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A little tea, a little chat

I've been a compulsive reader, writer and theatre goer all my life. My book blog is here: http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/ Mostly food at the moment but also knitting is here: http://cathyingeneva.wordpress.com/

Currently reading

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
Sheldon S. Wolin
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
Gustave Flaubert
Nebula Award Stories 3
Harlan Ellison, Gary Wright, Samuel R. Delany, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, J.G. Ballard, Anne McCaffrey
Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe
Helge Kragh
Max Frisch
The Seducer - Jan Kjærstad, Barbara Haveland Additional thoughts towards the end.

I wish I could give this six stars.

Before I start The Conqueror...

One of the aspects of current literary fashion which has me somewhat confounded is the pejorative way in which sentimentality is viewed. If only I had a dollar for every discussion of literature which compliments a writer or a book for not being sentimental. Listen to the average critic talk about sentimentality in literature and it doesn't sound much different from Bush talking about The Axis of Evil.

Most recently I was looking at a discussion of As You Like It which complimented Rosalind's lack of sentimentality and quoted this famous reply to the idea that Orlando might die of love:

No, faith; die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned; and the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

Good old Rosalind. A jolly rolemodel for a girl, no doubt. But she is wrong. Of course people die for love....

The thing that struck me through and through while reading The Seducer is here is a man not afraid for one moment to write a book which is simply oozing with sentimentality of the most unabashedly Victorian type, something which should, if we are to believe the critics, quite offend us.

The chapter (p.323-330 in the English edition) devoted to a description of Margrete's relationship to bread could come straight out of any Victorian depiction of the joys of domesticity.

To Jonas, this is happy married life: looking forward to breakfast. Jonas experienced many great and exciting things in his life, and yet given the choice, there was nothing to match breakfast with Margrete, her bead with wild raspberry jam and a glass of milk.

And p. 272, the most sentimental of all Victorian belief:

There comes a day when, as one writer put it, the bubble of chilhood bursts, and for Jonas that day came with Nefertiti's death. Of course Jonas had always known that Nefertiti was too good for this workd, but even so, when she died he was not prepared for it. In short, he fell aprt. He took ill, become so ill that he had to be taken to hospital. Jonas Wergeland was sick right to the marrow and so cold that he thoght he wold never be warm again. The doctors at the hospital did not know what to make of it: a ten-year old who languished in bed, pale and wan, and kept throwing up, vomiting fits for which they could find no cause, a boy with a body temperature well nigh as low as that encountered only in people who had miraculously survived record lengths of time in extreme cold. And one thing they would not have understood anyway, even if there had been gauges to measure that sort of thing, was Jonas's feeling of being totally out of joint, of lying there like a carcass that had been chopped limb from limb. Jonas had only one thing to hold onto: a crystal prism which he clenched tightly in his fist and did not let go of, not even when he was at his sickest.

Jonas cannot die, there'd be no story left, but the idea is still there. Of course people die of love. The Victorians knew it. But we live in a period which views love with complete cynicism, so it is not something we would care to acknowledge.

Perhaps Jan Kjaerstad gets away with his lavish sentimentality by couching it all in an overtone of sex. One might think this is a book about a man with a magic penis who has artistic sex with all sorts of girls along the way. Yet the sex is completely irrelevant to this book. Take it away and the book would remain complete in every important respect, lacking nothing but an irrelevantly silly idea that a man - this man, the hero - can become a good mathematician by shagging a mathematician; a good musician by shagging a musician etc etc etc.

Even this amusing idea, now that I think about it, would fit nicely into a Victorian setting.

So, one of the things I'm left with after reading this book is sense of gratitude that Kjaerstad has been brave enough to re-introduce this important aspect of human nature back into literature and damn the critics if they care.

Additional thoughts.

Regarding the issue of repetition in this novel, which some regard as intolerable and which certainly took some getting used to on my part.

I've read books before which are too long and yet which seem to consist of essential words. This is something different again. In a sense it would be possible to take out many of the words in that way one often wishes to edit Victorian literature, of which this is a prime, if modern, example.

Yet I come to the conclusion that his use of repetition is necessary and important. Even his lists are purposeful, if neither necessary or important. But look at the repetition involved in his coming again and again back to the murder scene which opens the book. And another sort of repetition he uses to build up to an event, which not only builds up but also gives such a sense of being there. I think that is the key, you aren't really reading, you are being there. So, the scene that comes obviously to me as the prime example is that of the events leading to Nefertiti's death. How could you not be utterly at one with what is happening in those pages? Brilliant and moving.

As one who has tended always to be minimalist in my writing, but at the same time has increasingly moved towards short sentences and simple approaches I could not help but wonder how one sets about writing as Kjaerstad does. I keep wondering why and how does it work.

Figuring the answer to that is in practising the technique, I've been working on that. Here are some examples, and the topic is purely dictated by the magic penis theme of the book...nothing to do with my personal preferences (!)

Lying in bed last night, thinking this – that if your cock was so available to me that I could put it in my mouth every day for ten years, every one of those days and the first day of the eleventh year and so on would be a new, wonderful thing – I did wonder if a world view dictated by my clitoris being firmly attached to my finger might be skewed and that it if wasn’t rubbing against my finger, maybe I wouldn’t think that every one of those days would be its own small heaven; but since then I can report that sitting in the E*****n, eating poached apple breakfast cumble and toast with ******* changes nothing, that sitting here lost in the idea of those ten years is no less overwhelming than if I were lying in bed, wishing my hands were yours.


There was only one thing she could put in her mouth that would make her happy and she thought not so much of ten years as three thousand and six hundred and fifty days of it, every one of which was a new chance to pay homage - as she liked to think of it - though she was taking as much pleasure as she might be giving every day, and as she lay there, her thoughts directed by where her hand was and she decided to picture those days one by one, it was clear to her what the first day would be like and day two, and even day three, but at some point as she lies there stroking herself the days, his penis, her mouth blur into one impossibly long vision of penis and mouth seeking each other out to join together in this never-ending moment of sweet sexiness, never-ending and yet different every time.

Or :

She was sure that what would restore her appetite was to be able to put the one thing in her mouth that she really wanted to be there, and not for one moment or for one day but for ten years or a hundred and every day being able to do that, rekindle her desire to eat; for 3650 days (to keep the numbers to a manageable level or because she is not greedy) to be able to part her lips and put them around his penis and taste it anew every one of those days; to have butterflies in her stomach at the very idea that today, never mind it is day 3651, she would be able to once more – and yet if once more, still for the first time, it so feels – look with her eyes and then look with her lips; dwelling upon this, wishing to play every one of those scenes slowly from start to finish, touching herself until she doesn’t need to any more she does in her mind see the whole of day one of ten years and falls asleep thinking that tomorrow she will find out what day two will be.

I wasn't sure about these to begin with, but having read a couple of reviews since that are critical about the sex in this book, well, I can't get any more flak than that....can I????

What's interesting once you start trying to write like this is that you think about it all the time...and you find it is all much harder than you might expect.