Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Trivial Love?

Love is sometimes thought a theme too trivial to be tackled, especially by male writers, one better left to women.
Louis Nowra in the Australian looks at the prejudice against love as a theme in literary fiction, noting that :
Recently a reviewer summed up many academics' distaste for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's superb novel Love in the Time of Cholera as "an attempt by the author to broaden his appeal by concentrating on the universal and soft subject of love". Irene Nemirovsky's novel Suite Francaise appalled J.M. Coetzee. In a recent issue of The New York Review of Books he criticises the author for writing about love instead of concentrating on World War II as a time of "conquest and extermination aimed at wiping certain despised people from the face of the earth and enslaving others".
I remember being quite aghast that Vikram Seth's wonderful A Suitable Boy never got within a sniff of the Booker and neither did the Louis de Berniere's Captain Corelli's Mandolin (which I'm sorry, I keep waxing lyrical about!) though both went on to win the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Someone I mentioned this apparent oversight to sniffed "Yes, well of course. They are both love stories."

Therefore by implication not to be taken as seriously??

I am, I'm afraid a sucker for love stories, although not the cheesy cliched Mills & Boon happily ever after things. It only works when the reader cares deeply for both characters in the relationship.

De Berniere's book has two great big heart wrenching love stories, one gay, one straight. Seth's A Suitable Boy pits the sensible suitor against the romantic lover. My Malaysian book loving friends (college colleagues all) told me I was looking at love in a hopelessly Western way when I wanted Kabir to win Lata's hand, and that Asians were invariably more pragmatic about affairs of the heart. (Honestly, they said that!) But I was heartened to find the author agreed with me when I heard him speak in Bali.

Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain is a passionate love story, but made the Booker list - perhaps because the central relationship was so subtly handled? (Some not so clued in readers actually missed it!)

Well, what great literary romances have warmed the cockles of your own hearts? And what do you think of Nowra's observation about the most significant literary love stories coming from male authors?


Anonymous said...

you know what i think is the best love story of all? it's "ali and nino" written by an anonymous writer Qurban Said who was said to be actually a Jewish MUSLIM convert by the name of Lev Nussimbaum.

Tom Reiss was so captivated by this guy that he went on to write a very fascinating book 'The Orientalist' that became a best seller a few years ago.

this book (ali and nino) makes me want to go and visit degestan and georgia.

ah pong

dreamer idiot said...

One of the most thundering love story, in my memory, is Wuthering Heights - Heathcliff and Catherine.

btw, I'm a sucker for love story, generally.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks so much ah pong, for a reference to a book i haven't heard of

dreamer idiot - yes!! but isn't it strange that thundering love stories were so much more common in C19th century than now?

Madcap Machinist said...

love. pfft.

Anonymous said...

Paul Theroux wrote an interesting introduction to the translation of ali and nino that i read .

to give an idea of the book, here's the first few paragraphs...

We were a very mixed lot, we forty schoolboys who were having a geography lesson one hot afternoon in the imperial Russian Humanistic High School of Baku, Transcaucasia: thirty Mohammedans , four Armenians, two Poles , three Sectarians, and one Russian.

So far we had not given much thought to the extraordinary geographical position of our town, but now Professor Sanin was telling us in his flat and uninspired way: ‘ The natural borders of Europe consist in the north of the North Polar Sea, in the west of the Atlantic Ocean, and in the south of the Mediterranean. The eastern border of Europe goes through the Russian Empire, along the Ural mountains, through the Caspian Sea, and through Transcaucasia. Some scholars look on the area south of the Caucasian mountains as belonging to Asia, while others, in view of Transcaucasia’s cultural evolution, believe that this country should be considered part of Europe. It can therefore be said my children, that it is your responsibility as to whether our town should belong to progressive Europe or to reactionary Asia’

The professor had a self-satisfied smile on his lips.
We sat silent for a little while, overwhelmed by such mountains of wisdom, and the load of responsibility so suddenly laid upon our shoulders.
Then Mehmed Haidar , who sat on the back bench, raised his hand and said : ‘Please, sir, we should rather stay in Asia.’

ah pong

KayKay said...

Sharon, I'm curious to know who these "Malaysian book loving friends" who sagely intoned "that Asians were invariably more pragmatic about affairs of the heart" are. Bull Crap! We may be more accustomed (once again depending on your background) to accept things like Arranged Marriages (still prevalent in the Indian community)as a practical device to pair up 2 people in the "hope" that love develops over time and the sharing of life's experiences. But we are more than capable and often do end up falling head over heels as hopelessly, illogically and passionately as any one. There is no East/West divide where affairs of the heart are concerned.
A culture that's supposedly pragmatic in love would not have produced love stories as passionately doomed as Laila/Majnoon or Salim/Anarkali.

bibliobibuli said...

my former colleagues in the english department at teacher training college, kaykay. and i agree with you entirely!

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - ah but you've been bitten badly!

Anonymous said...

They said that because it's true. Asian women are by and large very pragmatic. That's why they run the country :) the males here are mostly dreamers, slackers and visionaries. If it was left to then we'd be in deep, deep depression right now (like a lot of countries in the west.)

When I told my last GF I was going to leave my job and become a writer, she asked my one question - Where are your priorities?

Anonymous said...

One of the best love stories : Lolita, definitely.