Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book #39, Saturday, Ian McEwan

"With eyes closed he sees the newspaper offices, the curled-edged coffee-stained carpet tiles, the ferocious heating system that bleeds boiling rusty water, the receding phalanxes of fluorescent lights illuminating the chaotic corners, the piles of paper that no one touches, for no one cares to know what they contain, what they are for, and the over-inhabited desks pushed too close together. It's the spirit of the school art room. Everyone too hard-pressed to start sorting through the old dust heaps. The hospital is the same. Rooms full of junk, cupboards and filing cabinets that no one dares open. Ancient equipment in cream tin-plate housing, too heavy, too mysterious to eject. Sick buildings, in use for too long, that only demolition can cure. Cities and states beyond repair. The whole world resembling Theo's bedroom. A race of extraterrestrial grown-ups is needed to set right the general disorder, then put everyone to bed for an early night. God was once supposed to be a grown-up, but in disputes He childishly took sides. Then sending us an actual child, one of His own--the last thing we needed. A spinning rock already swarming with orphans..." (p. 122)

"So far, Daisy's reading lists have persuaded him that fiction is too humanly flawed, too sprawling and hit-and-miss to inspire uncomplicated wonder at the magnificence of human ingenuity, of the impossible dazzlingly achieved. Perhaps only music has such purity. Above all others he admires Bach, especially the keyboard music; yesterday he listened to two Partitas in the theatre while working on Andrea's astrocytoma. And then there are the usual suspects--Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. His jazz idols, Evans, Davis, Coltrane. Cezanne, among various painters, certain cathedrals Henry has visited on holidays. Beyond the arts, his list of sublime achievement would include Einstein's General Theory, whose mathematics he briefly grasped in his early twenties. He should make that list, he decides as he descends the broad stone stairs to the ground floor, though he knows he never will. Work that you cannot begin to imagine achieving yourself, that displays a ruthless, nearly inhuman element of self-enclosed perfection--this is his idea of genius. This notion of Daisy's, that people can't "live" without stories, is simply not true. He is living proof." (p. 67)

An extraordinary novel, easily one of the most striking and best-realized works of fiction I've read in recent times; close to the "impossible dazzlingly achieved," perhaps by virtue of its own self-negation. My response to it, beyond this praise, is complex and to some extent riddled with contradictions; I would probably need a couple of thousand words and a few weeks of reflection to parse it.

Of the many many reviews available, I enjoyed Michiko Kakutani's review at The New York Times the most.

Two useful indices of reviews:

List of Reviews at Metacritic

Another List of Reviews
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