Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Crying Fowle!

But I did get to Dublin eventually. Back nearly two weeks now, I had an initial burst of energy, getting out of bed early and sorting out insurance claims etc.. This enthusiasm, however, has started to flag. Nothing has changed. Unlike Thailand, this is same same, no different. Even the few conversations I have had with my work mates reveal a DCU with all the familiar virtues and flaws.

Last Sunday I joined Justin, Jules and Killian for a night out on the town. I found out that even I had not changed, enthusiastically chatting up Bulgarian students and passers by on the street, acting as relatively sober adjudicator in fast food altercations, and picking Justin up off the ground. Same same, no different.

Yesterday I took out my machete and cut through the final two hundred pages of John Fowles' 'The Magus'. It frustrated me. Thoroughly infuriating. Not since reading Guy Endore's 'The Werewolf of Paris' (a book which profoundly depressed me), has a piece of fiction altered me mood so dramatically. I felt ready to burn the novel after I was finished. In some ways it reminds me of Matheson's '7 Steps to Midnight', but is infinitely better written and with loftier aims. As I said before, Fowles can write. He has a skill that surpasses most contemporary writers. However, skill is one thing, intention another. I can accept that fiction can have an educational purpose (witness "1984"), but the more I read the more I find moralising by an author intolerable. That was one of my main gripes about the work of Salinger, and, for all that Fowles is a far superior craftsman, it certainly pertains to this novel as well. The lead character, Nicholas Urfe, is painted deliberately as an unsympathetic reprobate, and for most of the novel I sympathesised with those critics who regarded the novel as cold. Urfe is not someone you can easily identify with. Nevertheless, he is recognisably human, unlike his adversaries. To ascribe moral superiority to the forces that torment him is a celebration of sadism and an insult to the reader. To hold Urfe's new self up as an example of chastened maturity, as Fowles evidently intends, to accept his attitude to the other characters of the book as the right approach to take, is a demonstration of authorial smugness I find detestable. I feel that if I ever meet Mr Fowles I will deal him a slap not unlike the one Nicholas deals to Alison, and for pretty similar reasons. I can love his talent, who he is, but despise his intention, what he does with it. I could go on and on about this book, but what few people read this blog, have no doubt precious little interest in my literary opinions, so I'll stop here. Nevertheless, for anyone with eyes, it will be apparent that for a novel to have such a strong effect - negative or positive - it must be a special work, and 'The Magus' is. I tip my hat, however begrudgingly, to you, Mr Fowles.

It was something of a relief to leave the heady heights of Fowles' sermonising and take up Dick's 'The Penultimate Truth'. This is Philip K. Dick from around the time he wrote 'The Man in the High Castle'. The style is simple and clear, the plot full of the invention that characterises Dick at his best. Fresh air.

On the media and culture front, I have also taken to watching 'South Park' on the bus, via my new gadget from Hong Kong. There is an episode where Cartman fools Butters into believing the world has been devastated by an asteroid in order to make him hide out in a bomb shelter for a week. This so that Cartman can take Butters' place with Kyle et al. in going to a Mexican theme restaurant called Castle Bonita. I don't think I have seen such a clever use of B-movie cliches in a parody before. It even managed to give Cartman dimensions we have seen again and again in noir villains, but which still managed to resonate in a new way. Cartman speeding around Castle Bonita while the cops closed in was an unforgettable finale, worthy of a James Cagney or John Garfield. See what I am reduced to.

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At 3:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I value your literary insights, for what it's worth. Phil.


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