Thursday, October 2, 2008

Art Deco Gardens and Schroginder's Cat comes to life (Books - Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson & Eclipse by John Banville)

No posts from our little jaunt north because the wireless service advertised as a feature of our B&B didn't work. I consciously decided to not take a camera on this trip so that I wouldn't be looking at what I was seeing after I had been there. I would really have to look while I was there. The trees had already begun to turn. I didn't expect quite as much color this early. Every time I wanted to take a picture I thought, I will simply have to remember this. We hiked, saw The Mount, the house Edith Wharton built and lived in for a several years. She left this house after her marriage dissolved, so the only parts looking as they did are her library and the gardens. While the grounds are impressive, the house is less so, especially when compared to The Choate summer house, Naumkeag which, unlike The Mount, has been preserved with all its original furnishings intact. It has eight terraced gardens designed by Fletcher Steele over thirty years, including the famous blue art deco steps pictured above. It sits on forty acres that include a working farm and which overlook a stunning Berkshire vista. It is well worth a visit.

Not posting or emailing gave me some extra time to read. I got through several New Yorkers. One article of note was Jerome Groopman's on the danger of mega infections caused, in part, by having antibiotics as a regular part of the food we consume. Small doses of antibiotics fed to the farm animals whose meat, milk or eggs we consume, mean that more of them can be packed into what would otherwise be living conditions they could not thrive in. They are packed into tight quarters that would make many of them sick (living in these close quarters does the same to us, it is called slum living when it is humans living in these conditions). It also is supposed to help the animals grow larger. Having been dosed on antibiotics for years through our food, when the medications are required to treat a bacterial infection in us or in animals who produce our food, resistance develops. We then have fewer alternatives when a major infection strikes and if our food supply were attacked by accident or design, with an infection, we probably would not have any drugs left which could treat it. Another example of how greed thrives when it has no apparent consequences in the short-term and peopole cry against regulation, either self- imposed or by the government, that is until the consequences become apparent. Eating free range and organic is not just for tree-huggers any more. Consider the consequences.

I started Attachment, Play, and Authenticity by Steven Tuber who is a professor of mine. It is a book interpreting the theoretical and practical influence of child therapist D. W. Winnicott. I have only gotten through the first chapter, in which he basically tells me what he is going to tell me so I cannot say anything intelligent about it yet.

I also finished Jeanette Winterson's Tanglewreck. Despite my criticisms of the writing, the plot did exert its grip on me. It had some fun fantasy features including time travel and a villain who evolves over time from a witch to a scientist:
In the old days she too had passed her hands over the crystal ball and stuck pins into poppets, and sweated over a cauldron to cause a bronze head to speak. All unnecessary now. She was the most powerful woman in the world, and not by magic. She was a scientist.

Both she and Able Darkwater, the book's other villain, want control of time. Darkwater tries to win the pope over to his side. He reasons that, since in 1582 the papacy had changed the calendar, they would want to be an ally to anyone who can dictate the terms to time.

'We may be in Eternity,' began Abel Darkwater, 'but Time is still moving forward in the rest of the Universe, and many things have happened to displease you. There is no God and there is no Church.'

'I could have you burned at the stake for saying such things, Son of Satan.'

'I have been burned at the stake,' said Abel Darkwater mildly. 'It was unpleasant but I am prepared to forget about it today.'

'What do you want, foolish man?'

'If I said to you that we could reverse Time, that we could plan a Universe where the church was again all-powerful, and the Pope as the Head of the Church, the most powerful man of them all, what would you say to me?'

The world is all about power brokering, isn't it? It's nice to bring in the kiddies on that esssential truth of human nature. I do prefer that, however, to the pandering that characterized the first two-thirds of the book.

From the book it is clear to see that Winterson is obsessed with physics. She creates several physical manifestations of quantum physics principles in the book which I enjoyed. They include a nasty little room containing a black hole which stretches its unlucky inhabitants into endless strands of human spaghetti and a kind woman who rescues our young heroine. This woman, of course, has a cat, but the cute part is that it is Schrodinger's cat. Ha-ha-ha! I guess you have to be in on the joke. Erwin Schrodinger devised a thought experiment in 1935 as a response to some of the notions suggested by quantum physics, that illustrates what he saw as a paradox. This brings that cat to life, or to death - depending on when you look at him.

I am glad to say that this hodgepodge of a story eschews a pat and sentimental ending. I am not sorry to have been entertained by this book - see my other thoughts here and here, but I think in future that I will stick to Winterson's more idiosyncratic and skillfully written fiction for adults.

I also started John Banville's Eclipse (a recommendation of Verbivore's). The narrator is a former actor, now forgotten, it seems:
When I was young I was often dismissed as a matinee idol. This was unfair. True, I could, as I say, be the flaxen-haired hero when occasion called for it, but I played best the sombre, inward types, the ones who seem not part of the cast but to have been brought in from the street to lend plausibility to the plot. Menace was a speciality of mine, I was good at doing menace. If a poisoner was needed, or a brocaded revenger, I was your man. Even in the sunniest roles, the ass in a boater or the cocktail-quaffing wit, I projected a troubled, threatening something that silenced even the hatted old dears in the front row and made them clutch their bags of toffees tighter. I could play big, too; people when they glimpsed me at the stage door were always startled to find me, in what they call real life, not the shambling shaggy heavyweight they were expecting, but a trim lithe person with the wary walk of a dancer. I had mugged it up, you see, I had studied big men and understood that what defines them is not brawn or strength or force, but an essential vulnerability. Little chaps are all push and self-possession, whereas the large ones, if they look at all presentable, give off an appealing sense of confusion, of being at a loss, of anguish, even. They are less bruiser than bruised. No one moves more daintily than the giant, though it is always he who comes crashing down the beanstalk or has his eye put out with a burning brand. All this I learned, and learned to play.

The writing is really tasty, isn't it? And this narrative voice reminds me of Charles Arrowby, the chief character in Iris Murdoch's Booker-winning The Sea, The Sea. He also was an actor - and that book is a wonderful combination of a story in which you have to know what happens next and one in which it is agony to see how Arrowby will next embarrass himself. I've barely started Eclipse but am loving it already. Thanks, Verb.

Jude the Obscure
(in progress)
Among the Russians
Proust and the Squid

Red Cavalry (in progress)
Eclipse (in progress)
The Solitudes (started, don't know if I'll get through it)
Rhythms of the Brain
Neuroscience of Cognitive Development
(in progress)
Attachment, Play, and Authenticity (in progress)
The Dead Fish Museum
In the Land of No Right Angles


Unknown said...

Okay, I'm going to check out Eclipse. The Sea, The Sea is one of my all time favorite books.


You are the first winner at my Short Story September book giveaway. If you can send me your mailing address and your choice I'll get it in the mail to you asap.

Ted said...

Thanks, C. B.! I really enjoyed your short story challenge alot. Good to know you're also a Murdoch fan (of course).