Daniel Williams

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

‘The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea’ (1963) Yukio Mishima

In Book Review, Japanese, Literature, Review, Writing on 27/08/2011 at 12:36

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea (1963) is an odd book. It starts off with a 13 year-old boy spying on his mother undressing and it only gets stranger from there. The boy’s mother, Fusako, begins an affair with a sailor on shore leave. The sailor, Ryuji, has a love-hate relationship with the sea and dreams of a glorious destiny. The 13 year-old boy hangs around with a group of teenagers who call each other by numbers and believe they are geniuses in an overly sentimental world. This doesn’t sound too bad, but as the story progress the boy continues spying on his mother and the sailor, and his group of friends begin to put their theory that they are above others and are permitted to do anything into practice. Half way through the novel you can guess how it will all turn out, but, like a Greek tragedy, waiting for the moment of violence is part of the perverse pleasure of reading The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. The ending of The Sailor Who… is a grim one, but anticipating the expected outcome had my heart racing while reading the last chapter.

The book is quite poetic in places. Unsurprisingly the imagery of the sea, ships and sailing occur throughout, but it never feels forced. In one moment a character wishes to have a hard heart like an anchor. That really worked for me.

Yukio Mishima covers some of the same philosophical ground as Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the group of boys who believe they are above others. But whereas Dostoyevsky’s characters have religion and his novels often end with redemption through suffering, Mishima’s only redemption seems to be through death. Maybe my judgement is clouded by the knowledge that Yukio Mishima ended his own life. There is a moment in the book when one character looks down on another for having failed a suicide attempt.

The Sailor Who… is a dark, violent and strange story, but none the less its made me curious about the author’s other works.

Advertisements

‘Perfect Lives’ (2010) Polly Samson

In Book Review, English, Literature, Review, Writing on 21/08/2011 at 12:05

Despite the glowing words of praise that cover the copy of Perfect Lives (2010) I can’t say I was impressed with it. The quotes call it funny, compelling and moving, but I thought it never gets beyond its middle-class trappings. Polly Samson seems to be lampooning the middle-classes while remaining very much a part of it, and celebrating it in the final story. The book begins with an epigram from Leonard Cohen, and on finishing Perfect Lives, I found that one quote had something more interesting to say than the stories in the book.

The prose had a tendency towards a knowing lyricism; you can almost hear the author saying ‘I am going to be poetic now’. I’m not a fan of that kind of prose. She makes some melodramatic descriptions, the worst offender been this, which I had to read three times before I realised she was been serious: “Leszeck’s eyelashes would always make every woman he met think about having his baby.” I’m sure some people think it’s marvellously poetic but it’s very silly to me.

The stories are all set in a seaside town. Not much is made of the setting, other than it’s a middle-class seaside town. Characters crossover, much like in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan. In A Visit From… the connections between characters are never presented with a flourish, but appear casually and without comment, as connections between people do in real-life. In Perfect Lives when a character from another story turns up in another, there often is a melodramatic flourish in the reveal. The character that appears most (an unnamed amateur photographer) is sadly the least interesting and goes on no real journey other than a happy acceptance of a bourgeois life.

Unlike A Visit From… none the stories in Perfect Lives moved me. Polly Samson finds nothing insightful about the characters she presents. I think part of my trouble with reading this book was I took a dislike to it pretty early on. Taking a dislike to a book early on is like when you take a dislike to a person you just meet- no matter what they say you’ll always find it a bit irritating.

I imagine that if I spoke to Polly Samson (after she hits me for disparaging her book) I’d find little crossover between the authors we like. There seems to be a hint of the British Victorians to her prose and I really dislike British Victorian literature. I can see why people would give this book glowing quotes, but it is not things I enjoy in a book. I don’t imagine she’d think much of my stories, either.

Dylan Morgan Saves The Tigers- Short Story

In Short Stories, Writing on 17/08/2011 at 12:19
Dylan Morgan Saves The Tigers

Innsborough high street was not particularly busy on a Tuesday morning. There were a few shoppers and a handful of charity workers stopping them. Dylan walked through the high street with a clutch of library books. He had successfully avoided eye contact with two charity workers. There was no way of breaking out of an eye contact contract with a charity worker.

A third charity worker ahead of him was busy was talking with somebody. Dylan considered himself safe. As he neared the third charity worker, the man they had been talking to walked away. Dylan diverted his gaze. A moment later and the charity worker creeped his field of vision. Then- eye contact.

Dylan’s pace slowed. The charity worker wore the standard issue green kagool, with a peace badge attached. Dylan noticed his charity worker was a she. And she was blonde. A small, pale blonde, a year or two older than himself and she was smiling at him.

She said, ‘Hi.’

Dylan stopped.

‘I was wondering if you spare five minutes of your time today?’

‘Of course,’ Dylan said. He tried to hold his library books in such a way that she would be able to see he had a book by Chekhov. As she began to explain what her charity was about Dylan raised the book a little higher.

She told Dylan she was here to help save the tigers. Tigers were endangered, she said. They were hunted, killed and murdered without purpose, she said.

‘Beautiful creatures’, Dylan said. ‘Tigers.’

‘Yeah,’ she said and continued her speech.

She asked, ‘What is it you do? Are you a student?’

‘Yeah,’ Dylan said.

He cleared his throat.

‘But I’m a… writer, really.’

‘A writer? Wow.’

‘Oh, yes,’ he said.

‘Have you been published?’

‘Oh, just a few things,’ he said, ‘just a few things, poems, a short story.’

‘That’s cool. It must be a hard life.’

‘Well it can be tough, yes,’ Dylan said. ‘But it’s not as… you know, important as what you’re doing. You know, being here and… people been miserbale… and, you know, rain or shine…’

‘Words can be just as important as actions, sometimes even more so.’ She smiled at him. ‘But what I’d really like today is for you to set up a donation with our charity.’

‘I, I am a student,’ Dylan said, ‘and I… with money-’

‘I know,’ she said, ‘I’m a student too, but for a cause like this… You’d be doing me a really big favour. I’d really like to get you signed up today.’

Dylan’s foot began to tap a little. He looked down. He said, ‘I could always give you… my number…’

She said, ‘Great.’

Dylan looked up.

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘If you could just jot it down on the form. And your name, address and bank details so we can get a donation set up.’

She held out her clipboard to Dylan. He took the clipboard with his free hand. He said, ‘You want me to write my number down on here?’

‘With your name, address and bank details so we can get a donation set up. Would you like a pen?’

Dylan laughed. ‘What kind of writer would I be if I hadn’t got a pen?’

He checked his pockets.

‘Err, actually…’

She held out a pen to him. Dylan took it. The charity worker was still smiling at him.

‘So,’ he said, ‘you’ll have my details?’

‘Then somebody can be in touch with you in the next week.’

The pen scratched on the paper. Dylan said, ‘Are you a student here?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘Somewhere else.’

Dylan finished the form and handed the clipboard back to the charity worker. ‘All done,’ he said, ‘all my details, my mobile number is there.’

‘Great.’

‘And my email address.’

‘Great, somebody will be in touch with you in the next week.’ She said, ‘Okay?’

‘Yeah,’ Dylan said. ‘Well-’

‘Bye!’ she said.

‘Yes…’

He shuffled his feet

‘Well,’ he said, ‘bye.’

He began to move away. He looked back. The charity worker was looking in another direction. She’d already found somebody else.

 

‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ (2010) Jennifer Egan

In American, Book Review, Literature, Review, Writing on 15/08/2011 at 19:25

There has been some talk as to whether A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) should be classed as a novel or a short story collection. No matter what it’s classed as I think it’s a great read. The book is made up of a series of interconnected short stories- a supporting character in one becomes the main player in the next, somebody mentioned in that story is a narrator three stories later. The stories also skip around in time, flitting from now to the past and the near future. Probably most famously is that one story (or chapter, depending on your view) is told through PowerPoint slides. I first thought this was just a gimmick, but the story turned out to really use its medium well.

The thing that could most argue for A Visit from the Goon Squad’s status as a novel is that themes of the passage of time and growing-up are the focus of most of the stories. The non-linear order of the stories allows the reader to see aftermaths of decisions before going back to the decision. One of the voices of the novel is an omniscient third-person narrator who gives details of characters futures before returning to present of the character in the story. This is none more poignant than in the story ‘Safari’ which reveals a child’s tragic future before returning to the child dancing. While it has comic passages I felt that the tone of the book was one of poignancy, been able to see characters pasts and futures can be heartbreaking.

My favourite stories in the book were ‘Safari’ and ‘A to B’, but because of the changing style of narrative voice, central character and time I think somebody else reading the book would prefer other stories. The story I liked least was the final one (if you actually want to read this book you might want to skip these next few lines- nothing major is revealed, but if you’d prefer the surprise of discovering for yourself skip this part) because it skips forward to a near-future where everybody connects by handheld devices that project 3D holograms. I suppose because it was set in the future the short did not have the same ring to it as when Egan wrote about the 70s, 80s or now. It felt to me a little like when you see a programme from the 1950s talking about the future- that by 2000 we’d by on the moon, wearing jetpacks, etc. I just find that looking to the future always looks silly once the future becomes present.

At it’s best A Visit from the Goon Squad functions as a Citizen Kane-like puzzle as we are asked to unravel who this characters really are from what Jennifer Egan shows us. I found myself trying to remember supporting characters and characters mentioned in passing to see if they’d turn up again in other stories. There are some red herrings- important incidents are mentioned but never shown. I liked this style. It kept me on my toes.

 A Visit from the Goon Squad is a funny, sad and well-written book that I gladly recommend.

Why Can’t I Be Rimbaud?- Short Story

In Short Stories, Writing on 13/08/2011 at 16:36

Short story originally written for an assignment back in late 08 (or possibly 09) but recently heavily revised, edited and rewritten.

Why Can’t I Be Rimbaud?

It said on Wikipedia that Arthur Rimbaud had given up writing by the age of twenty-one. Charlie read that sentence again. Arthur Rimbaud had given up writing by the age of twenty-one. Charlie worked out that he was one year and two months younger than Arthur Rimbaud when he had given up writing. Charlie did not feel happy. Rimbaud had written poetry that was ahead of his time, but he had been ignored. Charlie’s poetry was not ignored. His poetry tumblr received views, several of his poems had been reblogged and he’d received solid 2:2’s for his Creative Writing assignments. But he had not yet written a ‘Drunken Boat’ or a ‘Season in Hell’ or said anything as deep or as profound as ‘I is someone else’. Though, Charlie thought, his own description of himself as a ‘cynical idealist’ had been something.

But now was the time, Charlie decided, that he would write his ‘Drunken Boat’. Now was the time, Charlie thought, that would be discussed by scholars for decades to come and it would all begin when he opened up a new Word document.

The laptop screen was white and blank. Charlie had his fingers poised above the keys.

He waited.

He wondered where his Muse was tonight. He wondered if she’d taken the night off? Maybe she went out drinking with other writer’s Muses? Maybe they discussed their writer’s works? Charlie imagined what his Muse would look like. He thought she’d be a brunette Scarlett Johansson with bluer eyes.

He started to type a line about a blue-eyed girl. He deleted it. He knew he couldn’t write honestly about a blue-eyed girl because he wasn’t in love with a blue-eyed girl. He thought he’d have to wait until he was in love with a blue-eyed girl. Which was a shame, he was sure that poem would make his future blue-eyed girl fall even deeper in love with him as well as well written.

Charlie could hear a noise. It sounded like people muttering. He put his ear against the wall. He could hear his housemate Paul’s TV. Charlie huffed and left his room. Charlie knocked on Paul’s door.

‘S’open.’

Paul was lying on his bed, remote control across his stomach. Charlie said, ‘Paul? Would you mind turning your TV down. It’s just… I’m trying to write.’

Paul lifted the remote control and jabbed a button. He said, ‘Actually you might like this, it’s a documentary all about how peop-’

‘I can’t,’ Charlie said, ‘I’m very busy writing.’

‘Well, alright, then.’

Charlie went back to his room. He sat down at his desk and wondered how he was supposed to work when other people kept distracting him. He thought in years to come Paul would tell people things like ‘You know I lived with Charles Simons. I thought he was a git because he kept telling me to turn my TV down. I didn’t know that he was working on-’ Charlie hadn’t decided what to call his first poetry collection, but Paul would say ‘If I had known he was writing that, I wouldn’t have had my TV on at all!’

Charlie had a Creative Writing handbook on his desk. It contained several exercises to help practice writing. Charlie decided to pick an exercise at random and do it. He flicked to a random page. He read the exercise description. He decided to pick another. The second one he found didn’t inspire him either. Neither did the third or fourth. Or fifth. Half an hour later Charlie had not found one that suited him.

Charlie went downstairs to the kitchen and made himself a drink. His housemates came in and said they’d been talking about going out.

‘I can’t. Very busy writing.’

‘Okay.’

‘I’m in a very creative mood.’

‘Okay.’

Charlie went back to his room and listened until his housemates had gone. He decided in the peace and quiet he would abandon Rimbaud and poetry and start work on his novel. He had an idea for a story set in prohibition era Chicago where a beautiful jazz singer falls in love with a writer mistakenly believed to be a bootlegger. If the poetry wasn’t flowing, Charlie thought, it’d be the novel that made his name.

Enjoying the quiet, Charlie lay on his bed and thought it best to try to work out the finer details of his novel before he started. He imagined the writer and the jazz singer, who looked like a brunette Scarlett Johansson with bluer eyes.

He imagined and dreamed them until he was woken up the sound of his housemates coming back home.

Thoughts On Richard Yates

In American, Essay, Literature, Writing on 10/08/2011 at 12:51

Nobody writes about dreamers quite like Richard Yates. His characters are caught up in their dreams so much and never quite achieve them, this can make his novels very depressing reads. Revolutionary Road (1961) is full to the brim of unfilled ambitions and dreams that never work. Frank and April Wheeler are hard characters to like, as are many of Yates’ characters. Yates makes the reader fully aware of the tics, neurosis and flaws that will make them unable to realise their dreams. It can be hard to sympathise with these characters but Yates really makes a reader empathise with them through the structure of his work. His novels have been criticized as episodic, but I like the episodic nature of his work and it really shows how these characters live- we see the characters through decades and how an action in Chapter One reverberates and echoes again in later chapters when the characters are at a different station in their life.

There is a quote I read by C.S. Lewis I saw a few days ago and thought it relatable to Yates. Lewis writes that ‘To be concerned with been grown-up, to admire the grown-up because it is grown-up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.’ His characters often are very concerned about been grown-up, and find themselves admiring the more successful of their peers. In a great short story from Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962) a child finds that whilst playing cowboys and Indians it’s more fun to lose and be the one who gets shot, then the story skips forward to the boy as an adult as he loses his job and has to spend weeks pretending to his wife that he is still employed.

Yates writes of people whose ambitions outweigh their talent, of ones who dream of success without wanting to put effort into achieving it. A lot of Yates’ dreamers dream of been artists- writers, painters, sculptors, etc. And those that are artists are often without merit, like Michael Davenport in (probably my favourite Yates’ novel) Young Hearts Crying (1984), he refuses his heiress wife’s offer to support him so he can focus on his poetry, because he wants artistic success on his own terms. This novel is probably my favourite because its characters are either aspiring or professional artists, writers and actors. These characters reflect people I have known through doing a Creative Writing course. I’m not very familiar with all the biographical details about Richard Yates’ life, but I do know he taught Writing at several universities during his life, so I can’t say for certain he drew on his former students for this novel, but I know I certainly recognise people from my course in that novel- people whose ambitions really do outweigh any kind of talent.

I think what draws me back as a reader to Yates’ novels is, despite the unsympathetic characters, that there is a truth in them. I often see a reflection of people I know, have known and myself in them. I’m surprised to find the characters of Yates dream as big and as often as I do. Sometimes the reflection I see of myself in his characters is an uncomfortable one. I do see a truth in what I read of Yates, of people who moan about been in a nine-to-five world, but never take any chance to break out from it. The person who introduced me to Yates turned out to be very much like a Yates’ character, very much like the younger Grimes sister in The Easter Parade (1976).

Yates only published nine books during his lifetime. I’ve read six and a half of them. There has been, so far, only one I haven’t liked. He is one of my favourite novelists. I find his prose wonderfully straightforward and quietly engaging. But, sometimes, I’ve felt very miserable at the end of his novels- I wouldn’t describe them as humourless, but sometimes they are very much hopeless.

‘The Energy of Slaves’ (1972) Leonard Cohen

In Canadian, Literature, Poetry Review, Review, Writing on 06/08/2011 at 15:07

For a songwriter to be called a poet is a compliment, but poetry and lyrics are two different beasts. One man who really is a lyricist and a poet is Leonard Cohen, he published poetry years before he recorded his first album. The collection The Energy of Slaves (1972) was published after his first three albums. Here is one of the poems:

Whenever I happen to see you…

Whenever I happen to see you
I forget for a while
that I am ugly in my own eyes
for not winning you

I wanted you to choose me
over all the men you know
because I am destroyed
in their company

I have often prayed for you
like this
Let me have her

That break between the penultimate and final lines just amazes me. That last line contains such power but is so underplayed. I hear it read in Leonard Cohen’s wry tones. In fact, I hear all of Leonard Cohen’s poems been read by the man himself. His wry, mordant voice echoes through the collection.

Like ‘Whenever I happen to see you…’ the more depressing poems are underplayed in their forms. The poems are often only a handful of lines long, but each word, punctuation or line break counts for something. The poems in The Energy of Slaves are very economical in terms of their form and structure. This next poem is quite probably my favourite break-up/put-down poem ever:

 I did not know until you walked away…

I did not know
until you
walked away
you had the perfect ass

Forgive me
for not falling in love
with your face or your conversation

The oft forgotten side of Leonard Cohen is just how damn funny he can be. Some of his poems really make me chuckle. The wry sarcasm shines through against the more depressing of his poems.

This book is a huge, huge influence on my own poetry. The minimalist style is one I’ve tried to make my own, though I owe Mr. Cohen a large debt in terms of style and in wry humour.

Lighthouse

In Poetry, Writing on 06/08/2011 at 14:58

Poem ‘Lighthouse’ previously published on 14th July at  Dead Beats Literary Blog

Lighthouse

You remind me
of a lighthouse
(I do not mean
you are tall
or striped)
but when I saw you,
I think
I began to see
my way again

By Way of Introduction…

In Essay, Writing on 03/08/2011 at 15:26

I’ve been told a blog is a good thing for an aspiring writer. I’m imagining this blog will be one long Don Draper style sales pitch for the product of Daniel Williams. I’m using the blog to publish my own work, mostly stories and poems (although I consider myself primarily a playwright) and publish any reviews or whatever I feel like writing and publishing. One thing I don’t want to write is a ‘What-I’m-Getting-Up-Too-Blog’, so don’t expect any of that. Of a personal nature I will say this- I’ll nearly at the end of a Uni course and preparing to enter the big, scary real world. So that’s that.

I’ve resisted the idea of a blog because I find blogs hard to maintain. I had two, both lost to the four winds. I’m going to try to stick with this, I will try to put something up at least once a fortnight.

%d bloggers like this: