31 August 2011

Camping but Not.

I have moved back to the US. I am now resident in Blueville, KS (not to pretend to be political for ten seconds or anything), attending one of the state universities to attain my undergraduate in Classical Languages. I am learning to read ancient Greek and Latin, and living in an apartment that looks more like the sight of a secret service stakeout than the swinging bachelorette pad it may one day be. But hey. Beata sum.

However, I am much more excited about my virtually-unlimited access to the university's libraries, which are legion. I mostly hang out in the humanities one (since it's right next to the building where all my classes are -- literally, all of them), and am, in fact, typing this from there. I have already gnawed my way through one book of the many thousands that surround me. I chose A Partisan's Daughter by Louis de Bernieres as my first from here, and I am, I must admit, well pleased.

Well, okay, not entirely.

A Partisan's Daughter tells the story of Chris, an unhappily married travelling salesman, specializing in medical equipment, and Roza, the daughter of a Yugoslavian partisan (and former prostitute). The two meet when Chris, in a fit of dissatisfaction, depression and loneliness, tries to pick Roza up as a prostitute -- which job she no longer does. However, the two become friends, of a kind. Chris is erotically obsessed with Roza, but does little to pursue her, and merely passes long afternoons in her squalid basement flat, listening to her tel her life story. Roza, who longs for love and attention in the wake of a past that went from odd at best to downright traumatic at worst, encourages him. Do I need to add that it has a sad ending? Well, there you are.

All right, so it is the kind of book Belle and Sebastian would write a song about. But that's not actually a problem. What is an issue, however, is de Bernieres' style and the way it intersects (often uncomfortably) with his subject matter. While I am by no means an expert on de Bernieres' output, I feel reasonably confident in saying that his tone becomes just a little too titillated when describing Roza's past -- which contains some very intense passages. It is as if de Bernieres is, himself, very uncomfortable with his subject matter, and while this works for Chris, when the narration is taken over by Roza, the tone is simply jarring. The narrator is, himself, attempting to feel the thrill that Roza feels as she tells Chris her stories of bad sex and appalling violence, and it is simply unbecoming.

More significantly than issues of style, however, is the issue of subject. What is A Partisan's Daughter about? I can't honestly say that I know, beyond the potted description I gave above. It lacks depth, somehow -- or rather, its depth is obscured and its base meaning cannot be adequately judged. This is very frustrating, since it seems as if de Bernieres is saying something -- but the reader is largely left out of what it might be.

However, I did enjoy the experience of reading the novel, and I'd certainly read more of de Bernieres' books. His style, although not as well suited to the subject matter as it might have been, has a certain pleasing effervescence, and that alone would be worth further reading.

Coming soon:  Jakob Von Gunten by Robert Walser (with which I am already nearly finished). Also, I have joined a rugby club. Fun times are being had by me.

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