...the mildness to which men ... had yielded was only half of the intoxication of beauty, while the other half ... was of such surpassing and terrible cruelty—the most cruel of men delights himself with a flower—that beauty ... failed quickly of its effect...
Jeremy Davies is made of ink, but don’t dip a feather in him. It tickles. He once painted a fingernail black and no one really noticed. He was disappointed. He’s also an editor, a religious atheist, a liker of strong coffees, a Shakespeare-lover, a political anarchist and someone who rarely has a pen when he needs one. He has been a PhD candidate, a personal trainer, a life model, a bouncer, an infantry soldier and someone who rarely had a pen when he needed one. He has had words published in a variety of places, in a variety of publications, in a variety of forms, in a variety of moments: Canada, Wet Ink, SMS and twelve minutes past three in the afternoon being some of these. His first novel, 'Missing Presumed Undead', will be re-published by Satalyte Publishing in February 2014. A second is on its way.
The original plan was to read Homer’s The Odyssey, followed by Joyce’s Ulysses before Bloomsday 2012, but, time caught up with me and I was still with Odysseus having just landed back on Ithaca when June 16 rolled around… So next year, I am prepared.
It’s impossible and obscene to review a book like this, genuinely, other than to talk about your experience of it and what the novel means to humanity and storytelling as a whole.
This is not an easy-read, but it is literary art: it is art fashioned from words, in the form of a novel. And it is difficult to deal with. It is dealing with complex, difficult, perhaps impossible to reconcile characteristics of being human, and it is trying to render that onto a page with words. It is trying to do something that is beyond words, with words, these flawed building blocks of being human.
The problem with combining this form with this project is that unlike with other more immediate forms of art, let’s say, a great work of visual art that is wrestling with the same project, if you don’t appreciate it on that level, you only have to invest a couple of seconds, scan the paining, shrug your shoulders and then walk off. You’re not going to hold much of a grudge against it, and if someone who did appreciate it at that level asks you if you’ve seen it, you can still say, yes, I have, I liked the composition and its use of the colour red. You’re not going to say, no, I read the first fifty pages and threw it away. It’s crap. It’s artsy fartsy wankery. What? Are you saying I’m stupid? Well, fuck you, you’re pretentious…
Some art needs to be difficult. It needs to defeat you in some way. It needs to go past your limits so that you know your limits; or, to put it better, to know that you are limited. This novel will lose you. It will surpass you ... it did to me. That’s not a bad thing.
It’s not laughing at you. It’s laughing with you ... and at you ... and at itself.
This novel changed the narrative game. It moved human experience into new positions. Very few individual works of anything are in this category. Joyce’s project is, of course, a failure and absurd, but it soars all the more through the purity of its failure and its depiction of the absurdity of our condition, we story-telling self-aware animals doomed to die and know about it.
It is worth the effort to read it. Let it beat you. You need to be beaten as a reader sometimes.
On a final note, I was all ready to hate on Melbourne’s obsession with the Molly Bloom character while reading her famous soliloquy, the final chapter of the book, and had a few clever, snide sentences all ready primed for my review regarding the vague, Sex-In-The-City kind of emptiness I was reading into her. The last three or so pages hit me right in the guts with the subtle, building energy that only a true, absolute master artisan of story-telling is capable of.
I swallowed every sentence I had and sat quietly on the bench of platform 3 at Box Hill railway station, waiting for the 6:37pm Belgrave train to arrive, and it felt like I didn’t breath until it did.