The wild horses in The Wild Horses Of Hiroshima (240 pages) are certainly intriguing, as with the title and cover art, and play a strong role at the story’s end by appearing in the streets of Hiroshima to wander about as a healing force, cared for by the citizens. They derive from the imagination of a novelist who is also a character in the novel, who is also creating a narrative. The horses seem to emphasize purity and nobility, pounding through the city in herds, a shield against nuclear war and against the violent nature of the human species itself.
This novel inside the novel begins approximately half way into the story, following a background beginning with the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima and its hideous devastation. A young American man has been a penpal with a young Japanese girl, and after the war, he goes to Hiroshima to find her. They marry and move to New Hampshire, bearing a son, Yukio. Yukio becomes a strong, husky young man who survives the attack of a bear which kills his father. He and his mother, Miyeko, return to Japan where he becomes a sumo wrestler. Time passes and he retires to write novels. The novel within a novel begins, with occasional returns to the exterior story of Yukio and his mother, plus Yukio’s geisha, Satoko. Continue reading
In Disgrace (Penguin Books, 220 pages), Professor David Lurie’s crisis begins with his foolishly taking advantage of one of his students, then proceeds to his inadequate response under enquiry. Gradually, the story’s emphasis on “disgrace” pervades the entire narrative. It extends to white dominance and native reprisal in South Africa, to cruelty with animals, and to self-obsession within the human community generally.
An early reference on page 2 to the final chorus of Oedipus Rex, “Call no man happy until he is dead,” joins the suggestion David Lurie is a Lucifer in an earthly darkness, the fallen angel. Oedipus of course is humbled through his arrogance and self-righteousness, so the allusion clearly applies. Professor Lurie resists from inside the wall of his pretensions as an academic and Romantic, as if he has some kind of right to “desire” in an honorable history descending from his study of Byron, who is simultaneously his hero. His unlearning will take a long time. Continue reading
Coetzee’s novel of Dostoevsky (The Master of Petersburg, Penguin Books, 250 pages) is a mysterious portrait of the artist surrounding his The Possessed. Suppose a preliminary to Dostoevsky’s demons story could extend it via a narrative featuring the great author himself. Coetzee’s portrayal is that novel. Dostoevsky becomes a half-fiction in this role, somewhat real and somewhat false. Does that matter? It’s not easy to answer. As protagonist-novelist, Dostoevsky’s most important function for Coetzee might be as guide and exemplar, somewhat disheveled and brooding into our own age. Continue reading
Jeffra Hays’ Cocoa Almond Darling (Smashwords 2011, 126 pages) is the story of Millicent Randolph, survivor of a bad marriage and starting over in tough circumstances. These include finding a place to live and a job. She finds work in a sewing shop and enjoys a brief, happy relationship with her employer, in which she becomes pregnant although he is married. Her difficulties are then resumed through a long, turbulent aftermath to this affair. The turmoil continues following the birth of her child and on up to this daughter’s marriage and birth of her own daughters, when Milly becomes a grandmother. Continue reading
Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (Picador 2002, 190 pages) is the story of one man’s quest, his “project” to find the writer outside his writings, despite Flaubert’s insistence that the books should be enough, the writer should disappear and be left alone. Geoffrey Braithwaite, this amusing novel’s British protagonist, is a medical doctor about sixty. He pursues museums, letters, literary works, criticism, and Flaubert the person in a long quest as unofficial biographer and tireless seeker. Continue reading
According to a note on the title page Tales of Barranco Lagarto (277 pages, Kindle) is a collection of stories which first appeared in The Coachella Post Gazette. The tales were handed down by one Horatio Shackleton, who died in 1925, and eventually assembled into a single collection by his grandson, Horatio Shackleton III. These characters are based on actual persons. Grandson Horatio is the mask which the “editor”—author Steven C. Levi—utilizes for his satirical tribute to a time gone by. The book concentrates on American culture in the southwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is not so much an intellectual history as a whimsical foray into a forgotten past, with the narrator’s twinkling eye always at the ready. Continue reading
Composed in 1948, Albert Camus’ The Plague (Vintage International, 308 pages) is a study of human habit and frailty in a time of widespread destruction and crisis. A plague appears in a modern city called Oran in Algeria, afflicting the community for most of a year, then as abruptly lifts. Residents celebrate, much in the way of celebrations for the ending of world wars, with renewed energy for humanity’s “humble yet formidable love” (301). It is this love, an adult’s understanding of love in the view of protagonist Dr. Rieux, that Camus highlights toward the ending of the novel—that is, love as desire to join with another, whether adult son with mother, father with child, doctor with patients, wife with husband, or “true healers” who seek peace (254). Continue reading
“[M]erely the story of an American darling,” Banks’ 2004 novel The Darling (Harper Perennial, 393 pages) ends on September 10, 2001, one day before “a new history” in America begins. The words “merely” and “darling” are strongly ironic, suggesting the “new history,” beginning on the next day, will be even more ominous and horrible than the one recounted by Hannah Musgrave, the novel’s protagonist. She is also known as Dawn Carrington, her adopted pseudonym due to youthful foolishness in abetting the Weathermen revolutionary group in America during the late 1960’s into the 1970’s. Hannah is essentially still on the run, although she will manage to marry a Liberian minister close to President Samuel Doe, plus later be exploited by the CIA in arranging the escape from prison of Charles Taylor. She has been a self-necessitating fugitive, obliging herself with a life of running and hiding, and unaware of herself as also a political tool easily exploited. Continue reading