THE DISCOMFORT OF EVENING (De Avond Is Ongemak) by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison (Winner of Booker International 2020) Genre: Literary Fiction Rating: 2/5 NOT RECOMMENDED AT ALL.
…discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.
The literary community generally crowns the infamous title of the most disgusting piece of prose to Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Guts’. I read Guts. Its puke-inducing horrendous. Well, Guts is Disney’s Scrooge McDuck to this monster I am reviewing now. I mean it.
First thing first. Rijneveld identifies as a non-binary individual and uses the pronoun as ‘they’. Alright. I generally abide by that. Here I wont. I am not going to play along with a person’s social demand who herself do not think twice to violate the most basic social norm: child sexual abuse. So, lets call a spade a spade. Rijneveld is woman I am going to refer her as what she is.
Now. This book is masterfully written. Its highly intelligent in its craft. One would rightly call this book an extended poetry or use the new term ‘prosetry’. The imagery is vivid and alive. I do not think I have ever read anything which portray it’s world in such minute details. It must be acknowledged that Rijneveld is a poet of the highest order. I am in awe of her literary prowess. Unfortunately as a reader that is my only reward.
This is a relatively short book with a 52,000 word count. And it didn’t take me long to finish. But within the three days that I read it, I felt abandoning it several times. Rijneveld’s language brought me back everytime.
The book is narrated by a 10 year girl from a rural farming family who lost her elder brother in the first chapter (this is not a spoiler as it is in the blurb). The family starts to slowly break down from this point. The problem is that a 10 year old girl cannot have such a complex, mature voice like the narrator, and this mismatch creates a strange distance of implausibility that is never fully mitigated. The tone is claustrophobic but beautiful, but soon self-harm and morbidity start to surface.
And from then onward it only goes darker and darker till it turns into underage pornography and scat fetish. It is disgusting to the point that I felt ashamed to even read this, and I had to skip a few pages. At one point during my read, I happen to look at the mirror and realized that there was a permanent grimace pasted on my face. It seems every taboo that there is Rijneveld went out to break it to prove a point. Sex involving children is written in such graphic detail that one starts to question Rijneveld’s intent.
The cruelty towards animals, the violence, the child abuse, incest, pedophiliac tendencies, morbid suicidal fantasy, disgusting body fluids, excrement, urine, snot and the act of eating it… if this novel was written by a man, what the left liberal world refer as ‘cis male’ the author would be brandished forever as the sickest scatophiliac, child pornographer and burned at stake by media and social media. If there was any context or philosophy behind all this, anything that could support this deviant writing I would understand. But there is none, it is pointless and gratuitous.
It’s such a shame then that Rijneveld, because of her biological gender and her gender identity is being lauded as a genius. I have to say this award is nothing but a political gimmick to show oh how liberal and progressive the Booker committee really are. I wish I could congratulate Rjneveld for being the youngest winner, but it just feels wrong to do so.
Could this story be effectively told without its nefarious perversion? Yes. Most definitely. In a much better way. But then it wouldn’t win the Booker. What a shame.
Two stars aggregated from: five stars for language and imagery and negative three stars for all the crap (those who read it will get the pun, but don’t, just don’t).
[The author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is in the picture below and the cover of her book on top.]
He counts the days since he last saw you And he tells himself Someday he will walk you all the way home In his attic he keeps a little glass jar Where he collects all the butterflies he felt for you So you can someday set them free Often in darkness when he sits all alone He sees you like a pareidolia staring at him It creeps him out just as it would creep you Once in a while he peels himself off like a pomegranate To see what is wrong inside of him Most days he blames you for his sorrows Other days you are honey waffle cream On the day half way through the month of August He sends you weird poetry to remind himself That you and him were born on the same day As if it really means something He counts the days for a future tryst with you And this is how he keeps you alive
It irked the king, ‘No God! O monk, have you forsaken faith? Lo and behold the golden idol Shining on the bejewelled shrine – You call that empty?’ ‘Not empty, it is full of royal arrogance’, monk smiled, ‘You have placed yourself in the temple, O king, Not the God of this world’.
The king frowned in rage, ‘Two million gold coins I spent To raise this impeccable towering temple Dedicated it to God with pious chantings And you say this is no abode of God?’
Monk spoke with serene calm, ‘In the year of disaster When billions of hungry, homeless citizens Came to your door with tears, With weeping prayers in the forests, caves, streets, Under the trees of ancient temple ruins, in vain; That year you built this golden temple With two million gold coins in the name of God. That day God said – ‘My home is a timeless abode. It shines bright in an everlasting glow, The foundations of my home are Truth, peace, kindness, and love. And you, a cruel, worthless miser Who cannot even shelter his own homeless people You dare to build a home for Me?’ God left your temple that instant With the poor homeless on the streets, under the trees. Your temple is nothing, O king, But an empty bubble of gold and arrogance Like the vanishing foams in the middle of an endless sea.’
(selected portion) Translated in English by Renny Ray. The original Bengali poem is posted below.
দীন দান রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর
“সে মন্দিরে দেব নাই’ কহে সাধু।
রাজা কহে রোষে, “দেব নাই! হে সন্ন্যাসী, নাস্তিকের মতো কথা কহ। রত্নসিংহাসন-‘পরে দীপিতেছে রতনবিগ্রহ– শূন্য তাহা?’ “শূন্য নয়, রাজদম্ভে পূর্ণ’ সাধু কহে, “আপনায় স্থাপিয়াছ, জগতের দেবতারে নহে।’
ভ্রূ কুঞ্চিয়া কহে রাজা, “বিংশ লক্ষ স্বর্ণমুদ্রা দিয়া রচিয়াছি অনিন্দিত যে মন্দির অম্বর ভেদিয়া, পূজামন্ত্রে নিবেদিয়া দেবতারে করিয়াছি দান, তুমি কহ সে মন্দিরে দেবতার নাহি কোনো স্থান!’
শান্ত মুখে কহে সাধু, “যে বৎসর বহ্নিদাহে দীন বিংশতি সহস্র প্রজা গৃহহীন অন্নবস্ত্রহীন দাঁড়াইল দ্বারে তব, কেঁদে গেল ব্যর্থ প্রার্থনায় অরণ্যে, গুহার গর্ভে, পথপ্রান্তে তরুর ছায়ায়, অশ্বত্থবিদীর্ণ জীর্ণ মন্দিরপ্রাঙ্গণে, সে বৎসর বিংশ লক্ষ মুদ্রা দিয়া রচি তব স্বর্ণদীপ্ত ঘর দেবতারে সমর্পিলে। সে দিন কহিলা ভগবান- “আমার অনাদি ঘরে অগণ্য আলোক দীপ্যমান অনন্তনীলিমা-মাঝে; মোর ঘরে ভিত্তি চিরন্তন সত্য, শান্তি, দয়া, প্রেম। দীনশক্তি যে ক্ষুদ্র কৃপণ নাহি পারে গৃহ দিতে গৃহহীন নিজ প্রজাগণে সে আমারে গৃহ করে দান!’ চলি গেলা সেই ক্ষণে পথপ্রান্তে তরুতলে দীন-সাথে দীনের আশ্রয়। অগাধ সমুদ্র-মাঝে স্ফীত ফেন যথা শূন্যময় তেমনি পরম শূন্য তোমার মন্দির বিশ্বতলে, স্বর্ণ আর দর্পের বুদ্বুদ্!’
It’s a dark irony that many Indians who swear by Rabindranath Tagore are also the bigots he condemned. We are the greatest nation of the ‘literate uneducated’ who value faith more than human lives. This prophetic poem points out the ugly politics of religion that is devastating Indian democracy.
The future is no longer what it was For better or for worse Familiarize with the newness Learn to cohabit with life and latex Organic is superfluous Anthropomorphic is just as good Your non human humongous mate Is a persistent repetition of a phrase
Your non human humongous mate Waves at me to say hi Before it disappears in your face It? Him? Them? I wonder How does our friend identify gender? Meanwhile this ménage à trois Ectoplasma, android, foie gras Two beating hearts, few bloodless veins
Your non human humongous mate Parks in your garage As I complete your bionic ecology Me and your non human mate We high five like chums Rectovulva Septum In the future after the shockwaves Sad tadpoles are left to die
Your non human humoungous mate has an advice: Make love. Fuck.
Completed Goodreads 2020 reading challenge 5 months ahead, and I began only in mid April. I think I need to slow down, this is like a Bugatti on steroid. Mostly new reads, a few re-reads. Full list with completion dates:
1.The New York Trilogy (Paul Auster)- April 20 2.Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari)- April 30 3.The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)- May 5 4.My Name Is Red (Orhan Pamuk)- May 13 5.Waiting For Godot (Samuel Beckett)- May 14 6.Kafka On The Shore (Haruki Murakami)- May 20 7.The Book Of Strange New Things (Michel Faber)- May 26 8.Let The Right One In (John Ajvide Lindqvist)- June 4 9.Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges)- June 10 10.The Dumb House (John Burnside)- June 14 11.The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey)- June 22 12. Animal Farm (George Orwell)- June 24 13.The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender)- June 29 14.The Arrival (Shaun Tan)- June 30 15.To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)- July 5 16.Tightrope (Olga Wallo)- July 9 17.1984 (George Orwell)- July 15 18.The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)- July 21 19.Choke (Chuck Palahniuk)- July 27 20.No Longer Human (Osamu Dazai)- July 31
Since the time he had been trying to write a substantial piece of literature, Dark had felt paranoid, intimidated. The possibility of failure seemed inevitable, almost tangible, waiting on the corner with it’s black wings spread like a cape, ready to pounce on him and devour his innards the moment he lowered his guard. The more he read good literature, the more he realized how fiendishly difficult the craft of writing really was and how inadequate and crippled he felt inside. Perhaps he should write something that was destined to be such a dramatic failure that he could murder himself with it, as a revolutionary act or something. Mishima, Plath, Hemmingway. Heck…Dave Wallace. Either way, nobody was going to read his crap, but a death toll might make it cult. The egg was broken, waiting to rot. The seed of life had abandoned it for good. Perhaps getting scrambled on fire was the only salvation it could ask for. Besides, who could resist the cheap thrill of watching a train wreck in slow motion? It’s the paramount of entertainment. The Germans called it schadenfreude; pleasure derived by humans from a fellow human’s misery. Dark took a deep breath…alright then, lets transgress. Lets bring in some ugliness. Shock, schlock, shit. Shittier still. Blood… bile… venom… semen… milk… BLACK MILK.
~ An excerpt from BLACK MILK my work-in-progress fiction.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE – Margaret Atwood Genre: Speculative Fiction/ Dystopian Rating: 2.5/5
‘As I have said elsewhere, there was little that was truly original with or indigenous to Gilead…’ (excerpt)
Such an irony then, that Atwood’s own sentence would so perfectly describe the very novel that tells the story of Gilead…THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Some books, despite being works of genius never get the adulation of the mainstream. A few mediocre ones just blew up out of control. THE HANDMAID’S TALE has a few good things, but it is not a very good novel. Atwood writes beautifully. It is probably the only saving grace of THT. The beauty of literature (or in fact any art) is that it affirms the subconscious knowledge of its reader (or audience). The utmost pleasure is bestowed upon readers by telling them the things that they already know about life and human condition, with little nuggets of poetic philosophy curved out of mere mundane. The beauty is in the detail, with unusual perspectives that no one ever thought of. And Atwood does this effortlessly. Chapters after chapters she delivers little morsels of delicacies for the soul. Here, have a taste test: ‘Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it’ or ‘Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some’…and how about this? ‘A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze’. The book is full of illuminating phrases like this. She even plays with syntax really well ‘I feel like the word ‘shatter’’. Nevertheless, all along the book I kept thinking is this novel trying to trick me into liking it? As I progressed my doubts turned into conviction. THT is not a literary masterpiece. It is mediocre at best.
Dystopia must feel original. Dystopia must feel futuristic. Dystopia must feel believable. None of these are true for THT. The dystopian darkness is created through a monochromatic prism of feminist monotone. And the agenda appears so naked that it loses its credibility. Most of the book literally feels 1980’s or early 1990’s, the references are too heavy on that time period. As a results it fails to create the timelessness of a futuristic dystopia. Degradation of civilization or society occurs slowly over time. Absolute overturn of culture, the kind that THT warns about, does not happen in a decade. How did Gilead happen… we are not given any satisfactory backstory or context, nothing at all. We are supposed to take things as they are told. The theocracy, the hegemonic masculinity, the regimental brutality, everything just serves the author’s one point agenda. Since Atwood never makes an effort to make the atrocities plausible THT never manages to brew true horror or rage like Orwell’s 1984. The pacing is languid which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But nothing much happens here for almost two thirds of the book, the routine keeps cycling and recycling. And yet near the end everything seems to be rushed, as if the author realizes she has hit the respectable length of 100,000 words and it is time to wrap up. Fortunately, the ending is surprisingly good. And this ending would have salvaged the book to some extent. But Atwood inexplicably adds a lengthy and unnecessary epilogue to spoon feed her audience, in the process completely destroying the poetic ending. It is the disrespect and the lack of confidence that Atwood hands out to the readers, this patronizing attitude in underlining everything she couldn’t convey in the story, that drives the death nail. THT is not a train wreck. It’s not great either. It has been championed for political and commercial interest of the twenty first century, mostly by millennial YA readers. There is very little literary importance here. Incidentally, THE TESTAMENT, the sequel of THT is indeed a train wreck, as per many reviewers who loved THT, and it only shows that even the Booker committee is nothing but star-worshiper sell outs. This was my first Atwood and I don’t feel too enthusiastic about her bibliography anymore. Not even ORYX AND CRAKE, nope.
[Note: This review has nothing to do with the Hulu series. I haven’t watched it and do not plan to watch it either.]
Twenty minutes early Or twenty minutes late It’s a matter of perspective You count seconds And soak in the minute details of the cafe Awkwardness gathers on the milk skin Of your hot chocolate In the aquarium fishes cry The water is salty from their tears Hello, she says, Have you been waiting too long? You have seen her before But pictures are notorious liars No photograph can do justice to a beauty like that Her face is an elegy An elfin myth She gracefully accepts the chair that you offer Remains of the afternoon just meanders Like a wafty feather Weightless, pointless, boundless You only remember the brief moment When she holds your hand in the end Four years? Five maybe That afternoon is still expanding Unfolding in memories Unspooling in dreams
Featured Artwork: CAFE DU MATIN by Olga Beliaeva (watercolor on paper)