Archive for the ‘depression’ Category

Haruki Murakami “1Q84”

December 18, 2012


1Q84 is by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami who also wrote Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – both of which are profound and interesting and unusual.  But 1Q84 just feels disappointing – flatly written and with far too many characters.  To steal Luke Kennard’s comment: “when Murakami’s characters aren’t being themselves, they have a habit of  sounding like Dan Brown extras.”  ( )  I have unfairly quoted the sole negative remark in a long review: Kennard actually loves the book, and his review makes me sound dyspeptic.  So it goes.

I wondered whether the style was a function of the translation, and did some online searching.  It turns out that the two volumes were translated by different people (one for volumes 1 and 2, the other for volume 3), but that they had been fairly stringently regulated to ensure a parity of style. Furthermore, there are hints that the whole thing was produced with massive time constraints – rushing for a publication deadline.  Perhaps this is why they do indeed feel very similar (but not identical) and I still wonder whether the editorial interventions somehow strait-jacketed the translators, and planed their style down to a kind of blankness.

The plot involves an alternative reality into which the characters slip when they get involved with a secretive religious organisation that abuses young girls.  The suggestion develops that the religious organisation has a genuine link with some kind of ‘other’ power – maybe from a spirit world, maybe aliens.  At the point I reached it wasn’t clear which.  There’s a love story in there, too, and some murders, and some steamy sex scenes.  Some parts of it make me think of ‘Dragon Tattoo’ sequence – the casual sex and violence; the self-justified stance; the obscured misogyny of its pseudo-eroticism.  It’s about 1200 pages long, and I got through something over 900 of them – so I gave the book a fair run for its money, I think.  (I’m giving up on it because it has failed to make me care two hoots about the worlds, the aliens, or the characters.  And it’s making me feel even more depressed than usual.)

Didn’t expect to get quite so irate when I started out to write this.  Maybe I am turning into a curmudgeon.  I shall go away and read Robert Coover instead – or maybe Russell Hoban, who is balm for the soul.

Travellers tales 2 – more about floods

January 20, 2011

Weds am.

Hours of dark, pessimistic wakefulness passed the night.  It’s still black dark but the kookaburras are laughing already, throwing their gurgling cackle from side to side of the valley.  It must be pre-dawn – the time when you dread to feel wide awake – but it’s impossible to mind when that chortling starts up.  So I watch the light increase in our fusty bedroom and then pad out barefoot into the gentle freshness.  Five to five.  A scruffy little peewit has just arrived on the balcony, very close.  Here’s not used to company here, and I guess I puzzle him.  The birdsong increases: unidentifiable twitterings, loud sardonic-sounding skrarking from the crows.  But how could I possibly know (or understand) the emotions of crows?  Can a bird be happy?  Or satirical?  It’s hard to resist anthropomorphising: probably the very use of language makes it inevitable at some level, by incorporating the natural world into a human structure.  In the same way that Cixous sees language as inevitably gendered or ‘man-made’, it must also be inevitably ‘humanned’. 

Koo-up, koo-up; peep peep; oo-it, oo-it, oo-it, oo-it; chip (long pause) chip.

Unintentionally, they do speak to me.  It is wonderful to listen, and that queasy sleeplessness fades out of consciousness.

And now something is scrabbling energetically on the metal roof.  Some birds cruise in wide circles, galahs move in groups – purposeful straight lines; noisy mynahs can float, lofting elegantly onto their tree perch.  And the swallows are shrill, shrill, just as in Europe.


On Monday Dave and Maddy joined the host of volunteers helping to clean up post-flood wreckage. They were working on the swimming pool at Bellbowrie and its café.  For complex reasons the only way to cope with the muck, slime and frogs in the swimming pool water will be to keep on and on filtering it.  If they were to pump the pool out, the pressure of the soaking ground underneath would make the concrete shell ‘pop out’ – an amazing thought.  This has already happened to the paddling pool: only the weight of its contents keeps the main pool in the ground.  Yesterday (Tuesday 18th ) Andrew joined them.  Vlad, who runs (ran?) the swimming pool, was in desperate straits, but at last a structural engineer had declared his house safe to enter.  It and the pool adjoining had been completely submerged for days, and then standing in hot sun for more days.  Volunteers gutted the house – ripping out the stinking gyprock walls; avoiding the asbestos; junking foully putrid food.  The smell was barely tolerable – a work session could last about twenty minutes, Dave told me.  Only a very few belongings were salvageable.  Elsewhere, where wealthier people lived, they dragged solid wooden furniture outside to dry in the sun, and perhaps be reclaimed.  A waterlogged mattress is massively heavy and flops about, unwieldy as a drunk under its own sodden weight.  They lashed it with electric flex and a rope, and six men were needed to heave it out the front door.

It is hot steamy weather, especially for such heavy work.  Day in, day out, further volunteers (meta-volunteers?) support the volunteers by bringing packed lunches, meals and drinks. 

Late in the afternoon Andrew and David came home reeking and muddy.  They stripped off and leapt into the pool, returning to our guilty-survivors’ luxuries with great splashes.  Only a few minutes later thunder and lightning rolled up out of the south-west, bringing half an hour of pounding rain.  (Paradoxically, this can be seen as a good thing, as it helps to rinse down the mud-logged trees, and settles the possibly toxic dust which otherwise would blow around.)

And then there came a black-out.  So we drove over to Taringa for mountains of Mexican food and cold beers with slices of lime.



the saddest novel

November 29, 2010

The saddest, most heartbreaking novel in the world is William Maxwell’s So Long, see you tomorrow.  Carefully and beautifully written, it soaks into your soul with its gradual, total tragedy.  It should come with a health warning: don’t read it late at night, or if you are feeling low already.

Superlatives such as ‘saddest’ are logically tricky beasts, and I’m sure you are trying to think of sadder books (sorry to have dumped that on you) but yes, I too have read Black Beauty, and most of E. Annie Proulx, and my claim stands.

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