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I think that what you’re looking for is "A Touch of Love".
Enjoy it (as much as I enjoyed your musings on Maxwell Sim).
Thank you for the nice post, Peter. I liked it very much. Indulgence towards our cack-handed humanity seems to me a good way to sum up the novel’s reluctant "moral" lesson. A message so down-to-earth that you can almost smell it. You’re absolutely right on that.
I think that you hit the target, Dottie. With a little addendum. Maybe, one can also discern a bit of self-criticism there. A literary move coherent with a comical (modest) attitude toward life. Miles away from any sort of authorial arrogance: "See, I may sound presumptuous and uppish, but I’m just like you and Maxwell: lost in this muddle of fact and fiction; afraid to be hurt; unknown to myself. So, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a hero or a prophet. I also need to learn from my foibles and follies". I may be wrong, but I don’t see any condescension in Jonathan’s stance. He’s critical, of course, but he’s not taking a view from nowhere. He’s like us: awkwardly struggling to come to terms with all the messiness we experience in modern life. It might also be an indirect response to B.S. Johnson’s modernist radicalism. But I may be overinterpreting him, here. Yet, it’s interesting how a lot of readers sensed a bit of condescension or lack of nerve in the author’s refusal to play his leading role till the end. It is something to be mulled over…
Well, Claudia, of course the power of images was there since the beginning of human history (and maybe, who knows, since the beginning of human evolution; it must have something to do with the evolution of bipedalism), but it’s surely never been so pervasive as it is today.
There is a powerful description of its subtle force in the first volume of Proust’s Recherche, where he shows how Swann falls maddeningly in love with such an ordinary woman as Odette by seeing her through the lens of Botticelli’s Sefora (http://www.marcelproust.it/gallery/sefora.htm).
This beautiful rendering of the play between images and desire make even more impressive the contemporary wager on visual imagery. And you ‘re right when you stress its strikingly thin and selective nature (no smells; no sounds; no tastes; no thickness). Part of its power lies exactly therein.
I don’t know whther my sensitivity towards this problem is just a generational matter (I’m 45 years old). After all, we’ve seen it coming up. I would be curious to know if younger people react differently to this excessive power and are already, so to speak, immunized.
"The scary thing is that (and it’s not an original thought) maybe we see our lives as films. I’m sure for most of us it doesn’t stop us just living and is probably only an extension of being self aware".
This cleverly sums up what I had in mind when I posted my comment on the power of filmed images, Altho. I was just thinking of common things like going to New York or Chicago and cannot help feeling like being thrown into a Hollywood movie set; or putting the headphones on and suddenly perceiving music as a sort of soundtrack to one’s own trivial life; or bringing a television into a small country village and almost immediately disrupting a whole life form; or, to stretch the thought a bit further, of the way slow motion transformed our expectations about what’s happening around us. Everybody seems to want to have a filmed image of everything these days: concerts, family life, holidays, etc. Is there a promise of eternal bliss at play here? Or a substitute for eternity? I really don’t know…
So, Uppa, perhaps, even when you don’t want to watch a movie based on your favorite novel, I suspect that a thought is hovering somewhere in your head that you don’t want to spoil your personal ideal movie you are playing within your mind.
I don’t want to overstate my view or to criminalize anything or anyone (and to sound way older than I am), I’d rather draw attention to this peculiar "extension of being self-aware" that is shaped by the billions of filmed images that we’ve seen in our lives.
"Maybe I have a romantic view on books, but I think their purpose is to inspire and develop our imagination" – I like this statement, Rosemary, and I don’t think it is romantic in the pejorative sense of the word at all. It sounds simply true to my ears. And yet, it is open to debate what may be the best way to stir the reader’s imagination. In a sense, I agree with you (and Jonathan) that some twists or literary tricks are useful to wrest the reader away from his/her comfortable passivity. But there is a thin line between opening up the reader’s inner eye and disrupting the subtle game of distance and proximity that the practice of novel-reading consists in. To know how to end a story is important, after all. And I discern a sincere respect for his readers in Jonathan’s effort to strike the right balance between sheer intellectual brilliancy (or should I say ‘coolness’) and genuine trust in the disclosing (and sometimes even healing) power of storytelling. If I should choose a maxim here, it would be the following: "To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable".
Since the invention of movie camera, and especially of television, we imagine in film. I know that it is a trite commonplace, but I am always shocked by the pervasive and disrupting power of filmed images. Of course, they are a dream come true for deeply visual creatures as we human beings are, but it is still astonishing to observe their brute power at work within us. We close the last page of a novel we have fallen in love with, and we want to see it immediately in full flesh in front of us, be it "One Day’s" hero Emma, Proust’s Young Girls in Flower or Coe’s (T)Rotter’s band. For an avid reader, seeing is like touching for a believer: an impossible dream. Don’t you think so?
The pun is at page 21 of the Italian Translation. I don’t have the English Edition at hand, now. But you can easily check it out by yourself. Good luck!
Thank you, Jonathan! It’s clearly been too long since I read the book. It’s well time for a second reading…
All of us here hope it’s all right with you travelling all around the world (by the way, I’ve recently seen you on TV, at "Parla con me". What a nice view! If someone likes to watch the interview here it is the link: http://www.parlaconme.rai.it/dl/portali … 2b671.html)
Hi Lena, welcome to the Rotters’ Club!
My first choice would be D.H. Lawrence because of his dim view of politics. But T.E. Lawrence is another reasonable option. Jonathan will have the last word, of course.
Well, there actually is an Italian translation of "Ivy and Her Nonsense" (I know for sure because I did it myself!). You can find it in an obscure academic journal. Here it is the reference: "Le solite sciocchezze di Ivy", in “La società degli individui”, 3, 2008, pp. 159-172. You may be curious to compare your translation with mine.. Best wishes!
That’s an interesting point you make, Gert. And of course, my dichotomy is a stylization, a sort of ideal-type distinction that applies only in broad outline. But, still, it seems to work fine for me. Let us dwell on the assessment level for a moment. For me, the crucial question here is the following: how high would you value Jonathan’s novels if you should only take the characters’ “weight” into account? Not very high, indeed. Their extraordinary narrative quality rests on the wonderful web of stories whose one and only character (as in every comic novel) is human nature in its multifacetedness. The same seems to me to hold true for other contemporary “comic” novelists such as Milan Kundera (or, for what is worth, older ones as Henry Fielding). To indentify oneself with the characters (through the story) is easy here because the underlying understanding of human nature is sooo good and realistic.
As to your last point, Ulysses is an intriguing case, indeed. But, we should never forget that we are dealing here with an avant-garde attempt to deconstruct the novel structure from within. As many other modernist efforts, it is parasitic on pre-existing genres. And since, in this case, the pre-existing narrative structure which it depends upon is epic, if I were forced to classify it, I would (maybe paradoxically) put it within the comic genre (stream of consciousness notwithstanding!).
Thanks for the opportunity to mull over such fascinating problem, Gert!
Thank you Gert and Uppa for the additional musings. I surely need time to ponder them. The only thing that I would add concerns the distinction between character-driven and story-driven novels. This seems to me to be relevant in our case. My opinion is that you may, and probably you must, have solid characters also in a plot/story-driven novel, but their inner lives should never be the narrative focus. The story must resonate in their inner selves, but it is not there, deep inside, that it unfolds. This is the secret behind any (in broad sense) comic novel and, more generally, of humans’ sense of humour: detachment. In some way, you can empathize with Maxwell falling in love with the soothing voice of his GPS system (Emma), but it is a sort of detached empathy, because it is Maxwell as the exemplar of our contemporary crazy situation you are identifying with. And that makes you (bitterly and shrewdly) laugh. There is no room for laughing in Proust’s Recherche and that does not seem to me to be accidental. There is too much psychological realism, there. But, of course, Jonathan’s brilliance lies in his ability to turn a plot-driven narrative into an illuminating inward experience. As Uppa said, we all agree that he is a great storyteller.
@Uppa: yes, you’re right: two Italians arguing in English about Jonathan’s novels (and in front of an audience that, as far as I can see, is mostly composed of Italians) sounds queer enough. It makes me think of what a debate must have looked like in the Middle Ages. All those Germans, Frenchs, Italians speaking a (putatively) common language with hilarious different accents and mindsets. Jonathan could surely make something amusing out of this (and, actually, it did something very funny in his short story “V.O.)
I see your point, Uppa. But what I wanted to say is just that the characters of Jonathan’s novels do not impress me for their psychological depth, or for the realism of their inner lives. Their depth and significance is a side-effect of the profundity of the stories, that make them, so to speak, “alive” for us and easy to empathize with. But it is the story that really makes sense, not the characters themselves. This is how I interpret the disrupting act of narrative detachment at the end of Maxwell Sim. Jonathan is saying us: “Hey, look, they’re not real. But who cares?”. For he is not telling us that their stories aren’t true or meaningful. It is just the opposite way around. And, by the way, it is also the exact opposite of what B.S. Johnson wanted to have: one veeeery real and veeeery deep character (himself) and an irrelevant web of stories.
Well, deep psychology can be interesting. But it doesn’t always make for good novels.
This is only my opinion, of course. So I am looking forward to your reply.
It is strange, but I have always thought that Jonathan’s Forte wasn’t the character development, but the plot building and that the undeniable strong identification with his characters that we all experience was contingent on the plot sophistication (By the way, this seems to me to be the chief Fielding’s influence on Jonathan’s style.) For example, after reading the Rotter’s Club, I remember of being asked which was my favorite character by a friend and to feel that this was NOT the right question to ask. The web of stories, the atmosphere was essential, and the characters had only to play the role they were called on to play by the story itself. The story was deeply impressed on my mind, not the characters. But I am keen to read why you think otherwise.