkle. Only along her forehead rant two deep furrows.
Yet how alike they looked! The same trembling, startled light in their eyes, their gristly noses narrowing to the same fine point and their ears tinted with the same red glow.
Meanwhile, Skylark (“They had given her that name years ago, Skylark, many, many years ago, when she still sang. Somehow the name had stuck, and she still wore it like an out-grown childhood dress.”) sits outside waiting for them to call her:
She did not move at once. Perhaps she hadn’t heard.
In any case, she liked to sit like this, head bowed, peering at her work even when she had tired of it. The experience of many long years had taught her that this posture suited her best.
Perhaps she heard some sound, but still did not look up. She governed herself with all the discipline of an invalid.
As you can see, much of the joy in this book is in the great descriptions, always perfect but unexpected: mousey parents, a name like an out-grown childhood dress, a woman governing herself with all the discipline of an invalid. These descriptions create such a wide range of possible interpretations. On the surface parents and child love one another — perhaps too much. Or is one being bullied by the other? Finally Skylark goes in to see her doting parents, but the contrast is immediately present:
The elderly couple watched with fond smiles as she drew near. Then, when her face finally revealed itself between the leaves, the smiles paled slightly on their lips.
Why the paled smile? Do they fear her? Do they pity her? Do they despise her? But soon Skylark is on a train, and Father and Mother are bereft. They really do miss their daughter. Trying to figure out how to spend their time, they begin making their way to the only restaurant Skylark deemed passable while she was away. Their presence on the street is a strange sight:
The interest that had met the couple in the restaurant followed them out into the street. Strangers turned to look at them as they passed. Not that there was anything unusual about their appearance. People simply weren’t accustomed to seeing them there in the street, like old couches that belong in the living room and look so strange when, once or twice a year, they’re put outside to air.
Again, so much wonder is in the subtle descriptions. All that I’ve summarized above takes place in the first few pages of the rather short novel. Father and Mother still have a week to suffer through. Only, to their surprise and not-slight horror, they find that they enjoy themselves. The food at the restaurant is wonderful. Skylark, who must have a sensitive stomach, always produces such bland dishes. They reunite with old friends and go to the theater, something they don’t usually do becasue Skylark’s eyes are sensitive and cannot cope with the theater smoke and the closed-in area.
I must stop summarizing the plot now. I think it is obvious this book is about a father and mother who are basically voluntarily enslaved by their daughter who is sick or ugly or both. However, the book is so much more than that, both in scale and intimacy. This is Hungary in 1899. Father and Mother read the newspapers, but they aren’t interested in the events that we, with hindsight, know are important. But why should they care? Their lives are in complete stasis with so much emotion and power carefully covered up below the surface. This week without Skylark threatens to destabilize the existence they have created.
In a state of excitement, things that normally pass unnoticed can seem pregnant with significance. At such times even inanimate objects — a lamppost, a gravel path, a bush — can take on a life of their own, primordial, reticent and hostile, stinging our hearts with their indifference and making us recoil with a start. And the very sight of people at such times, blindly pushing their lonely, selfish ends, can suddenly remind us of our own irrevocable solitude, a single word or gesture petrifying in our souls into an eternal symbol of the utter arbitrariness of life.
The ending of the book is masterful. As one would hope with a “masterpiece,” the threads don’t tie up in the way we might expect, and the pattern turns out to be far more complicated than we imagined — and much sadder. Much is said in this line:
Nothing had been settled or resolved. But at least they had grown tired. And that was something.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
In my last Clock at the Biltmore, KFC suggested I look at something by Donald Barthelme. Okay, I though, I’ve heard of Barthelme but never read him. Where should I start? Well, pick up some issue between the early 1960s and late 1980s and you’re almost certain to find some of his fiction. He first published in The New Yorker on March 2, 1963. The last piece published during his life (he died on July 23, 1989) was on March 6, 1989. Then there was one posthumous publication on June 27, 1994. But in that span he published some 110 pieces of short fiction. I took a stab in the dark and ended up reading “Affection,” published on November 7, 1983.
Click for a larger image.
Despite the quantity of stories, it is possible to get through them all relatively quickly. Most are incredibly short, perhaps less than a page. Barthelme is known for these short short fictions. For me, the length of these pieces is important because Barthelme is also known as a postmodernist writer. I can stand much postmodern writing, if I’m in the mood – but I can actually enjoy it when it comes in small doses. Somehow it doesn’t feel as gimmicky at that point.
Well, let me introduce the story in the same way I was introduced to it.
How do you want to cook this fish? How do you want to cook this fish? Harris asked.
Claire heard: How do you want to cook this fish?
Breaded, she said.
Obviously this isn’t going to be a positive look at affection. Claire and Harris are married, at least, they are married in this first section — some might say fragment. While this discussion on fish is going on, Claire is thinking, “We have not slept together for three hundred nights.” Claire calls her mother who says, “They go through phases. As they get older. They have less tolerance for monotony.” Claire thinks, “I’m monotony?”
The next section (fragment) is short. I’ll just be liberal in my quoting here:
Sarah decided that she and Harris should not sleep together any longer.
Harris said, What about hugging?
Sarah said that she would have a ruling on hugging in a few days and that he should stand by for further information. She pulled the black lace mantilla down to veil her face as they left the empty church.
I have done the right thing the right thing. I am right.
It is not possible (I don’t think) to follow this story from beginning to end. At first it seems obvious: Harris is having an affair with Sarah. Claire is being neglected, and their marriage appears to have already failed. In the next two fragments, Claire visits an old pianist and Harris visits a clairvoyant. Then, suddenly, there’s this:
Sarah calls Harris from a clinic in Detroit and floors him with the news of her “miscarriage.” Saddened by the loss of the baby, he’s nevertheless elated to be free of his “obligations.” But when Harris rushes to declare his love for Claire, he’s crushed to learn that she is married to Phillip. Hoping against hope that Harris will stay with her, Sarah returns. Harris is hung over from drinking too much the night before when Sarah demands to know if he wants her. Unable to decide at first, he yields to Sarah’s feigned helplessness and tells her to stay.
And this is just the beginning of a long list of non sequiturs. Strangely, somehow, I have no idea how, the feelings come together in the end and when we look back we can see the whole of the landscape we’ve just traversed. Its elements don’t fit together when one placed next to another. It is not explicit, but there is so much manipulation and spite going on these few pages with these three miserable characters (four if you count the clairvoyant; the pianist actually seems quite content — or perhaps he just doesn’t expect much now that he’s an old pianist). It’s a mess of feeling and a complete mess of narrative — but it works.
It all comes together (that’s not to say the non sequiturs make sense) in a final ambiguous scene. Well, the scene is not actually that ambiguous. It has happiness on its surface, but underneath is a lot of pain.
This story packed a punch. Though it was not my favorite by any means, it amply returned my investment. Since his pieces are so short, I’ll definitely be revisiting him again soon! Thanks KFC for recommending Barthelme to me.
You really shouldn’t miss out on this very generous IMPAC contest from KFC.
Today the Independent Foreign Fiction Award shortlist was announed. The winner will be announed on May 13.
- Brodeck’s Report, by Philippe Claudel, translated from the French by John Cullen
- The Blind Side of the Heart, by Julia Franck, translated from the German by Anthea Bell
- Fists, by Pietro Grossi, translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis
- Broken Glass, by Alain Manbanckou, translated from the French by Helen Stevenson
- The Dark Side of Love, by Rafik Schami, translated from the German by Anthea Bell
- Chowringhee, by Sankar, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha
Before Monday at 3:00 p.m. EST I had never heard of Tinkers (2009; Pulitzer), or Paul Harding. I must have seen the name before because the book got a small write-up in The New Yorker‘s Briefly Noted section, but it didn’t stick at all. Looking around the internet, I see I was not the only one thinking who? what? when the Pulitzer winner was announced. While it has been favorably reviewed in such places as The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe, Tinkers had been off the radar.
Tinkers is a first novel. It is published by Bellevue Literary Press which is only a few years old, and, according to the New York Times, the first small press to win the Pulitzer since 1981 when Louisianna State University published John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole’s book, which I admired but didn’t really love, has so far stood the test of time and withstood the critical weight heaped upon it after it became instantly famous. I’m very interested to see how Tinkersfares under that weight. At times, while reading it, I thought it might break. The writing at times is a bit too perfect and elaborate (or so it seemed). Certainly there were times that the running and running sentences got in the way and the author sounded a bit too grandiloquent. I worried the words and sentences might be a facade for blase ideas. But, in the hours since finishing it — while I’ve been quite haunted by it, actually, listening to a clock tick – it has grown stronger and then stronger again.
In many ways, Tinkers is the quintessential Pulitzer novel. It takes account of an American past extending six generations. There are harsh, rugged New England winters in which the nature is described in poetry. The characters are impoverished yet proud because they work. The central theme is mortality with hints of transcendental spirituality.
When we start the novel, George Washington Crosby is lying in a rented hospital bed with eight days left to live. He’s already lived eight decades. In his last hallucinations, his house begins to crack and crumbles around him.
He had built the house himself — poured the foundation, raised the frame, joined the pipes, run the wires, plastered the walls, and painted the rooms. Lighting struck once when he was in the open foundation, soldering the last joint of the hot-water tank. It threw him to the opposite wall. He got up and finished the joint. Cracks in his plaster did not stay cracks; clogged pipes got routed; peeling clapboard got scraped and slathered with a new coat of paint.
It is beautiful and powerful to watch the whole world then start to crumble as he lies dying in his living room, “right where they put the dining room table, fitted with its two extra leaves for holiday dinners.” Over the next few pages I could feel the reverberations as the walls and ceiling heaved and cracked, until:
The roof collapsed, sending down a fresh avalanche of wood and nails, tarpaper and shingles and insulation. There was the sky, filled with flat-topped clouds, cruising like a fleet of anvils across the blue. George had the watery, raw feeling of being outdoors when you are sick. The clouds halted, paused for an instant, and plummeted onto his head.
The very blue of the sky followed, draining from the heights into that cluttered concrete socket. Next fell the stars, tinkling about him like the ornaments of heaven shaken loose. Finally, the black vastation itself came untacked and draped over the entire heap, covering George’s confused obliteration.
It was an exceptional beginning, original and full of feeling, and, it turns out, conveying so much of what the subsequent pages would explore. After the quake, the novel slows down a bit when George’s hallucinations take him into his past and he starts thinking about his father, Howard. Howard Aaron Crosby, the son of a preacher, was a tinker who drove a “chest of drawers mounted on two axles and wooden spoked wheels.” One of my favorite passages in the book is the one where Howard and his trade are introduced. Here is just a snapshot:
Spring and fall were his most prosperous times, fall because the backwoods people stocked up for the winter (he piled goods from the cart onto blazing maple leaves), spring because they had been out of supplies often for weeks before the roads were passable for his first rounds. Then they came to the wagon like sleepwalkers: bright-eyed and ravenous. Sometimes he came out of the woods with orders for coffins — a child, a wife wrapped in burlap and stiff in the woodshed.
George and Howard are the book’s central characters, and we continue to follow them through their lives. They both live many years, but they aren’t together for most of them due to an accident one Christmas dinner. Howard is epileptic. For years he and his wife had been able to keep his seizures from the children, but during that Christmas dinner he ended up nearly biting George’s finger off. This leads Howard to a different perspective of his marriage:
Howard had assumed that their silence over his fits, over everything, stood for his gratefulness to her and her loyalty to him. He had assumed their silence was one of kindness offered and accepted.
That is not the case. We know quite early on, then, that Howard ends up leaving his family.
George goes on to have a relatively happy life. In the early hallucinations, we get a fast-forwarded version. We learn that George likes clocks and learned to fix them. The tension Harding describes as George tightens the delicate springs in a clock is tangible. The ringing shattering if a spring snaps spilling tiny bits all over hearkens back to the shattering of the universe in the first pages. The shattering and coming together also connects to other images of mortality:
My goodness, I am made from planets and wood, diamonds and orange peels, now and then, here and there; the iron in my blood was once the blade of a Roman plow; peel back my scalp and you will see my cranium covered in the scrimshaw carved by an ancient sailor who never suspected he was whittling at my skull — no, my blood is a Roman plow, my bones are being etched by men with names that mean sea wrestler and ocean rider and the pictures they are making are pictures of northern stars at different seasons, and the man keeping my blood straight as it splits the soil is named Lucian and he will plant wheat, and I cannot concentrate on this apple, this apple, and the only thing common to all of this is that I feel sorrow so deep, it must be love, and they are upset because while they are carving and plowing they are troubled by visions of trying to pick apples from barrels.
Just as the character here links his physical body to the ancient past, this passage also links together several passages in the book that quickly zoom away from the subject, completely annihilating the subject in the process, to show a greater world and existence. This works in memory too. As time takes us away from the past and from the people in our past, they are, in a sense, annihilated and broken into bits and pieces until they are dust and become something else: “My memories of them are atmosphere.”
Amazingly, with passages such as this one — “Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so.” — it’s a wonder that the book is still “life-affirming.” There is great reverence toward hard work, shown in the passages about the tinker and all of his customers, and in the passages where men work for hours on the intricacies of a clock. There is tenderness in the years, honor for passing through them. The final passage here is taken from the oft-quoted The Reasonable Horologist, by the Rev. Kenner Davenport, 1783. I think it shows the grandeur of the ideas in this book:
This cooperation, and each of these hundreds of thousands of seconds, may be heard at our leisure as the calming, reassuring tick-tocks of a winter’s night from the bracket clock on the mantel above the glowing fire. If we call roll through the years, Huygens, Graham, Harrison, Tompion, Debaufre, Mudge, LeRoy, Kendall, and, most recently, Mr. Arnold, we find a humble and motley, if determined and patient, parade of reasonable souls, all bent at their worktables, filing brass and calibrating gears and sketching ideas until their pencils dissolve into lead dust between their fingers, all to more perfectly transform and translate Universal Energy by perfecting the beat of the escape wheel.
Today the Pulitzer Prize for fiction announced its winner and two finalists:
Winner: Tinkers by Paul Harding
Finalists: Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin. For a review of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, check out this one from KevinfromCanada.
I haven’t even heard of Tinkers. Or Love in Infant Monkeys, for that matter. Time to look them up.
From that incredibly long longlist the IMPAC has announced the shortlist of eight titles. The winner will be announced on June 17.
- Zoe Heller: The Believers
- Muriel Barbery: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
- Ross Raisin: God’s Own Country
- Marilynne Robinson: Home
- Robert Edric: In Zodiac Light
- Joseph O’Neill: Netherland
- Christoph Hein: Settlement
- Gerbrand Bakker: The Twin
I’ve only read two (better than last year): Netherland and The Twin. Both are excellent books. Long-time readers will remember how much I rooted for Netherland to win more 2008 literary awards. I have The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Home sitting on the shelf, always just about to be read.