Finished Marcel Benabou’s Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. Read My Life In Heavy Metal by Steve Almond. Began Room by Emma Donoghue and Moby Dick by, you know, Herman Melville.
Didn’t get much from Benabou’s book. There were many sections that were conceptually interesting, but the overblow, baroque style jarred with me.
Take this sentence: “Thus, I drafted without too much trouble, and sometimes even with intense jubilation, a great quantity of first pages: were someone to take an interest in them one day, that person would create an anthology that might not be lacking savor.” It could be rewritten as “I wrote many first pages, some of which had merit,” without shifting the meaning too much. It could be that Benabou is trying to parody ornate prose, but I’m not sure that’s what he was going for.
Another possibility (and this is possible for most Oulipan work) is that the piece operates under a constraint I don’t understand. However, many of the constraints and generative techniques in Perec’s Life A User’s Manual are not readily apparent, but served the novel well. For example, his lists of items provide characterization as well as introducing dramatic weight into the story — these are characters whose stories are told partly through the accumulation of objects.
Moby Dick is the sort of book I thought I’d slog through, but am thoroughly enjoying. It reads almost like a highbrow adventure novel — there’s compelling action, colorful characters, well developed and unusual locations. It’s also got considerably more male-male spooning than I expected.
I’m about halfway through Emma Donoghue’s Room, which caught my attention with its premise when the book came out, but I then promptly forgot about it. I’m interested in books set primarily in one location, as well as specific, constrained voices. For the most part she’s pulling it off, although there were a few moments where I wondered if Jack’s voice felt authentic — it felt more like an imitation of a 5-year-old’s voice.
Steve Almonds’ first collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, is pretty great. I’m impressed by how direct and eloquent his writing about sex is. It’s up front but not jarring, somehow both sexy and awkward. It’s also the kind of book that makes me toss aside the whole “realist fiction vs. experimental fiction” debate. Aside from one story with a wandering perspective, the stories in this collection are all traditionally structured, but Almond is able to make them seem new. He’s also skilled with metaphor — it’s a device he uses frequently, but he’s successful every time.