Archive of April 2010

Sun 18 Apr

During March and in response to a request for a novel from an English author this was the chosen book.

Although the reading group was sparesely attended due to ill-health the general consensus was clearly none too favourable though.  We were somewhat at a loss to see how the work had apparently garnered such critical acclaim, though as I noted if Will Self took it upon himself to describe Mr St. Aubyn as "pre-eminent" I had to say the emphasis must have been firmly on the "pre"!

I did enjoy the writing as particularly English, though I am not sure it showed English culture in an especially kind light.  As I observed at reading group if I encountered someone from another culture inclined towards a certain misguided anglophile delusional idealism this might be part of a required reading list to show them the down-side to being "English".  Some of the parenting and relationship issues displayed are chronically dysfunctional.  Which prompted me to another observation, that if there were an imaginary reading group composed entirely of therapists and psychoanalysts then they would surely have a thoroughly enjoyable time meeting to discuss this book.

The narrative begins from a childs point of view with discusions rather to the father's then the mothers.  There are two sibling boys in the family and a rather affected view of the thinking and behaviour of the younger jarred somewhat with me.  It simply did not seem authentic and left me with a firm belief that the author was far removed from first hand experience of fatherhood.  I can also clearly remember early in my reading having the thought that he could write quite authentically a woman's voice in the first person, but by the time I had completed the novel I am far from sure this is correct.

When the reading group met it had been a couple of weeks since I finished reading and I was surprised how little I could remember of the actual plotline, although the impression of a very English novel and the jarring aspects of the narrative remained.  The group and I agreed that one authentic aspect was the portrayal of extreme old age and the inability to communicate readily with the associated anguish it might cause.  Perhaps if there is a unifying theme in the novel this is it.  The father also descends into alcoholism, the child's voice is an isolated one observing the family and sidelined by the younger sibling, and the mother has compensated by absorbing herself with him.

A very English family perhaps, but not a very functional one.  With the contrived nature of the humour and the sensation of a "Merchant Ivory" work of literature perhaps the same could be said of this novel?