Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Brooklyn Follies

by Paul Auster

Many would agree with that no matter how much excitement we throw ourselves into, with growing up we have to face more of mundanity as our responsibilities and tasks towards one another rises in importance. Due to this, we sometimes question the dull, and may in brief moments ask ourselves if this actually is it. The works of Paul Auster is a good remedy against such though. His writings tend to bring youthful enthusiasm to life, not necessarily cheerful but it forces nonetheless ones thoughts to follow new paths. They are a good formula for a promenade of reading exhilaration: "'It's about nonexistent worlds,' my newphew said. 'A study of the inner refuge, a map of the place a man goes to when life in the real world is no longer possible.'" Needless to emphasize further, I am a big fan of the guy.

Despite my affection for Austerian books I have had the beige and blue Henry Holt and Company first edition unread in my shelf the past two years at least. Perhaps it is because I needed a breather to be able appreciate the work, having consumed most of Paul Auster's novels in too little a time prior to that. In The Brooklyn Follies we get to follow Nathan Glass whom is returning to Brooklyn, where he hasn't lived or spent any of his time since he was three, and he does so because he has reason to believe his days are numbered. The 60-year-old is recently divorced and retired. Having worked all his life, and been quite successful in what he has done, he now has the economy to live of what he has saved. The stage is set for the classical character in Austers novels, the lonely man. This book is narrated through Nathan Glass, who perhaps had the honest intention of being solitary, but is by coincidence encountering parts of his family. As this happens on several occasions and he becomes wound up with new friends, this story is that of relations and interactions, and of the intimate emotions such is accompanied with.

Perchance my pause from Paul Auster has had a positive effect of my reading of the book. Some times the longer the intermission from the things we find better, the more we can appreciate the result. That is a delicate game to be played well though, as it can be of importance not to lose what the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi interprets as flow. In any case, the follies in Brooklyn that occured in the inner refuge during the 18 months up until the cataclysmic events of September 11th was a fantastic vaccination. I am Auster thankful for it. He is good at what he does.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

The rugged hardback I have of this book was a gift from a good friend when he was over from San Francisco not long ago. It is a first edition brown and black Alfred A. Knopf publishing, with the Borzoi colophon, and it looks as well used as it is. The pages are unevenly cut and it had been in someone else’s possession before my friend decided to have it as a travel book when touring Europe. On the inside of the front cover my friend has written a message to me with a black pen, a note from one explorer to the other. All this has made my reading experience more thorough, as a clean and glossy multicolour soft cover would never have done the story justice. A man and a boy hiking through a desolate, uninhabited and dead landscape in a very dystopic post-apocalypse, searching for food in the form of tinned foods, hiding from the ones that want them dead. The dialogue is short, male. Towards the end of the book they reach the ocean, it is birdless give but the bones of seabirds and “At the tide line a woven mat of weeds and the ribs of fishes in their millions stretching along the shore as far as the eye could see like an isocline of death.” The man coughs blood and the boy almost passes away in fever, but it is despair that kills. The writing is as abrasive for something that could be regarded your soul, as the first drink of cask strength single malt from southeastern Isle of Islay is for your throat when it has been withheld from such for a while.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Story of San Michele

by Axel Munthe

No matter how much Axel Munthe has seasoned the actual happenings of his life in this book, one is assured of that he was a man who did his best to bravely jump into experiences. The story begins in 1880s Paris, where the young Swede finished his medical education in a hurry in order to set up a practice at Avenue de Villiers. The first half of the book is an exciting tale on Munthe's mingling with the aristocratic and creative jet set, amongst the latter many renowned Swedes who at the time took their refuge in the French capital. These were at least partly made his acquaintance through his medical skills, which Munthe claims being much the same as his luck. He travels all over, from his practice in Paris to England, from the very north of Scandinavian Thule to southern Italy and through the Alps and cities of Western Europe. For anyone who has been interrailing sufficiently Axel Munthe's chronicles is a fantastic read, and makes it possible to understand the ventures of going from Lund, via ferry from Korsör on Western Zealand to Kiel on the continent and all the way to Paris in 48 hours. Munthe considered his work as a doctor a calling and argues on how to make medical care available also for the destitute. When the cholera epidemic ravages Naples, he hurries south to be able to give a physician's helping hand. He writes about how he befriended one of the fathers of modern neurology, Jean-Martin Charcot, and how he attended his famous demonstrations at la Salpêtrière. The brusque ending of that friendship humiliates Munthe greatly and acts as a turn for the narrative.

The last part of this autobiography is, apart from Axel Munthe's endless and fierce fight against the suffering of the poor and human cruelty towards animals, less of political agitation and philosophical writing. The reminiscences are not in as much of detail as those from his youth and come between vaster periods of time. One understands that much of his later life is left out, perhaps partly because Munthe wants to finish his book. He writes about building up Villa San Michele and the beauty of the simple life at the island of Capri. After his account of the time he ran a clinic in Rome the story becomes less coherent and more of a reflection of growing old. In the final chapter, in which Munthe writes about his own death, he claims he is saved from purgatory at the gates of heaven by Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the animals.