Sunday, November 14, 2010

John Banville - The Lemur

I read The Lemur in a day! I can't remember the last time I read a book in a single day. Unless you count the summer when, completely jobless and all of fourteen, I read all the Colin Forbes thrillers back to back. Just don't ask my mom what she thought of that summer. Lying in bed and ignoring the parent and only answering phone calls from friends does not gain parental approval. Nor does the parent forget.

Off you go to Dogears to check out my post on the Lemur.

Friday, November 05, 2010

A quick note

to let you know that I post on two other blogs as well:

Project Dogeared that aims to capture the reading experience

Notes on Tones that aims to capture the listening (music) experience

Monday, November 01, 2010

In a Strange Room

Originally posted at: Project Dogeared

A week ago, on one of those impulses that make you buy shoes you don't need, I ordered Damon Galgut's In a Strange Room. Glassy-eyed, unable to tear yourself away from the window display of the shoes, hovering until you can resist no longer, I kept checking my email for the shipping information and then kept refreshing the webpage with the tracking details every hour to see if the book had landed in Chennai. Then there was the agony of waiting until it got to my doorstep. This is the point at which you have paid the bill for the shoes, the frenzy of impulse slowly replaced by the unease of post-impulse. Now the book should have been opened, flipped and delegated to one of the many to-read summits, stoking the same guilt as the unnecessary shoes.. But what happened instead was I started reading it in earnest. For the next few days, whenever I found time to read, I picked up In a Strange Room instead of foraging among the other half-reads and squandering ten minutes on the dilemma of what would be good to read now.

In my imaginings of how memory could be narrated, I always envisioned fragments that the reader would pick up and connect. What Galgut does is quite brilliant. Instead of fragments what we get is a sequence of events with fabrications, forgotten bits all admitted to. But the best part is the switching of voices from third to first person and back to third. The first time I encountered the switch it was startling. A few times into them I was able to appreciate how well the first person conveys the sense of immediacy the narrator feels with certain moments in his memory of each journey. Isn't that how it is with memory. You try to recall something that happened and at some point you can feel the breeze on your face as if you were back again at that beach. I always feel that distinct awful aftertaste of vomit when I look at the cover of Richard Bach's Curious Lives (I refer to it as THAT ferrets book) because when I was gifted that book I was in my first trimester and had just thrown up lunch. Voice switch is not the only thing Galgut does. He plays around with tense as well. The overall effect is of zooming in and out of these journeys, rewinding, forwarding, upping the volume sometimes and pressing on mute occasionally.

As I was reading In a Strange Room I kept thinking of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. I don't know why except that the latter was another 'memory' book.Their contrasts are vast and interesting but that is for another post. In all this talk about shoes and impulses I missed mentioning the flip-flops. So reasonable, so useful, so comfortable, so comforting. I also ordered Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. That arrived along with Galgut's. Since it was a book one heard about a lot and since Rilke was showing up everywhere in my readings, I sat with the Letters last night, read a couple, starred a few lines, set it aside and went back to reading Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment. Dyer was focusing on the lonely overcoated man going nowhere and how he was such a recurring theme in photographs. As is habitual with Dyer jazz found a way into the discussion about snow and photographing from windows and Eugene Smith. In the late 1950s - early 1960s, Smith holed himself in a Manhattan building and set up six cameras near windows (he went on to rig microphones as well) and obsessively photographed the street below. On the floor above his apartment, a loft, some jazz musicians met regularly to jam. Smith started photographing their sessions. Except for a solitary shot of Smith's street, Dyer included no other photographs and I found myself thinking how I would have to look them up.

In the 2009 fall issue of the Paris Review, there is a wonderful collection of prose fragments of Rilke. I like to read those fragments every now and then. This morning, given the sampling of letters last night, it seemed fitting to pull out the magazine and read parts of Rilke's Interiors. After savouring a few paragraphs I casually turned a couple of pages and stared in wonder at Eugene Smith's photos of the Jazz Loft looking back at me.

Did I mention that Damon Galgut's In a Strange Room, consisting of three different journeys, originally appeared as three separate novellas in the Paris Review?