Mark Haddon (no significant spoillers)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun Feb 15 19:18:24 EST 2004


Charlie wrote:

>Minnow
>> I wasn't all that struck. Given the options I had available, that or a
>> stack of old magazines mostly about rebuilding one's house and improving
>> it, I'd probably make the same choice again, but it would be a toss-up: I'm
>> quite interested in the idea of building a bread-oven.
>
>Chacun a son gustibus non est disputandem, and all that - though I'd be
>interested in trying the bread.

If Pat ever does build that bread-oven I shall kidnap a loaf and deliver it
to your door, or something.

>I can see what you mean about the book's not getting anywhere - perhaps
>it's not that far from what I meant when I mentioned its monotonality -
>but I think that's part of the effect Haddon's aiming for, and part of the
>technical challenge he set himself in writing it.

Very probably.  I am reminded of a recent edition of whatever the programme
that has replaced "Kaleidoscope" is called (the R4 evening Arts thing,
anyhow) in which a very famous composer in his eighties (I think) was being
interviewed on the occasion of a new work of his being performed for the
first time in London.  He got to talking about how he had had to invent a
new musical vocabulary in order to express what he wanted to say, some time
back in the fifties, and my ears went down and a sense of foreboding came
over me.  Sure enough, when they played the opening of the first movement
shortly thereafter, it may have been incredibly clever and I'm sure a
musician would have found it fascinating and challenging, but to me it was
simply a rather ugly noise.  People who inflict their technical challenges
on the public very often have that effect on me: I am singularly
unimpressed by things being done merely because they are difficult, and I
don't generally give a tinker's cuss about the motive, I am interested by
the results.  In the case of Haddon's work or at least this example of it,
the result seemed to me not to merit what I'm sure was a considerable
effort.  An interesting idea, to be sure, but a dull result.

The concrete house was clever, and a technical challenge, but I am so glad
its artist insisted that it was performance art, later on, and took
pleasure in smashing it with the ball-and-chain bulldozer thing, because it
was actually a very fine *idea* but a very boring object, not to mention
fiendishly in the way of houses being built for people to live in.
Sometimes really good ideas should be ephemeral.  (I quite often feel that
way about even the very best jazz solos: they just don't work on tape
later.  But that's a maggot, and I won't explore it: you too live in
Bristol.)  I have a slightly nightmare vision of all the dozens and
hundreds of fifteen-year-olds having to write essays about The Curious
Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for exams, in years to come!

Who was it who called *Finnegan's Wake* "that inspired cul-de-sac"?

>But I didn't read the final para as an 'author's message' at all, so much
>as the protagonist repeating some of the 'positive self-image' messages he
>picks up at school: we've no reason to accept his assessment here more
>than at any other part of the book. That was my take, anyway.

Ah.  Right.  Attempted brainwashing has taken hold to a limited extent, you
mean?  Actually, in some ways he *has* achieved a remarkable thing (still
no spoilers, I take it, but in its own way an epic journey, even if his
success is at least in part fortuitous), but unless he realises it, and I'm
not convinced that he does, it isn't much help, is it?  I read it as
"author's message" as much because of its position as of its content.  A
sort of "hey, I ought to be a bit upbeat here" tag-line effect.  I am
unsure about the protagonist repeating what he thinks he should, because he
hasn't been inclined to unquestioning acceptance previously -- that's one
of the charms it *does* have, that he has maverick reactions that don't
necessarily go along with the Party Line.  So I would take it as being that
if he repeats them, he has agreed with them, otherwise he wouldn't bother
with them at all.  So it's a sudden attempt to tell the reader that things
have looked up a bit; but it is at variance with the tone of the whole
piece, and I attribute it to the author rather than to the narrator as a
result.

Since what I have to read for tomorrow is *The Cloud of Unknowing*, (now
*there's* a mindset I find difficult to grasp, if you like!) I think I
shall abandon this post at this point!  Goodnight.

Minnow


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