Tuesday, February 07, 2006

500 books in 52 weeks: #1 In a Free State

Man, I've got a lot of catching up to do. I'm on book #4 (weak, weak I know) but I'm too busy attending to my wicked stepsisters and crying amid the cinders and grinding old glass slippers into stepsisters' food to write on a website. Chuh. Please. The internet is not where fairy tales are made.

If I were clever witty and wise, I'd attempt to do something like the Guardian's Digested Read which goes over books in 400 words, usually snarkily, amusingly, and trippingly. I'm in a trio of words kind of mood. How very Catholic. Anyways, I'm lazy, tired, and sleepy.

So here's looking back at what started the year off:

#1: In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul (1971)
"In a Free State," winner of the Booker, is actually the title of a novella and it comes with two short stories and the prologue and epilogue from Naipaul's travel journals. Let's reduce his work, shall we? Conradian, postcolonialism, and outsiders. The actual piece "In a Free State" is basically a car trip by two Britishers through some part of Africa. It cuts to the politically incorrect until you're unsure what, if anything, is correct. Heart of darkness does that to ya. Here, you are not quite sure who to side with. Not that you should have to choose, but it's still an uncomfortable place for a reader to be. I found his tense prose and his characters rather unsettling, no one very sympathetic in particular, suggesting that we stop kidding ourselves in asking "why can't we get along?"

Perhaps it was merely the subject matter but maybe also the atmospheres evoked that reminded me of Claire Denis's 1988 movie Chocolat. In any case, this is prose that is challenging, not in style, but in the questions it poses of us now, most generally, in our treatment of others, and how this plays in human histories.

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