I posted already about Ishiguro’s never let me go. I also read translated accounts and how late it was, how late by James Kelman. I didn’t think the former really worked, but the latter was quite good. A lot of people thought it was either too difficult or used the f-word too much (4,000 times by one count) or was just plain bad. I don’t agree with any of that. It doesn’t take long to get into the Glaswegian dialect and it takes real skill to render it so well. Even more skilful is to write from the first person, stream of consciousness perspective and make it both realistic and comprehensible. The f-word was used about as much as some people use it. Part of the novel’s aim is to reflect that kind of discourse. An explicit theme of the novel (and probably all Kelman’s novels) is the way language is medium of communication and obfuscation, bridge to relationships and weapon, and the way in which those are part of class differences and conflict. That too was nicely done.
What about charges that it is just plain bad? It has features some would not like: we never find out why most events happen, or what really has happened. There is no wider context for the action of a few days. There’s shadowy back story, but that’s all. I think Kelman’s purpose in this is to focus on the character, to force attention onto those who still don’t appear much in middle and upper class lives (the sort of people who’ll be reading this book), and to present him and them with dignity and humanity. In this it succeeds. I did find the lack of wider plot frustrating, but I don’t think Kelman could have achieved what he does if attention was diverted to a larger plot canvas. I felt initially that the wider plot canvas, although inevitably somewhat artificial, would have been precisely what would give context to the main character’s life and person, but the Sammy’s own inner life within the bizarre episode of a few days is enough.
Finally, apart from having a beautiful title, it has one of the best opening sentences I remember reading in a novel. ‘Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there’s something wrong; there’s something far far wrong; ye’re no a good man, ye’re just no a good man.’
That was all the fiction I read but I read a little English history too. (Fact: women had more rights under King Alfred from 871 onwards than for about the next thousand years!)
For research, some notables included:
- Garbis Kortian’s Metacritique, a contextualisation of critical theory against its German Idealist background (very short book, which is nice).
- Dialectic of Enlightenment and a couple books on Adorno
- Some stuff by Malabou and Nietzsche
- Some political philosophy
- Some of Kant’s first critique (which is really quite difficult).
What piqued your interest this month, readers?