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Category Archive for 'Allegory'

One can almost see the wink and the smirk on the face of Italian author Paolo Maurensig as he begins his dark satire of a community in the Swiss mountains where a formidable adversary has established residence, a place where the residents do not even recognize this new resident as an adversary, though he is the devil himself. Telling a story within a story within a story, the author creates the story of the devil incarnate, who inhabits a literary community in the mountains of Switzerland. Only Father Cornelius recognizes how serious the threat is to their society. Maurensig keeps the action moving rapidly, while also raising serious questions about the nature of good and evil. His use of symbolism and lively detail allows the reader to see some issues which are often discussed more abstractly by other writers, and his dark sense of humor keeps the reader from becoming overwhelmed by the serious subject matter. The care with which Maurensig organizes and paces this novel is astonishing – it feels like a thriller in places where serious issues are being presented – and the build-up to the conclusion is so carefully done that the discussions of morality which one usually associates with a parable or an allegory feel natural, instead of turgid or intrusive here.

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In a novel widely regarded as the high point of his work to date, Australian author Tim Winton expands his view of the world and his ability to create fascinating, even symbolic, characters, placing them in circumstances in which they must take actions for which they may not be prepared. Set in the remote wilds of western Australia, where life is often raw and behavior sometimes lacks the constraints which “civilization,” by definition, requires, Winton creates two characters on their own, each one abused, and both trying to escape the events which have marked them for life. Jaxie Clackton, a seventeen-year-old whose family life has been significant primarily for his beatings, has lived through the lingering death of his mother. His father, a man who seemingly obeys no laws and feels no sense of love for anyone, takes his own frustrations out on Jaxie, beating him mercilessly, sometimes for no apparent reason. When he finds his father dead in an accident, Jaxie takes off into the outback, determined to walk almost two hundred miles to see the one person who had been kind to him in recent years. On the way he meets a former priest living alone in a hut, a man who also is rejected by his society but helps Jaxie for many days.

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Though it deals with nothing less than the meaning of existence, the nature of reality, and ultimately, a search for the legendary “City of Dreams,” which has haunted the lives of writers and philosophers for centuries, Found Audio is also great fun. Debut author N. J. Campbell makes his own rules here as he creates a novel which is entertaining and, at times exciting, even as it also deals with philosophical questions which have been the subjects of treatises, novels, plays, and poetry since the beginning of time. Who we are, where we are going, what we see as the nature of reality, how importantly we regard our dreams, and the universal need to give meaning to our lives are questions for most of us, and what Campbell has to say is not new. What is new is his enthusiastic, down-to-earth treatment of these ideas within a novel which is experimental and often charming, drawing the reader into participating in a search for truth through mysterious audio tapes which have been found by an unknown narrator who has traveled the world to exotic places. In a Foreword, which begins the novel, a transcriber has received a manuscript from an unidentified writer in 2006 while working in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The writer has also provided three audio tapes, and he is prepared to pay her a significant sum in cash for two days of work on the tapes in an effort to determine where they came from, how they were produced, and who might have recorded them. Fresh, often charming, and full of insights into the need for a City of Dreams and what these dreams represent for us all.

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One out of Two, an early (1994) novel by award-winning Mexican author Daniel Sada, has just been published in English translation for the first time – a tragicomic classic by an author whom both Roberto Bolano and Carlos Fuentes have highly praised for his “contributions to literature in the Spanish language.” It joins Almost Never (2008) as one of only two books by Sada available in English, to date. Though the book appears, at first, to be a simple morality tale, Sada is an adventurous novelist who endows his main characters with more than the flat, stereotypical behaviors and thoughts which one usually associates with stories written to illustrate a moral lesson. While keeping his style uncomplicated, he shows his characters as they live their ordinary lives and make some remarkable decisions which cause unexpected complications for them. The mood is light and the action often very funny, though equally often, it is ironic or edgy. The cumulative result is farcical rather than pedantic, serious rather than lightweight. The story revolves around a pair of forty-year-old identical twins who are invited to a wedding which only one can attend, and she meets a suitor. What the twins do to meet their mutual needs becomes the focus of this farcical but sensitive novella with a surprising ending.

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With his crisp, hard-boiled style, unrelenting pace, and a protagonist reminiscent of Travis McGee, whose earthiness was always mixed with a sense chivalric mission, Geoff Dyer might seem, at first, to have much in common with John D. MacDonald whose pulp novels of the 1960s and 1970s were so popular. Though Dyer does use a relatively tough and noir-ish style at the outset of the novel, and does have a main character with a mission, he quickly leaves the dark realism of MacDonald’s novels behind, however, and moves into far more philosophical realms, areas that Travis McGee (and his author) never even hinted at. Once beyond the first chapter, Dyer begins to reveal a more vibrant literary style filled with unique images and descriptions. The plot abandons pure realism and starts moving in and out of reality, dreams, literature, symbolic stories reminiscent of old allegories, with medieval quests and jousts with an evil enemy, and into serious metaphysical questions. No matter how surprising (and sometimes abstruse) the author’s focus may seem as the novel progresses, however, Dyer never loses sight of his plot or his characters, and the overall framework of the novel never disappears. Full and rich in its imagery and ideas, In Search masquerades as a noir mystery while behaving more like an allegory and metaphysical novel – reminiscent of some of the novels of Italo Calvino.

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