Sunday, December 17, 2006

Snow Drift

Abandoned Snow three-quarters of the way through and then hop skipped to the end to find out what happened to the characters. (Now I understand why it took Starmag reviewer Anu Nathan six months to read it!) No point labouring through something you're not enjoying, hey? I now somewhat reluctantly add it to the venerable list of dumpees whilst trying not to feel too inferior to all those friends who wax lyrical about it.

I only read reviews when I'm done with a book, and very much enjoyed the reviews of Snow on newspaper websites. (Complete Review has a whole list of them.) Despite my own struggle with the book, I have to agree with these words by Laurel Maurey in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Pamuk is a good antidote to the easy answers that so much modern literature offers; if you're a fan of Dostoyevsky, Fowles, Hesse, George Saunders or any other author with the guts to muck with your mind, read Pamuk. ... "Snow" will make you feel the arguments surrounding fundamentalism as a situation of murky grays, where the only thing black is the night, and the only thing white is the snow.
Margaret Atwood's review in the New York Times intrigues when she talks about the Male Labyrinth Novel ... something I'd never considered before:
The twists of fate, the plots that double back on themselves, the trickiness, the mysteries that recede as they're approached, the bleak cities, the night prowling, the sense of identity loss, the protagonist in exile -- these are vintage Pamuk, but they're also part of the modern literary landscape. A case could be made for a genre called the Male Labyrinth Novel, which would trace its ancestry through De Quincey and Dostoyevsky and Conrad, and would include Kafka, Borges, García Márquez, DeLillo and Auster, with the Hammett-and-Chandler noir thriller thrown in for good measure. It's mostly men who write such novels and feature as their rootless heroes, and there's probably a simple reason for this: send a woman out alone on a rambling nocturnal quest and she's likely to end up a lot deader a lot sooner than a man would.
Or maybe women have more pressure on them just to get on with things because too much depends on them?

Will try some of Pamuk's other novels later on. Promise.

Now it's back to Auster. I'm supposed to be reviewing The Brooklyn Follies and better get on with it!


Ted Mahsun said...

A good reason to start podcasting would be to talk about The Brooklyn Follies... or Paul Auster in general.

*cough cough hint hint*

bibliobibuli said...

why particuarly that book? declare your interest young ted!

The Visitor said...

shit! now you make me really REALLY want to read Snow!

Ted Mahsun said...

I read some good comments over at the American book-blogging scene earlier this year about The Brooklyn Follies, and recently, on this Murakami forum I frequent, some people were asking about Murakami-esque writers and Auster's name kept cropping up (I hear Swifty groaning already ^_^). And the paperback cover looks mighty interesting... naturally I'd be interested to hear (or read also can lah) what's your take on him (even though I already know what you think of the NY Trilogy).

bibliobibuli said...

i am so enjoying "the brooklyn follies" (was just "working" i.e. sitting on the verandah in my favourite chair, reading it - hard life!) and it is very different from "new york trilogy" - a lot less murakamiesque, much more human ... and much more like the auster i encountered in his film scripts.

chet sent me an e-mail yesterday to say that she was bowled ovr by auster's writing - and she has gone much further than i have.

visitor - you may well love "snow". wanna borrow?

Burhan said...

atwood's review contains some rather naive and outdated feminist ideas.

i see no essential connection between writing a labyrinth novel and the contemporary cultural view of masculinity. certainly the main players of today's literary landscape, modern and postmodern, are from both genders. even the concept of the rootless hero is, to me, very gender-neutral (there are angsty men and women, aren't they?), even though there seems to be a strong American tradition of conceiving the masculine condition as a lonesome state (Hemmingway, Kerouac, etc).

but i would agree to atwood's complaint against the treatment of women in pamuk's work: as only idealized objects of desire (snow suffers from this too). relationships are always overly-romantic there. this as a complaint in much of arab and turkish literature. their poetry (e.g gibran), for example, has always had a very strong romantic tradition.

bibliobibuli said...

i agree with atwood i'm afraid. the drifting philosophical character in search of a meaning is ... and please correct me if i'm wrong by giving me specific instances ... always (or nearly always) male and created by a male mind.

c'mon ... prove me wrong ...

The Visitor said...

i want! i want!

but after i return Hawksmoor.

Burhan said...

I can see some of the truth in: Being preoccupied with masculinity => writing gritty war or cowboy novels, or spy thrillers starring Sean Connery.

But I can see no real truth in: Being preoccupied with masculinity => writing philosophical novels of drifters who are obsessed with finding meaning.

(‘Masculinity’ is not the same as being a man. It’s probably closer to the opposite of being effete)

‘Philosophical’ is highly relative, not sure how to make sense of what a ‘philosophical novel’ is. Still, today there are many great female philosophers and many female writers who write these existentialist novels of ideas (Susan Sontag, Beauvoir, Assia Djebar, Angela Carter, Marguerite Yourcenar) and their doing so does not or should not make them any less ‘feminine’ or ladylike (if such a concept really makes sense).

But this is a highly problematic topic. It’s the same with the issue on whether a female becomes more butch when she ventures into science, or whether science itself is gender neutral. If you recall, even the President of Harvard University had to resign after something he said about it.

Burhan said...

There are a lot of female drifters and adventurers out there and I cannot say how many times I had heard my female friends complain on how meaningless they find their lives (but that probably says a lot about the kind of people I used to hang out with). Questions about the purpose of life afflicts all humans.

And there are a lot of male writers who are in the conventional sense ‘less masculine’ -- whatever that means: effeminate, weakling, gay, transgendered -- and who write the kind of literature you mentioned: Jean Genet, Mishima, etc.

The point for me is not how many examples or counterexamples I can supply. The point is whether writing those novel is a direct function of masculinity, and whether femininity leads one way from such works. My answer is: ultimately, no.

bibliobibuli said...

i still think that the point that atwood makes in this little bit i picked out is a valid one, burhan. maybe we have to agree to disagree.

Burhan said...

ok no problem.

bibliobibuli said...

can see the academic *LOL*

what area did you specialise in?

Burhan said...

tell you later on saturday.

bibliobibuli said...

great - look forward to it!