Lately, I’ve generally been dispensing with developing new works of original short fiction, and have instead been compelled to grapple with my increasingly unreckonable and monstrous novel manuscript-in-progress, tentative excerpts of which I’m now delighted to share with y’all. To that end, a few self-enclosed extracts from the manuscript have recently been published in both Vol. 1 Brooklyn (U.S.A.) and AZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought (U.S.A.), two of my favourite new lit. concerns specialising in innovative prose and poetics. The longform 5,000-word excerpt for the book showcased online at AZURE, was also recently accorded the winning entry of their January 2016 Writing Contest for best original contribution for the issue.
You can read both these chunky excerpts from my novel manuscript-in-progress now by clicking through to each of these aesthetically radical and summarily excellent publications.
¶ “Firewater Moan” at Vol. 1 Brooklyn:
How to synopsise or encapsulate or summate or evaluate China Miéville’s Kraken, a palpating, multitentacled chimera of narrative maximalism?
In the most rudimentary and exacting sense, Kraken is a mess, a shambolic shaggydog story by a born raconteur and virtuoso of songlike doggerel; a folly; an oneiric fantasia of an otherworldly London whose unearthing divulges the existence of the many enchanted warring factions navigating the city; and yet it is something of a protracted failure. This is, however, almost besides the point, because Miéville’s outsized artefact is both one of the most unflaggingly inventive (and unnervingly eccentric) and most monstrously ambitious books I’ve ever encountered as an omnivorous reader (both in terms of stylistic execution and, especially, in the incalculable complexity of its plotting) — and I’m no newly-minted initiate to Miéville’s novelistic vision of literary estrangement.
A Visit from the Goon Squad consolidates both Jennifer Egan’s craft and capacity for psychological insight and verifies her as a consummate polyphonist. Her novel-in-stories describes a sustained discontinuous trajectory which toggles and stutters and strobes through narrative linearity, through modernist and contemporary storytelling convention, through time and memory and event and human betrayal and creative ambition until we appreciate that her book, in both formal innovation and in thematic engagement, is like the music it interrogates: a valedictory lament for the once-unnegotiable promises we’ve all made in the throes of a painful though purer youth.
Egan’s novel is structurally kaleidoscopic, even if its stylistic accomplishments aren’t as conceptually audacious and sui generis as might be anticipated in a work of literary fiction such as this one, so oft-praised for its aesthetic virtues as to defy immediate critical comparison: in many ways, the reader is compelled to accept that each character presented throughout the course of Egan’s narrative is invested with a keenly-observed psychology, but it’s rare that the language employed to convey this interiority is used to individuate the characters in question. Continue reading
This is a profoundly troublesome book to review in short order because, for me personally (if you’ll excuse the intuitive knee-jerk redundancy), Laurent Binet’s HHhH assumes the status, or perhaps the infrequent and baffling honour, of being a work of literature I appreciate and recommend, with some qualification, despite a host of initial (and not insubstantial) misgivings I harboured during the reading process. In fact, I would say — without express inhibition — I love this book, but this reaction might be characterised as contradicting my initial evaluation of Binet’s material. In some ways (and for a more explicit context), this is a critical reaction I can only attribute to a few previous instances: I recall enjoying David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but felt that its entire second/middle act should have been excised entirely or revised thoroughly, and I grappled with my increasingly diminishing enthusiasms over Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, if only because I would have designated Murakami’s novel structurally and narratively unsalvageable, if not for the final/third book which somewhat redeemed the systematically flawed entity for me as a whole. What I can express, in framing Binet’s HHhH in this tendentious context, is that it is certainly the best of the three works, and that the authorial issues I encountered upon reading Binet’s book nonetheless retain a verisimilitude with those I reconciled myself to when reading both the Mitchell and the Murakami: in sum, Binet’s work improves itself unequivocally from about the final third on.
As I’m certain it was for many others — not least because, the conventional lagtime in publishing a comprehensive English-language translation of a work of formidable world literature notwithstanding, this constitutes his début novel — this is the first of Krasznahorkai‘s fiction I’ve devoured. In that spirit, I’m compelled to verify that (as with all those who’ve heretofore asserted their uninhibited appreciation for Krasznahorkai’s fiction) Satantango is an unqualified masterpiece of narrative art.
It is a big, black subterranean artefact of eschatology, human ruination and synchresis, some visionary text charting the systematic spiritual and physical entropy of the few corruptible members of some neo-feudal Hungarian agricultural co-op before the nationwide dissolution of communism in 1985. But like any apocalyptical allegory, this one’s also a conduit into the befoulment of man when confronted by the inexplicable figure of a prophet come to collude and succour those who seek easy resolution or look to spurious acts of sublimation to reconcile themselves to their personal and professional failures.
For most of my reading, it reminded me of a novel-length contemporary explication of Chekhov’s short-story, “Peasants”, but the style recurrently evoked the labyrinthine and incantatory prosody of Knut Hamsun, Melville, Bulgakov and Gogol — but there’s something, too, of Flannery O’Connor’s gothic evocations and Bolaño’s oeniric mythmaking and even Mervyn Peake’s high weirdness, so that it’s always eminently clear that Satantango is its own thing, a witchy dirge to the death of community, a book about the dystopic consequences that arise from money reasserting its Talmudic status of influence over our lives.
Perhaps the best thing about Krasznahorkai that is so rarely articulated is that his writing is always drolly hilarious. This is a book where the Messianic manifestation materialises before you expressing little but shopworn promises, but we’re all too preoccupied in pissing ourselves, skulking on our stomachs and writhing in our neighbours’ filth to notice.
To write about Roger Ebert is to follow in the footprints — or rather the footfalls, as his legacy is even now still reverberating in the ears of every matinee-prowling punter, fanboy, cinematic autodidact or professional film journalist — of a more inimitable commentator, a fiercer advocate, and keener viewer of film-as-an-artwork of affect and expression than you might ever hope to countenance or encompass.
It’s been said innumerable times over so that it’s now beginning to assume the well-honed burnish of immediate cliché, but Ebert was the Voice of Movies. He lived to engage with them, he lived to evaluate and demystify them, he lived to cheerfully disdain those he hated, he lived to champion and venerate those he loved, but most significantly, Ebert lived to substantiate the claims and validity of film discourse and film reception and film criticism — never to trivialise or condescend to it.
The inaugural screening for my filmic fanboy dalliance at MIFF (the Melbourne International Film Festival) for 2014 was an evening première of writer/director James Gray’s The Immigrant — and, to invoke the timeworn clichè of all those nostalgists whom bloviate over pop.-culture, they just don’t make films like this anymore. They’d be right.
This is a film of a stately classicism and sedate formalism rarely seen outside of the Hollywood studio system romances of Elias Kazan, master of melodrama and monochromatic mood. You’d be hard pressed to disparage with or deviate from the Kazan associations when surmising Joaquin Phoenix’s brooding, elliptical and finally turbulent performance as Bruno Weiss, as there’s some suggestion of Brando in his penitent and dishevelled scramble for purity in the film’s climactic final scenes — albeit maybe A Place In the Sun-era Montgomery Clift, with his sweat-beaded brow and his convulsive retreat into guilt, would be more accurate.
However, there’s more to Gray’s vision here than mere cinematic mimicry or earnest homage, and the film blooms into something simultaneously familiar and strange through the startling, impeccable, emotionally-invested and invariably soulful performance of Marion Cotillard, who never flags in telegraphing to a hushed audience the moral erosion her character, Ewa Cybulska, feels she’s inflicted on herself and her dream for American providence. Continue reading