some thoughts on books on a rainy morning

It’s a rainy morning in Holland, Michigan. I listened to We The People’s latest podcast during my morning routine. The participants outlined the upcoming Supreme Court docket and it doesn’t look good.

As I watch a fair amount of social media go by I suspect I am living in a age of propaganda in the U.S. Otherwise how can so many people support such many unsubstantiated and basically untrue notions. Of course truth might not have that much to do with it. It’s more about entertainment. But even the the entertaining is getting monstrous to me.

Case in point, the novel, The Vorrh by Brian Catling. I finished this on Friday. Whereas Kunzru put together a puzzle of characters and story and ultimately succeeds, in Gods Without Men for my money Catling doesn’t succeed with his array of characters and situations.

He pulls the story together at the end, but by that time I had lost patience with almost every character. I googled reviews and I seem to be in the minority. Michael Moorcock liked it in his 2015 Guardian Review.

I just took a moment and read this review. I learned from it that Catling was doing some satiric things on actual people of whom I have never heard. According to Moorcock not only does Catling come up with a character based on the French surrealist Raymond Russell, but Russell has written a book (mentioned in the novel) which also has a mysterious forest named The Vorrh. So maybe it’s just my ignorance showing. I note that nowhere does Moorcock say he likes the book. Only blurb worthy quotes and comparisons. I respect Moorcock as a writer, but I find the infighting about genre and so on uninteresting if not boring.

This reader did not like the book. It seems full of missed opportunities to wade into the nasty post colonial discussion of Europe and Africa. I know. I know. That’s not the point of telling a story. The story is the point. In this case as I followed the story I was repelled. Repelled by characters and situations. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing in a book. But I found myself questioning weird plot twists. Catling and his readers must have a taste for gratuitous bloody violence. More and more, I do not.

So maybe the judgment is upon me as a reader. Ignorant and seeking a character to admire or a plot with some daylight of redemption or decent humor. So be it. At this point, I’m not planning on reading the next two volumes of this trilogy that Moorcock was panting for in 2015.

Instead of reading yet another Kunzru novel I turned back to J. G. Farrell’s Empire Trilogy. I have read two of the volumes, Troubles and The Singapore Grip which I remember enjoying. Farrell has a bitterly ironic eye for the fading empire. And he mercilessly concentrates on the perpetrators not the victims. He continues this in the last volume of the trilogy that I am now reading, The Siege of Krishnapur. It won the Booker Prize. It takes place in 1857, the year of what the Brits call “the great mutiny.” The introduction by Pankaj Mishra is very helpful in pointing out that “mutiny novels” were a Victorian thing for a while. Farrell’s story satirizes them and goes a step further in comedic ridicule. The intent reminds me a bit of Robin Diangelo’s insights about progressive white people in her Nice Racism.

The blurb on my copy of The Siege of Krishnapu describes the other two volumes of the trilogy. Troubles was “about the Easter 1916 Rebellion in Ireland. The Singapore Grip “takes place just before World War II, as the sun begins to set on the British Empire.” I have to quote the next part: “Together these three novels offer an unequaled picture of the follies of empire.”

I have all three in New York Review of Books reprint editions. These editions I find unfailingly well written and worth reading.

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