Hello all! Offbeat here! Specifically Jess – your friendly Treasurer – presenting a blog post of her thoughts to help entertain you during this long, hot summer. (Well, it may not still be hot by the time you read this, but at least for a couple of glorious days, it was…)
This post will be on books. Literature. Fiction. I am going to present three of my favourite books for your consideration. I find sinking into a good book is one of the best ways to while away summer days, no?
And because this is Offbeat, you may not have heard of all of them before.
Number one: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami.
In some circles, Haruki Murakami is incredibly famous. When his book Norwegian Wood was published in 1987 he had to go into hiding because he would get mobbed in the street. This book is not one of his most well-known, but it is one of his best (better than that book, in my opinion).
Dance Dance Dance has the same qualities as much of his writing: it is quiet and discreet; with much description of meal times, weather and the protagonist’s idling around. It also describes very solitary people. One gets the impression that each of Haruki Murakami’s protagonists is basically him. In this book, he is trying to find a girl called Kiki whom he lived with for a few months several years ago. He goes back to where they stayed, the Dolphin Hotel, only to find that it’s been taken over and has become a huge luxury guesthouse. When he chats to one of the receptionists, he hears that this new hotel is haunted.
Despite the simplicity of the prose and his tendency to describe the mundane, there is a twinge of magical realism. There are weird coincidences and characters and occurrences. The protagonist has – not to give too much away – a supernatural guardian. Some characters have features that do not quite correspond with reality. And there is a murder mystery. This prevents the novel from being boring, and means that you’re constantly on your toes. It’s also what makes you care, I think. Murakami mixes intimate descriptions of his mealtimes with lines like "Holding you tight in that world of images, making love on deductible expenses."
It is hilariously, ironically funny. Its prose is beautiful enough that it made me cry even as it describes something simple. The characters are ace – especially the little girl, Yuki, whose parents are rich and ignore her, and so she lives alone and listens to loud rock music instead of going to school. And the book is very rich: it has a writing style very unlike most writers.
Number two: The Man Who Was Thursday, by G K Chesterton.
The entire premise of this book – Syme, a rational intruder and undercover policeman in an anarchist discussion group in Saffron Park in London one evening gets elected to the position of Thursday in the Grand Committee of a European anarchist organisation – is completely ludicrous. Chesterton has a background in art and this is evident in his prose, which is so colourful it is almost garish. Throughout the book he paints brightly-coloured pictures to surround the action, which increases the strangeness. It’s touched by magical realism and a kind of absurdism: the peripheral characters are easily swayed and pretty predictable, while the main characters are completely unpredictable.
Its ending is a tad Christian, which I was not entirely convinced by, but had a weird mysticism which was fitting to its ridiculous story. When I call it ridiculous, I don't mean this in a negative way. I mean that it goes against everything that would make sense for a novel of its genre, and yet it fits together better than most.
When you think about the plot-line afterwards, it is surprising how when you are reading the book you think it fits together complexly. I guessed a big twist about a quarter of the way through, but it didn’t matter, because when that was revealed, it is then continued and changed in a way I couldn’t have predicted. Chesterton subtitled this book 'A Nightmare' – it’s important to consider he's not applying it to real life; he's painting a dream world. It is not meant to pertain to real life. And yet I’d argue that its ideas apply well to people's attitudes of much of the twentieth century. Considering the novel is all about anarchism, spies and chases, it seems ridiculous that it was written in 1908, before the Bolshevik Revolution and before World War One. But I wouldn't have been surprised if, technology notwithstanding, it had been written in 1958, if not later.
Number three: Survivor, by Chuck Palahnuik.
Not Fight Club, although that is a similarly fantastic book. Survivor. The narrative comes to you from a black box attached to a plane which the protagonist has hijacked and is on course to land in the sea four hours from when he starts talking. He is alone, and he tells you the black box the story of his life before his inevitable fiery death.
I suspect many of you have seen Fight Club. So you get a sense of the world Palahnuik inhabits. But what you don’t know is that his writing is so excruciatingly, ruggedly beautiful that it is of an even higher quality than the film was, in my (wanky) opinion. And Survivor is just as original as Fight Club. The main character is the only survivor of a crazy religious cult which spontaneously ordered all its members to kill themselves ten years ago. So now, the protagonist posts his phone number in places vulnerable people might visit, and speaks to people who are on the brink of suicide.
And tells them to do it.
Palahnuik writes in an impressionistic way – often groups of nouns or phrases clumped together; short sentences; broken up and lacking direction. It’s also very extreme. Things are not half-baked; they are full-on, intense, crazy, ridiculous and often bitingly lustful or extremely violent. If you might find that annoying, this isn’t the book for you. Its intensity tends to make you feel emotional about very little actually happening. I remember a particular passage about flowers making me catch my breath and clutch the book tightly. Nothing was happening, but the way he wrote somehow made me feel like this was really important and made you have strong feelings about it.
I never thought I’d say this, but it makes even glory holes seem sublime, in a grim, detached way.
Read this if you like beautiful prose, if you like crazy shit, if you like Fight Club, if you like stuff that criticises modern America.
Have a good summer, guys!