MonthApril 2017

Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan

Being a part of any community, let it be marriage, family or close circle of friends, does not entail an alignment of thoughts and values – however it often feels this way and forms the basis for connecting. Everyone knows an unsettling feeling that a certain kind of recognition brings, when all of a sudden your world becomes more parallel than related to that of others and an abyss opens to show you that an intersection of beliefs is made of so completely different directions that three dimensions are suddenly not enough to describe the space we live in.

This was the feeling of reading this book. After an initial story about a family that is at least close if not happy, where the joys and tragedies are described from a chronological and personal distance, it makes an abrupt switch to the consequences of a dark, previously unmentioned family secret, that weaves its web on generations to come. From an idealistic family portrait we are dragged into the personal lives of traumas and their tangible realities. The fundamental loneliness of each of us, that is never felt deeper than in a company of deft listeners, is shown within all its reach – to the point I wondered if perhaps it is not the author’s fault to make the threads that link solipsistic planets so little known. As in life, I was left to fill the blanks myself.

Signs of Life by Anna Raverat

A relationship that one can have with a wooden fence is in many ways similar to the emotional landscape portrayed in this book. A breakup following an affair was described with as much sensitivity. On the surface, a wooden fence looks meaningful. It gives one a sense of security as it separates one’s place from the rest of the world; it provides a sense of satisfaction when is colored nice and it can even help one’s flowers to grow. It also resembles some of the possible dangers that a relationship can encounter. It breaks when one leans too harshly and it always has an open space or gates, so that one can exit without too many difficulties.

But relationships between people are normally more diverse; they aren’t just there waiting for someone to attach whimsical meanings to them and they aren’t the servants of a mere convenience. They need some action and reciprocity to happen, and some motives to define their course. Considering an abundance of works with similar themes, where the hardships of relationships are shown in all their glory (Kureishi’s Intimacy, Ferantte’s The Days of Abandonment etc.), I mistakenly believed that the protagonist’s search of finding a purpose in a mess of her affairs will eventually bear some fruit, but every new page proved me wrong and has drawn me further away from discovering it.

I can’t blame the components the author has used. Youth, childless attachment and unfounded obsessions are fragile enough to work with and there’s a lot of effort needed to prove their significance. But it can be done (at least Shakespeare’s done it!), so something else has to be responsible for this novel’s lack of credibility and force. It was as if the author was convinced that twisting and turning the plot will bring on a complexity by itself. That didn’t happen and even the promise of a final hook, that was all that held me on, turned out to be as superficial as the rest of the book.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

In a┬ánoble English household, where the banquets are prepared by loyal servants and consumed by mighty statesmen, a butler with his reminiscences of the war period serves us the essence of servitude and its quiet assistance to history. In a nice, neat world that he inhabits, the schedule is set and its boundaries established; his freedom ends where his master’s expectations begin. The unpredictable is for others to handle and the fog surrounding decisions is dispersed without his helping hand. Within these simple rules, life can easily be fulfilled.

Like silver and plates, everything has its order and all is just a matter of keeping its position. Diminished display of thoughts is a job requirement, in his case internalized to such a degree that no human interaction can be but a useful tool for improving professional skills. Only little contentments of his work achievements constitute his reality, leaving behind all vagueness and sorrow. In a dull, complacent state like this, there is no room for doubt, changes of course and no room for freedom.

I don’t recall many so pleasant and readable metaphors for the limitations of mind. Even if one chooses to obey orders to make a living (as we all do to some extent) and finds certain joy in being a shadow of another one’s willpower, he is still not excused of responsibility. Not making your own decisions is quite similar to making them. Putting general morals concerning others aside, the saddest result were the butler’s own missed opportunities.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

In the middle of an African village on the verge of white people’s arrival, the rhythm of living is dictated by weather, crops and all sacred nature’s inventions. Inner life is as important as any of intangible magical forces – not very much in comparison with the plenitude of all the other ephemeral things.

Everything that transcends an individual is a cause for commotion. Marriage means a colossal feast and faraway death disturbs everyone’s night rest. All the society’s great events are accompanied by divine beings. With such a vast entourage, many of this distant world’s characteristic that we condemn today (gender inequality, lack of education, ostracism…) feel at least as peaceful and joyous as the ones we’ve gotten used to cherish.

Even some aspects of their arbitrary laws and consequent violence made me feel sorry for all that was lost in between. Without written, defined constitution, justice is made by people’s spontaneous and versatile interpretations of it. Divine order (or nature as a whole) is an unfair judge; it speaks to everyone differently and its language is too similar to all kinds of prejudices and accumulated experiences. But it is also a very reassuring messenger. It makes everyone responsible only to itself, the whole. Wrongdoings are therefore punished only for restoration of the divine order; they have no integral fault or debt to society in themselves. Guilt is nonexistent and thinking about alternatives diminished. Nowadays, there’s only camping left for a little bit of nature’s touch.

%d bloggers like this: