Tag Archives: 1% well-read

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
Pandora Press, 1985

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Jeanette is brought up by her mother as one of God’s elect. Jeanette loves her mother and her God, even if she never quite seems to fit in with children her age because her habits are considered strange. Nevertheless, she seems content. That is, until Jeanette falls in love with a girl..

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is one of those books that I had been meaning to read forever. So when I came across it in a charity shop while on holiday in Devon this summer, I couldn’t not pick it up, right? Now that I have finally read it, I am glad I did. Even if I did not all-out love it.

Jeanette Winterson’s writing is quite captivating. I was pulled into the book almost immediately.  Moreover, after taking some time to get used to it I found the switch-over between Jeanette’s story and the intermixing of elements of other stories, such as a legend about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, to be beautifully done. Moreover, there are some piercing observations on classicism in the UK and there is a strangely funny sense of humour throughout the book – strange because you know these are real and painful situations being described.

In evoking the highly religious setting Winterson manages to do two things at once. On the one hand, the setting will be somewhat strange to most people who have not been raised as strictly religious as Jeanette is. Her descriptions of it somehow border the strange-funny-creepy divide in an interesting manner. At the same time, in having Jeanette take her own situation for granted as she does, in a way that is difficult to imagine as an outsider but probably very true to experience from the inside, she also makes Jeanette’s world seem immediately familiar. I found this strange-yet-familiar divide that both draws the reader in and makes Jeanette’s world somewhat distant very intriguing.

There is one thing that left me puzzled though, and I am not quite sure how to articulate it as it seems unfair to raise the subject? Winterson’s story radiates anger, in a very raw manner. Anger, that I think is justified given the subject manner – even more so when you know that Winterson herself probably lived through most of this herself. It feels unfair to feel even a glimmer of disappointment in this anger, this anger almost bordering on revenge – because it is a story of unfairness, of deep frustrations and social repression. And yet.. I felt the story was somehow held captive by it? Like there might have been more  that did not have a chance to be captured somehow?

In some ways, the end builds and hints towards a transcending of at least the anger towards Jeanette’s mother, but to me, it still felt as if we were held in the middle of it.  Probably this reflects the reality of the situation for Jeanette’s character, the impossibility to let go. And possibly this is exactly what gives the story its immediacy that has you reading  without a thought to anything else. But I couldn’t help and put the book down feeling a little drained, as if I had left some of what drew me in in the beginning behind, as if there was and still is something gnawing at me that I cannot quite articulate but won’t let me go. This *something* that has me unable to really love this book, while at the same time, it might be the very thing that makes this such a courageous and intriguing book? Help! Sometimes I wonder why I am even trying to articulate my thoughts on novels :P

classicsclub1I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for my The Classics Club reading list. And despite my vague inability to love love love the book, I am very happy to have read it since I did think it a convincing novel. It is with joy that I mark this as the first book read on the list.

Other Opinions: Tales from the Reading Room, The Reading Life, Fifty Books Project,  Sam Still Reading, Novel Insights,  Savidge Reads, Reading Matters, Yours? 

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Wise Children by Angela Carter

Wise Children - Angela CarterWise Children – Angela Carter
Vintage, 1992

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I finally read an Angela Carter! Long as that took me, it actually wasn’t all that hard. I plunged in and did not let go and the book simply carried me to the end. I completely understand why I was nervous about reading my first book by Carter, even having finished it now. Had somebody told me what this book was going to be about, what it was going to be like.. I fear I might never have picked it up, thinking that it sounded the complete opposite of my taste in books. But if Angela Carter proves anything, it is that one cannot predict one’s taste by mere descriptions. It is the execution that defines the book, or in case of Wise Children anyway.

Wise Children is about the illegitimate twins Dora and Nora Chance and their interactions with their father’s family, the Hazards. This is a family of twins, legitimate and illegitimate. It is also a family of disclaimed, claimed, and false parentage, of transgressive sexual mores, of divorce and marriage, of adultery and hints of incest. Describing it like this, my reaction would be “it is a mess”, but I think that is exactly the point. Admittedly, it took me an embarrassing long time to understand, but Carter’s Wise Children can be read as a continuous nod to Shakespeare and his intricate and transgressive family dramas and comedies.

Dora Chance, the narrator of the story at 75, tells us about her current setting before diving into her childhood, youth, later years, and then returning to the day of their 75th birthday, which is also her father’s and his brother’s  - who is claimed as their father in public – centenary.

Dora and her sister are a bit miffed by the way they have gone unacknowledged by their father. Born as illegitimate children, with a father who refuses to acknowledge them and a mother who is dead, they are raised by their adoptive grandmother. Dora and Nora quickly learn to make their own way for themselves, performing as dancing and singing girls – but always on the margins of respectability, never truly admitted into their father’s family side of true Shakespearean theatrics.

As we follow Dora’s narration, things quickly turn from the absurd to the outrageous, but it works. I cannot quite capture how marvelously Angela Carter manages to work with these absurdities, how humorous this book is – particularly its narrator with her humour and liveliness that constantly balances on the coarse but never really feels like it. I did love this book. And I cannot wait to read more by Carter, even if I think I agree with Jenny that I wouldn’t be able to read one of her books straight after this one, even if I am tempted to.

If you know me a little, perhaps the above attempt at a plot summary and the description of humour bordering on the coarse, might have given you a glimpse of why I said that this sounds like the complete opposite of what I like usually. Books that claim to be funny? They usually make me hesitate. But this one is. In a way that is inexplicably lively, joyous, optimistic even when the most dreadful things are happening. Dora is a great character, a great narrator, to evoke all these feelings.. Most of all, Angela Carter is a magician with words and prose, the way each sentence simply works. Yes, I admit, I am a little bit in love..

Another thing that stood out as completely-not-me-and-yet-I-loved-it? It was the way this book handles sexuality. It is rare that a book manages to describe sex, to evoke sexuality, and not make me cringe or feel complete and utter shame. But Angela Carter manages to describe it in a way that made me feel none of these things. Moreover, in Dora and Nora and all of their family, she seems to go completely against conventional sexual mores but in a way that never once bothered me, that was instead elusive-and-yet-explicit enough, normalising it in a manner that I have not encountered before. More than ever it made me realise how much female sexuality is usually shamed, or how that shame is reinforced perhaps not through the story itself but through the marketing of it as “erotic fiction for women” or whatever. It made me realise – I think perhaps for the first time – how it need not necessarily be so. Not that this is erotic fiction, I would say, yet it oozes sexuality in a way? It was sort of liberating to notice, really. I cannot quite explain it.

Can I also pinpoint the smallest drawback of this book? It is its complicated list of characters (which can, I later found out, be found at the end of the book). The complicated relationships these all have with each other daunter me a little at first, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to tell them all apart. However, it all comes together in the end, so it was more something that made me hesitate during the first half and then became quite familiar in the second.

More Angela Carter from now on? Yes please! What do you suggest should be my next read?

Other Opinions: Stuck in a Book, Litlove, Lovely Treez Reads, Steph and Tony Investigate, Reading the End, Yours?

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel BarberyThe Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Translated from the French L’Élégance du hérisson by Alison Anderson

Gallic Books, 2009
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I finally read The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I had my own little Paris in July while on holiday in England. The weather was fitting too, averaging around 28 degrees celsius.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of those books that has been on my TBR list for years. That had been sitting on my shelves for years as well. It would have been a suitable pick for Long-Awaited Reads Month. Rather like the experience with the books I read that month, the long wait did not set me up for disappointment. Instead, I quickly became enamoured with Barbery’s book, as well as with its two main characters – albeit with some reservations.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is set in and around a grand Parisian apartment building. The main focus of the novel are the every day dealing and particularly the contemplations of the concierge of the building, Renée. Renée has carefully crafted her persona of what she has observed is expected of a concierge, i.e. a person of her education, class, and income. But below the surface, in the sanctum of her home and thoughts, she is someone else – a woman who enjoys art and culture above all. Renée’s story is interspersed with diary-like writings of a 12-year-old girl, Paloma, resident of the building and daughter of one of the rich and superficial major men living in the building. Paloma, aware of the sameness and inescapability of the future ahead of her, a future that she feels can only end in disappointment, plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. However, Renée’s and Paloma’s futures are about to alter through the change in circumstances following the death of one of the residents of the building, and the new resident that comes along: Mr. Ozu.

As I mentioned above, The Elegance of the Hedgehog quickly drew me in. Despite the negative, and sometimes extremely bitter, outlook of both Renée and Paloma, particularly when it comes to their fellow humans, despite what could be perceived as their self-indulgent and self-important contemplations, I quickly fell in love with both voices of Renée and Paloma. Particularly as I saw them changing as persons before my very eyes. Quiet, contemplative, and written in beautiful prose, their stories touched me – even when I did not want to, even if at times I fiercely disagreed with one of their opinions, or if I was wondering whether it wasn’t trying too hard to be intellectual. As to the latter: at times, perhaps, but not nearly as much as Night Train to Lisbon, which I, by the way, also enjoyed although not nearly as much.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Barbery, professor of philosophy, manages to give nods to a lot of great French – and none-French – thinkers and artists. There are hints of Bourdieu, Foucault, Kant, and of course the motif of Tolstoy in the novel, and I am sure many more that I either did not recognise, or do not remember as vividly. These nods – and I call them nods because these are mostly hints, buried in the contemplations of Paloma and Renée as I perceived them, dropping keywords from time to time but never much, except for when it comes to Tolstoy – were enjoyable to me. It became a joy to find fiction and non-fiction interwoven in this manner.

Overall then, I very much enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It came to the point where I enthusiastically told Bas that I was reading two amazing books, at the same time – something I felt had not occurred in a while. I told him that The Elegance of the Hedgehog might very well be the next book I would be able to recommend to anyone, despite taste or preference. And I told him how involved I was in the lives of these characters, how real they felt, even if also a little remote, seeing them mostly through their articulated thoughts, even if I knew they were fictional. Mind you, it is rare that I tell Bas this much about specific books, so this is to illustrate how much I was enjoying it at the time.

That same evening, having picked up the book again to finish it, something changed. The next time Bas looked up from his book and his music, I was crying without restraint. The book had just taken a turn – the surprise ending that came as quite a shock to me – and as I tried to explain to him why I was crying I became puzzled and hesitant about whether this was indeed a book I truly loved. That ending, and those of you who have read it will know what I mean, I still don’t know how to feel about it. Was it the fact that I was so immersed in the story, cared so much about the character, that I hated to see it end like this? Was it because I am that kind of romantic who often prefers happy endings (even if you might argue that this is not an unhappy ending), that the story was directing me in one way and then the next moment pulled the unexpected which hurt my romantic heart? Or was it that I felt cheated by the ending somehow, too much dramatics for the quietude of the overall novel, too big a leap to ensure there was an actual end, cheated by the fact that I so wanted a more meaningful ending somehow – even an unhappy one, just not this.. I don’t know.. cheap and easy trick in some ways?

I suspect it was a combination of all three of these reasons, which were also the reasons it made me cry. And even though I am as yet undecided if the ending was indeed somewhat cheap, or if by the very end, it was quite satisfying, mulling it over I suspect it may take away some of my downright love I felt for the book at moments like the one in which I shared all my thoughts with Bas.

There is also the question of Mr. Ozu – is he enough of a genuine character to take away the question of him being an example of the “exotic, Asian-and-thus-wise-and-unmaterialistic” character trope who intervenes and saves those in need? Or is that only what he is to the other residents, a curiosity, allowed to become a person in the company of Renée and Paloma?

And what about the message of the book? I wondered if it did not become a bit too obvious at points? At the same time, it seems very fitting in today’s day and age of the economy question. And I did appreciate it, overall, just not at certain moments, when I disagreed, or when I almost – and I wish to emphasise the almost as it never really became bothersome – wanted to exclaim “enough already!”

There are doubts to be expressed about The Elegance of the Hedgehog, discussions to be had. I have my own reservations about the book, and yet.. And yet, ultimately I did love it for most of the time while reading it, occasionally I even experienced the swelling of the heart and the contented sigh that will make you feel how truly enjoyable reading can be. I wonder how I’ll look back on my thoughts and appreciation of the book in weeks, or months, or in a year. I wonder if it will hold up on a reread. We will have to wait and see.

[edited to add that I was persuaded to finally begin reading this because I saw a readalong being organised by two bloggers in July. Sadly, I cannot find the URL right now as I am not on my own computer at the moment (which is also the reason that I haven't yet caught up with all your blogs). I will edit it in once found!]

Other Opinions: A Good Stopping Point, Rhapsody in Books, Leeswammes, The Blue Bookcase, Vulpes Libris, Necromancy Never Pays, Sasha & the Silverfish, Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity,  Fleur in her World, Alex in Leeds, Lakeside Musing, The Sleepless Reader, and many more..

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On Fiction about Colonialism: The Black Lake by Hella Haasse

There is an interesting dynamic which occurs every time I read a Dutch book about colonialism. I am fascinated by these books, as literature seems one of the only avenues, even if in recent times not one that occurs frequently, in which the Dutch dare mention and discuss their colonial past. At the same time, I become hesitant almost from the start: What to think of word use, tropes, is there enough discussion, is there enough room for subversion of a heroic tale of the Dutch as humane colonialists working towards “civilisation”? Dare I write about these books, should I read them and leave things unsaid for fear of being wrong?

More than anything, writing about Dutch colonial literature makes me want to stress again and again how blogging for me is a learning experience, an exchange of thoughts, a process of “thinking out loud” where I am not an expert, and do not pretend to be one.

 Last year, I organised a read along of Hella Haasse’s The Tea Lords where I dove head first into this confusion, with no notion what to say. There were hints in the comment section where the idea was raised whether Dutch colonialism was more benign than that of the English, and I was left a little speechless.. Should we compare colonial histories on their being more benign than others? One year later, I feel I am better able to situate why that question made me so uncomfortable. I think it has to do with the fact that the Dutch narrative of colonialism, throughout at least the twentieth century, was one that wanted to compare their own version of colonialism as more favourable than that of others, as “guides towards civilisation” more than oppressors. So if Haasse somehow evoked that feeling in some readers, it might be that some of that narrative is still reflected in colonial literature. Which makes sense, because it can still be found in some books on colonial history.

Then I read Lisa’s post on the book which managed to articulate some of what was going on in my mind, but that I never managed to put into words. And I felt even more doubtful of whether or not I should ever venture into the land of fiction about colonial times again. But at the same time, its themes cover much of my professional and personal interest and I want to learn more and be a better critic. So here I am, returning to the very theme with another book by Haasse. With another gentle reminder that this is a topic that fascinates me, but that I am always in the process of learning about. That these views articulated now might have changed since my writing them down, in a month, a year, or whenever from now.

The Black Lake - Hella HaasseThe Black Lake – Hella Haasse
Previously published as Forever a Stranger
Translated from the Dutch Oeroeg by Ina Rilke
Portobello Books, 2012

first published in 1948
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The Black Lake is the story of a friendship between a Dutch child of a tea plantation owner, the unnamed narrator, and an Indonesian child of a servant, called Oeroeg. The two boys grow up together, at first ignorant of their inequalities, but as they progress in age the outer world makes them more and more aware of their difference in rank and they threaten to grow apart..

Writing a summary of The Black Lake is quite difficult, because as I have defined it above, and as many of the available plot summaries define it, both boys are unaware of the inequalities between them. However, reading the book, you have to wonder if it is not in fact the narrator who is unaware, while Oeroeg, living with his subservient status daily, is very much aware.. Throughout the book, Oeroeg’s thoughts and feelings are articulated and defined by the narrator, which makes that his own point of view always remains somewhat vague. Are these his opinions as perceived by the narrator, reflecting the Dutch viewpoint on Indonesians, or are Oeroeg and the Dutch boy close enough that these should be read as Oeroeg’s actual points of view? I am unable to say what Haasse meant to evoke in the reader, but this partial silencing of the Indonesian viewpoint and the questions surrounding the why of doing so (is it consciously or unconsciously done?) lend an interesting background to what occurs in the book.

In some ways, The Black Lake can be read as a final goodbye to Dutch colonialism, and the relationships that were imagined as friendly and equal by some Dutchmen and that now seem to be rejected by the Indonesians (which in itself portrays some of the skewed narrative going on). Published in 1948, one should remember that Haasse wrote this novella in the midst of the Indonesian war for independence that lasted from 1945 until 1949. Haasse did not know the definite outcome, and the book leaves the outcome unresolved, although it seems to lean towards a definite end.

This time around (I have read Oeroeg before) I could not shake the idea that Haasse’s characters in some ways represent the different perceptions behind Dutch colonialism, from the Dutch side at least.

There is the narrator’s father, who represents a business interests as a plantation holder. He and his friends, particularly on an expedition to the lake, evoke the narrative of masculine heroic adventurism tinged with loneliness, yet constantly negating the respect the surroundings somehow seem to evoke and putting their own experience and enjoyment first.

Oeroeg’s benefactor in later years, Lida, evokes the idea of wanting to help Indonesians better themselves, to reach their rightful place in society, to “raise them up”, to the detriment of her own income and welfare – reflecting the colonial narrative of the Ethical policy circa 1900. She is constantly portrayed as somehow naive in giving up so much for others, but also as better able to understand Oeroeg’s motivation, while also being “used” because it is on offer. It is probably not accidental that Lida is female and thus cast as the more feminine narrative of care taking.

The narrator himself is perhaps in the end the most naive. He imagines his friendship with Oeroeg as real and utterly equal, despite the inequalities of the outer world. Throughout the book, he realises that this might be naive, that Oeroeg has his reasons, and has had them for a long time, to not feel this same equality. And this is where the book message can be read as somewhat bitter. For is the conclusion then that no real friendship can exist between two people from different cultures, perceived as from different social standings? Is the message that colonialism’s inequalities are irrevocable, that nothing can ever be amiable afterwards? And why is the narrator portrayed as naive, which somehow makes him innocent, and Oeroeg as, in the end, unwavering and rigid, unable to feel because of the greater ideology he now adopts? Is it a criticism of the then existing idea that Indonesia’s independence could be guaranteed in friendly relations and under the Dutch royal crown, and thus condoning the more outright independence the Indonesians wanted? Or is it actually a Dutch rejection of “ungrateful” Indonesia that “we” have only wanted to help from the 1900s onwards, despite the cruel inequalities inherent in the colonial relationship?

And then there is the question of Oeroeg himself. He is in some ways the central character of the book, more so than the narrator himself, but as I have mentioned above, he rarely receives his own voice. Towards the end of the book, Oeroeg is more often quoted directly (again, as the narrator remembers it), which, if you read the whole book as an allegory for Dutch colonialism, could reflect the rise of nationalism in Indonesia, sometimes also refered to in Dutch as the “growing up” of the Indonesian population, literally, their becoming able to express their own opinions (mondig worden). But while he receives his own voice more often towards the end, his person seems to be captured in the narratives he was told by others and I wonder if he ever truly becomes his own person in the book, if he has true agency. In the perception of the narrator, he is influenced and guided by others, almost in a “couldn’t care less” attitude he is guided by the waves. First Lida, then the nationalist clubs. When the narrator hears Oeroeg speak about the work to be done, the narrator mentions that it was as if he was repeating something he had been told, as if he was not speaking in his own voice. In part, this may reflect the reality of anyone who gets caught up in political groups reflecting certain interest, but it might also cast Indonesian nationalism as radicalism, which reflects a certain Dutch colonial narrative and was often evoked at the end of the colonial period.

The Black Lake can be read in many ways, and there are many parts that lend themselves for in-depth discussion and possibilities to read it as both a very colonial and a very anti-colonial book. Yet I could not shake the feeling that it also reiterates certain colonial narratives about the Dutch-Indonesian relationship at the time. I have tried to pinpoint some of them above. One more thing needs to be mentioned which is the almost nostalgic way the environment, Jawa’s natural surroundings, are described. There is a longing and exoticism involved, a sense of a past paradise for the narrator, that is irrevocable changed upon his return after his studies in the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, The Black Lake seems not to have been read by other bloggers, as I would have loved to discuss it with others. The novella, at around 100 pages, packs a lot, and can be read in a myriad of ways. On the one hand, I admire Haasse exceedingly, particularly as this is her debut. On the other, reading her books with a colonial setting, I am always left wondering if she might not have done more, raised more questions, allowed for more criticism – or if I am simply reading the books wrong. I will add that Haasse has returned to the themes in The Black Lake in a later novel, Sleuteloog (2002), of which I have not been able to find a translation and which I have not yet read myself.

Other Opinions: Yours?

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** I read the Dutch version which was published by Wolters-Noordhoff, 1992.

Rituals by Cees Nooteboom

Rituals - Cees NooteboomRituals – Cees Nooteboom
Translated from the Dutch Rituelen by Adrienne Dixon
Maclehose Press, July 2013**
I read the Dutch version (Bezige Bij 2009, first published 1980)
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After a failed suicide attempt, Inni Winthrop reflects on life in the fifties, sixties and seventies in the Netherlands (mostly Amsterdam). He does so by returning to the life habits of two acquaintances he had: Arnold and Philip Taads. Arnold Taads has organised his life strictly around time: a different activity for each hour. Philip Taads finds meaning in life through Japanese rituals that teach him that he and the world are in essence worthless.

In Rituals, Cees Nooteboom explores the ritualised habits that organise modern life after Christian religion has lost that function. Inni Winthrop grew up in the Catholic south of the Netherlands, and Catholicism reverberates throughout the book, both in the characters’ criticism of belief in a Christian God, the language or metaphors used, and the echoes of rituals in the different lives under discussion.

Obviously, I found this incredibly intriguing. In the postmodern setting of Amsterdam in the latter half of the twentieth century, where the freethinking individual is set forth as the rule, and society is thought of as secularised, how does one find meaning? Nooteboom explicates how this proclamation of personal freedom is often couched in a quest for other organisational principles that “chain” the individual as much as Catholicism is perceived to do. A strict schedule according to time sets the rules for Arnold, and if a visitor arrives 10 minutes before the scheduled appointment, he or she will be ignored or asked to return home. Philip’s interest in Japanese philosophy and ritual seems to originate from an intense self-hatred and loathing of other people, where suicide is the only option but only if that suicide can be made meaningful through terms of the cessation of the self.

From the perspective of religious studies and the rise of the concept of the postsecular, this book is rather interesting. On the one hand it echoes much of these thoughts, in its assertion of the function of rituals and in its use of religious metaphor for example. On the other hand, Rituals also seems to be written with the concept of progressing secularism in mind which is a narrative that is challenged by the idea of the postsecular. Published in 1980, the fact that Rituals does so makes a lot of sense and I had no problems with this understanding that is somewhat inherent to the book. However, it is the manner in which this secularism is integrated in narrator and character Inni Winthrop that bothered me a little, let me explain..

Perhaps the best explanation of what I mean can be found in what the plot summary on the publisher’s website states about Inni:

“An unintentional suicide survivor, the unexpected gift of life returned lends him the curiousity, and impartiality, to survey others’ lives and routines.”

YES. Inni is put forth as an impartial observer. He is detached from life, rather like Arnold and Philips but in a different way.. For, instead of seeking his own rituals, he observes and comments on the need of others to design life around them, as if he is above this tendency, as if he has progressed beyond these needs, which makes him more rational than the others. There is an arrogance around Inni that got on my nerves.

I wonder if we are to take Inni’s position for granted? There are opportunities to read against the grain and capture how Inni might not be as detached as his narration suggests. Which brings me to part II of what made me uncomfortable in reading Rituals: Where are the women? As in, fully developed characters instead of stray figures who figure as extras in Inni’s tale? Part of me thinks that this is just what Rituals is: a male story, where women have “unconsciously” been forgotten. However, you could also read Inni’s own dealings with women as intentionally portrayed the way they are. If Inni in his own perception is a detached observer of the ritualised lifestyles of his friends, he himself is somewhat blind to his own habits: that of finding meaning in sexual encounters with women. Again, the descriptions made me extremely uncomfortable, women as more “sensitive” and “honest”, as “guardians of the world’s secrets” and yet never really persons (my own rather inadequate translations), to which Inni “surrenders” instead of “conquering women” (oh, how emancipated of you!). But again, one wonders if one is supposed to feel this way, to unravel Inni’s own narratives about life?

In conclusion, Cees Nooteboom’s prose is intriguing and beautiful as always. His exploration of life, habits, and the postmodern quest for meaning was interesting. Nevertheless, I did not love this as I had anticipated. I didn’t not enjoy it, I just wasn’t absolutely captivated.

Perhaps it was my establishing this book as the Nooteboom for years in advance, which might have raised my expectations too high. Or perhaps I should just accept that Nooteboom will never be an absolute perfect fit for me. There are always parts of his books that I puzzle over, that make me wonder if he stereotypes too easily, or if we are meant to notice and challenge these ideas? And I am not always comfortable with doing that. Sometimes, I want a little more hints of challenge, a little less essentialism, even if he challenges that very essentialism on other subjects. *sigh* See what I mean about confusion?

Other Opinions: Yours?

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.
** I should probably note that I only found out this was being republished after browsing for a cover image. Honestly, I thought this had been released in translation years ago and would be rather difficult to come by now. What intrigues me most about this new release is the fact that it has an introduction by A.S. Byatt – that is bound to be interesting, right?