Odours from the abyss: Jacky in Howards End

I recently read Howards End and, long story short, I loved it. The characters are amazing, the text is endlessly quotable: goblin footfalls, telegrams and anger, the size of each of our islands. It made me think about early 20th century London, it made me think about socialism, and love, and the differences between people independent of historical context. I remembered when a friend showed me the confidence trick quote to comfort me after being fooled, I read whole pages aloud for anyone I could get to listen, I physically restrained my brother until he read the parts about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

But when it was over there was a question that was bugging me more than "Would it be tacky to get Only connect tattooed?", and that was "But who provides for Jacky?". Because Jacky is not mentioned at all in the last chapter, where the affairs of the Wilcoxes and of the Schlegels are settled. We get to know both their financial situation and their social one: that Charles wants to change his name, that Dolly doesn't, that Paul (even he gets a paragraph) is resentful to be tied down in England. But not a word on Jacky.

It is easy to imagine, and I do, that Margaret doesn't let her starve. But it bothers me to no end that Forster doesn't say so explicitly.

When I realized this, I wondered whether I have a more general problem with how Jacky is written. It is clear that she isn't treated with nearly as much interest as any of the other characters. She is pitied in an impersonal and vague way, her hostile circumstances are declared "bad" by the narrator, but their tragic aspect is not explored. In fact, she is deemed "incapable of tragedy". To the narrator, Jacky is a convenient metaphor, taken up every now and then. To the Schlegels, Jacky is a vision of the abyss, "like a faint smell, a goblin footfall, telling of a life where love and hatred had both decayed", and her mistreatment by Henry is always an afterthought. When Helen is angry at Mr. Wilcox over Jackie, it is chiefly directed at the way Leonard was ruined by being entrapped by her. When Margaret chastises Henry, his betrayal of Mrs. Wilcox takes up more space than his abandonment of Jacky.

But none of this soured Howards End for me. Forster owns up to how Jacky is not written as a character, stating plainly that "we are not concerned with the very poor". Jacky had sunk under the surface of the ocean, and about these people there can be no narrative. This acknowledgement alone is a very powerful commentary: Jacky cannot be written as a person because society does not allow her to be seen as a person. Her treatment thus becomes a shared failure of the author and the reader, and I liked that.

But even if this was not Forster intention, and he has written Jacky like this because of a shortcoming of imagination or craft, I could still live with it if only her affairs would have been settled in the final chapter (there were many options that made sense: she could have been given some of the income Margaret is renouncing, or some of Helen's or of Henry's). In short, I don't ask that Forster give Mrs. Bast a story or a personality; I just ask that he give her money and not bother about her ideals.

"I Did Not Want to Lose My Summer for a Scare": T.S. Eliot on the Outbreak of World War One

Eliot's draft registration card photo, 1918
A hundred years ago today, T.S. Eliot wrote to his mother with his first impressions about the war that will become known as World War One. At the beginning of August 1914, Eliot was in Germany, attending a summer school in Marburg. Though he would later describe the experience of being caught in Germany as "much like the childhood's exasperation of being in an upper berth as the train passed through a large city - (...) an intolerable bore," his first letter to his family paints a slightly different picture. He captures the disbelief, confusion and rising tension as the international participants at the summer school suddenly find themselves thrust into the roles of friends or enemies to Germany, according to their nationality.

Review: There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

This is a book that's hard to pin down.

It's a collection of 17 stories by Russian writer Ludmila Petrushevskaya and it falls a little short what I would have wanted to see, as far as editing collections goes. We are given no useful information about these stories. We are told in the introduction that they span the whole of Petrushevskaya's life, but it's unclear if they're the only short stories she's written (they are not). There are no dates attached to any of the stories, beyond a statement in the introduction that the first of them was published in 1972 and the last in 2008. Why is this important, though? After all, we're only here for the literature, right? Well, it's important because the translator, Anna Summers, is the one who selected the stories and organized them in sections. The theme for each section is transparent and their interplay is sometimes clever. Nonetheless, there is a meta-story being told here and it's Summers' story, not Petrushevskaya's. Or perhaps it is Petrushevskaya's after all, and this is the most natural order for these stories, but we have no way of evaluating that. This lack of basic tools is even more frustrating when you realize that it's not something Google can fix for you if you don't speak Russian (and perhaps not even then). 

Listen to a Short History of Metaphor

Yesterday I talked a little about metaphors and I quoted from Davidson's paper What Metaphors Mean. Davidson's paper was philosophy; it only used examples from literature to make a point about how language works. But reading about this topic yesterday I stumbled across this Radio 4 show that discussed the evolution of metaphor in the history of literature. I thought some of you might enjoy it. Granted, it jumps around a lot and there is some conceptual sloppiness going on (some of the examples they discuss are not metaphors), but it's a pretty interesting conversation. They discuss Homer, Milton, Spenser, Donne, Shakespeare, Dickens, Woolf and possibly a couple of other people I can't remember right now. 

If you're in the UK, you can listen to the show here. If you're not in the UK, there is a browser extension on Chrome called Hola that lets you pretend you are :)

The Literary Hippopotamus Chase

I wanted to sit down and write a short post about James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and a hippopotamus. Sounds easy enough, right? But one thing led to another and somehow, at the end of two hours, I found myself busy trying to find out who called Tolstoy a "great moralizing infant," all thoughts of Joyce or Eliot forgotten. It was time well spent, though, as I did read a ton of interesting stuff and I'm going to share some of it with you here (including, yes, who called Tolstoy such apt names). Here then is my wild hippopotamus chase across the internet and the reading list that resulted from it.

1. Where it all started: The Letters of T.S. Eliot, vol. 1. 

This is the first item on my reading list, but also the only one that I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend. I am 1/3 through this volume now and I am delighted and entertained by it. But if you don't already have an interest in modernism, literary history or snooping on dead people's letters, I think you can safely skip this one. We only need a footnote from it to get this literary hippopotamus chase started, and I'm going to quote it for you right here: 
TSE used to say that the only evidence that James Joyce had read anything of his, was that one day in Paris the novelist told him that he had been, presumably with his children, to the Jardin des Plantes, and had paid his respects to 'your friend the hippopotamus'. 
- The Letters of TSE, Faber & Faber 1988, page 213
Can you spell "adorable literary history anecdote"?  I mean T.S. Eliot definitely keeping track of whether Joyce had read his stuff or not, Joyce with his kids visiting the menagerie, Joyce telling Eliot he saw his "friend the hippopotamus" - there is not one aspect of this that I don't find adorable. So of course I was then off to read Eliot's poem, The Hippopotamus

Change Your Bookmarks and Let's Go!

As I mentioned before, I grew tired of our current name/URL and have been longing for a change. My co-bloggers agreed, but it took us a while to find the time and courage to do it. It's time now. This weekend I'll be tinkering and this site might go offline for a while. From Monday we'll have a spiffy new home at zombiechekhov.com. If you're wondering why Zombie Chekhov, there's a longer answer here, but the short version is that it started as a playful riff on this quote from the diary of Katherine Mansfield, a quote we love and resonate with.
"Ach, Tchehov! why are you dead? Why can't I talk to you, in a big darkish room, at late evening — where the light is green from the waving trees outside? I'd like to write a series of Heavens; that would be one." 
Under this new name, we'll still be writing about the same old things: books, writers, the occasional movie. If we occasionally do manage to conjure that "conversation in a big darkish room, at late evening" feel, we'll be happy.

I want to keep reading your blog, what do I do? 

  • Mom, you're so sweet. 
  • Bookmark zombiechekhov.com.
  • If you subscribe to Lit. Hitchhiker via email, feed reader or the Google Followers gadget, I think I can redirect those, so you probably don't have to re-subscribe. But if you don't see any updates on Monday, that means I failed horribly. Check zombiechekhov.com. Give me a hug.
  • Follow us on twitter @lithitchhiker. We'll keep this handle for a while longer to minimize confusion.

We hope to see you on the other side. Zombie Chekhov will be waiting. (I am sorry. I will see myself out now.)

The man.

A Handful of Books

When I was a teenager, I used to read blog posts by people in their 20s and 30s who complained about how they don't read anymore. Reader, I scoffed. I had a pretty clear list of things that might happen to other people as they grow up, but would never, could never happen to me. Soul-killing jobs. A passion for running, cooking or, if God was really unkind, both. No reading. My job is okay, my legs unexercised, my mind still in shock after it discovered one can actually overcook pasta last month. I don't read much. 

Or perhaps I should say that I do read. It's only that books became what theater used to be for me. Something I enjoy but rarely go to, because it seems to require so much effort when so many alternative sources of entertainment can be had for no effort, and every time I do go, I tell myself, "This was worth the effort. I should do it more often." and then don't come back for another year or two. And so I've only seen a handful of plays in my life and read only a handful of books this year. It comes back to the same thing: easier entertainment to be had elsewhere. And yes, if we are to express everything in terms of entertainment and steer clear of categories like "learning," "self-improvement" or whatnot entirely, in most cases inferior entertainment too. I know that reading that Ishiguro novel would bring me more pleasure than refreshing tumblr for the 250th time today. That's not the point.

Book blogging is a double-edged sword here. Knowing that I will have to write about a book adds more to the cost of reading it, a cost that my mind is already reluctant to shoulder. And because I'm bad at focusing on two things at the same time, it also creates a break between books that allows my mind to wander off into the world of the refresh button again. "No more books for you until you write that post about Their Eyes Are Watching God!" usually leads to no books instead of leading to a post. (Witness the life of this blog so far.) But blogging can be a tool as well. I have taken to carving time for reading. I'm not at the stage where I ride trains for it (yet), but this summer I've started to develop little strategies to trick my mind into reading. I'm hoping to add bragging to that list. I'm proud of the few books I read so far, snatched from the jaws of the internet, so I will make a list of them here. I am not sure which one of these I am going to write more about. So far the best strategy has been not to stop reading, to go from book to book with no pause. I'll have to figure out where writing about things and remembering them fits in this scheme. 

So here's my handful of books from August and July.

The Great Bloomsday Read-A-Long

Hello everybody! I know I have ignored blogging about Ulysses, but fear not: I'm still reading. I'm currently half-way through Circe, which I'm loving. I've been reading quietly and desperately trying to find something to say that would be insightful and interesting, but kept ending up feeling inadequate and not writing. But here we are: Bloomsday just passed and I'm reading Ulysses and I feel I should mark the day somehow (although it's not the first time Bloomsday catches me reading Ulysses, I was a few pages in this time last year).

So I'll address some of the points brought up by Emily and Lori during the weeks I was away, and bring up a topic of my own.

Writing styles: your favorites, least favorites, how do they work, etc.

I like the writing in the first three episodes (when we're following Stephen) the most. I like how visual the writing is here (more so, I think, than any other episode until Circe) and I like the constant back and forth between Stephen being over-dramatic and Stephen mocking himself. 
There are quite a few bits of these episodes that I remember off the top of my head, at least enough to search for them efficiently:
Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful.
The cold domed room of the tower waits. Through the barbacans the shafts of light are moving ever, slowly ever as my feet are sinking, creeping duskward over the dial floor. Blue dusk, nightfall, deep blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait, their pushedback chairs, my obelisk valise, around a board of abandoned platters. Who to clear it? He has the key. I will not sleep there when this night comes.
What doesn't exactly work for me is when Joyce is blatantly parodying popular writing styles of the era (like he does in the romance-y beginning of Nausicaa), though, to be honest, this is mostly because I'm never sure if I'm in on the joke.

Why We Need Diverse Books

Imagine a triangle.

That's a right triangle. I didn't tell you to imagine a right triangle. I told you to imagine a triangle in general. 

That's isosceles. You have to try again. We're not after particular angles or sides here. Try to be blind to those. Only see triangles as they are beyond these differences.

  You being deliberately obtuse? 

Now, if this were just satire of the real world instead of open criticism and I were writing for The Big City Review of Triangle Depictions I'd probably tell you, "Finally, ecce triangulus! This here is the naked triangle condition that shines through in every triangle ever drawn!"

But this here is just an equilateral triangle. It's not The Triangle, because well, there's no such thing. You cannot imagine an abstract triangle. You'll always imagine a particular one, be it isosceles or scalene. And when you draw a triangle, you'll draw a particular one and everything you want to show about triangles in general will have to be done through that particular shape. There's no escaping these differences. Representation - in your mind or on paper - is by definition of particulars. Keeping to equilateral triangles your whole life won't change that fact. It won't bring you closer to the ideal triangle. It will, if anything, distort and narrow your idea of what a triangle must be.
And if your mind cannot do more than this for 3 sticks put together, why would you think it can do it for a concept as complex as "human being"?

Ulysses Read-Along: First Impressions

For last week, Emily suggested as a discussion topic first impressions, and I want to talk about how I felt about Ulysses the first time I picked it up and how that changed.

To be honest, the first time I tried reading Ulysses, in high school, I did not like it at all, and I only made it as far as Aeolus through sheer stubbornness. I think my dislike was due to the fact that I never got immersed. I have one of those heavily-annotated editions, where the notes double the thickness of the volume. I figured the notes are there because they are important, because you cannot get everything out of the book without them. And I did want to get everything out of it. So I thought I should read all the notes; not as I encountered them, but to have a master check-up at least every few pages. Of course, then I would need to re-read the text with the notes in mind. Except I wouldn't remember half the explanations (many of which didn't mean anything without an even more detailed context of 1904 Dublin), and I would have to do this a couple of times more. I could appreciate how smart some of the connections were, or how elegantly Joyce could reference in a phrase a story that took a page of explanations in the notes, but re-reading something you've just read isn't very fun. So my first impression of Ulysses was that it's a clever book, but also i) very boring, and ii) pointless to read since I will never get all of it. 

I was about to make the same mistake when I started again, but then a birdcage hung in the sunny window of her house when she was a girl... happened and it was so beautiful and I just wanted to read on and know the story. I didn't stop again until Proteus, where I found it fascinating, rather than frustrating, to read up on Aristotle in order to be able to follow Stephen's thoughts. Now I make notes of things that I don't get but make me curious, and I try to keep the balance between looking up details and staying with the book. And of course I will not get everything out of it, but that's ok.

This time around, I actually have impressions about characters and situations and language, and not only about the book. I find Stephen adorably obnoxious, I think Buck Mulligan is funny but I empathize with Stephen's cringing around him, and I like Bloom a lot. I also have a very long, very fast-growing, list of phrases and sentences that I love. 

A Bloomsday Read-Along

Emily from Song of My Shelf and Lori from The Coffee Girl are hosting a read-along of Ulysses. When I learned it was going to be very laid-back, I decided it was the thing for me. So I'm participating in The Great Bloomsday Read-Along. Here are my answers to the start-up questionnaire.

1. Introduce yourself.
Hi, I'm Irina, though I usually go by Iris around here. I'm a Physics Master's student whose favorite activities include reading, power-walking (not good for your knees, I know), and taking random naps (not good for your productivity, I know). My taste in books is erratic, and so is my reading schedule. 

2. Have you read Ulysses before? Any other Joyce? Any attempts?
I've read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Attempted Ulysses half-heartedly in high-school, and again with more enthusiasm last summer. I didn't get halfway through the book on any of these attempts. 

3. Are you feeling nauseous?
Does anyone even need to ask?

Review: The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

The title of this post is a lie: I don't actually want to review Pratchett's The Bromeliad Trilogy (also known as The Nome Trilogy), but rather to gush over how great it is and to tell you all how it blew my mind when I was about 10.

I love this series the absurdly protective way reserved for childhood classics and I credit it with a big part of my interest in social change and activism. (I also spend a lot of energy aggressively trying to get all my friends to read it; and I would like to take the opportunity to ask you all to join the campaign for Claudia's education NOW). 

The Nome Trilogy consists, unsurprisingly, of three books (Truckers, Diggers, Wings), and is, also unsurprisingly, about Nomes. Nomes are tiny people, about 10 cm high, who live on Earth unnoticed by humans. In Truckers, a group of outdoor Nomes, lead by Masklin and Grimma, find their way to Arnold Bros. (est 1905), a department store. There they meet the inside Nomes, who have lived under the floors of the store for generations and who don't react well to the unfamiliar (most inside Nomes hold the religious belief that ‘The Store’ contains 'All Things Under One Roof', and so there can be no “outside”, while the more scientifically inclined have devised the theory that outside Nomes would have pointy heads, as this shape is more fit for unpredictable weather). The outside Nomes have owned, since times immemorial, The Thing, a mostly useless metal cube. In the presence of the electricity in the store, The Thing powers up, revealing that it's the board computer of the ship that brought the Nomes to Earth, long ago. When they learn that the store is about to be demolished, the Nomes have to work together, navigating religious systems and social norms, as well as personal antipathies. They manage to escape the store in a truck, and find a new home at an abandoned quarry. 

In Diggers, the Nomes have more or less adjusted to life in The Quarry, but they are continuously threatened by human presence. A religious sign prompts Masklin, Gurder (a religious leader), and Angalo (a prodigy engineer) to leave the quarry, going out to the investigate a nearby airport, taking the Thing with them. In their absence, those left behind have to deal with a new threat: the quarry is to be reopened. Grimma leads the defense efforts, sabotaging equipment, locking up the quarry, and even attempting to communicate with humans. In the end, the Nomes are driven out again, escaping on an excavator. 

Wings is the story of Masklin's, Gurder's and Angalo's journey. The Thing convinces them that they should take it to a satellite launch, where it can attempt to contact the ship. The Nomes end up in Florida, where they meet other tribes of Nomes and realize there must be more to the Nomanity than they thought. Humans also have to deal with the existence of Nomes, as their spaceship lands. The Nomes use the ship to save the ones that are escaping the quarry, then leave Earth. But they know they must return, for all the other Nomes, as well as for humans, who might be capable of intelligent communication. 

Rainer Maria Rilke and A Regrettable Abundance of Consonants

You know how they say that the hardest thing about blogging is what to say when you come back after a long absence? Well, I just tried to refute that theory by staring at the screen for the past twenty minutes, trying to come up with a properly chatty intro. So okay, perhaps it's not the most difficult thing about blogging (that title should probably go to updating regularly, i.e. the thing that brought us here in the first place), but it's up there. Top three or so. 

So lacking a properly chatty intro, I then thought I should tell you about why we were gone for so long. And I wish we had a good reason, but the truth is that when it's been a while since you blogged, it's going to be a while longer. Once it gets going, not-blogging is mostly a self-sustaining process. (At least in our experience it is.) So there was that, and also the fact that I started to really resent our name/URL and its entirely-too-many consonants awkwardly broken by I's. I'd been meh about it for a while, but about a month ago it finally got to the point where I decided we need a new name if we're ever to start blogging again. Cue brainstorming. Cue almost naming our blog "A Different Kind of Failure" for a. the T.S Eliot reference and b. the ability to utter endless variations of "During the day I write for my thesis. In the evenings I write for A Different Kind of Failure." In the end, we did find what we think is a good name (although my heart will always be with A Different Kind of Failure). We're going to have to be Lit. Hitchhiker for a while longer, as I figure out the logistics of transferring to a new domain, but after that, it's shiny new name time! 

And in order not to make this a purely State of the Blog kind of post, I decided to also share a poem I've been fairly obsessed with for... uh, 6 months now, give or take? Just in case you don't know it (and are ready to be punched in the gut by its brilliance) and also because I really wanted to have it somewhere on the blog. It's Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo, in the translation of Stephen Mitchell. Fretting about translations and where they differ is one of my favorite pastimes, but in this case I'll just go with the first version of this poem I read. I feel a sort of weird loyalty towards it for being the one that first made an impression on me. You can find the German original, together with a different translation, here. And, at the height of my obsession, I've also found this article and the discussion here pretty useful.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

A Resolution

Warning: this week's Feminist Sunday post will be 2/3 pure, undiluted rant and 1/3 a New Year's resolution I can get behind. It started with a post I read earlier this week on Blog of a Bookslut. Jessa Crispin talks about how she's never read some of the so-called great male authors:
It's not like if you decide not to read any John Updike, because it just sounds like being trapped in a car with a narcissist with his dick out, it's not like you run out of books. For a while I thought I should read everything, back when I was trying to be a book critic. So I read that dreadful Franzen, I read that dreadful Messud. I had opinions about Dale Peck reviews! God help me, why did I do that. And then I remembered again, that one could decide not to read things. (...) And I'm beginning to think that this stance of non-participation might be a more important one than, you know, this bores me I don't want to read it.

Music and The Other City

Because my review for The Other City turned out so long, I decided to leave out one clever detail from the book that I initially wanted to discuss. But since it's my blog and since I had the inspiration to institute the footnotes & reviews system for situations such as this, there's nothing stopping me from discussing it separately. So here it is.

It's about music. We discussed previously about how the other city has a weird language that has the same words like ours but seems to be incomprehensible gibberish otherwise. As you read, the temptation to find hidden meanings in every sentence is very strong. The narrator describes this impulse so well when he says
I had encountered the words and gestures of the inhabitants of the other city, the screeches of its creatures, and the stiff poses of its statues like a hieroglyphic text, whose shapes from time to time have been penetratingly and almost painfully cut through by the incandescent discharge of unifying meaning, but every time it had been extinguished before I managed to grasp it. 
But it's not only the language that is obscure. Music itself is different in the other city. (Does music qualify as a language? I'm not sure.) When the narrator first hears it, at the end of a religious service in a subterranean church of the other city, he describes it as "a monotonous tinkling" that "maybe (...) was supposed to be music." And then, when people sing, this is what it sounds like to him, not so much music as noise: 
The worshipers (...) started to sing a long drawn-out wordless melody in which I could detect no rhythm or system, and which most resembled the random sounds of wind shaking tin window seals on winter evenings. I listened to the strange song and waited to see if anything else would happen, but there was simply the sound of that formless singing, just unending intonements of a single note, after which the melody would abruptly rise or fall and remain fixed once more into a long single note. The singing was putting me to sleep (...).
In the absence of a rhythm or system, this is barely recognizable as music. This is at the end of chapter 3. At the end of chapter 5, after hearing some stories about the other city and chasing the marble streetcar that takes people away from the normal world, the narrator is in a garden. He hears a "magical music to which [he] felt irresistibly drawn." He follows it and discovers that what he took to be liturgical singing was actually a piece of tin roof shaken by the wind. Like the music in the subterranean church, the sound is soporific.

What is so nice about these two episodes is how they illustrate the constant search for meaning and structure, applied even to music. Seeing that the music in the garden was only his mind attributing intentionality where there was none should make the narrator doubt that there is any meaning to be found in the other city as well. (It doesn't.) But seeing how this sound was very similar to the one he heard in the church and yet this time he immediately recognized it as music instead of random noise, how his mind imposed an intentional pattern on nature on the basis of a prior experience, should perhaps make us, readers, wonder about the source of all demarcations like those between language and nonsense, music and noise. Is familiarity the only difference between what we are willing to accept as music and what we deem to be noise?

Review: The Other City by Michal Ajvaz

"Fantasy is a place where it rains." This is how Italo Calvino begins what would have been one of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures, with a riff on a line from Dante’s Purgatory. In Michal Ajvaz’s world, fantasy is a place where it snows. Prague in winter is a space of pure possibility. It snows heavily from the very first chapter – the one where our hero and narrator finds a mysterious book on the shelves of a second-hand bookshop. The snow and darkness outside contrast with the coziness of the interior: warm, quiet, smelling pleasantly of old books. But the contrast is deceptive. The books inside are described as if alive: “pages rustled as they were turned, as if the books were sighing in their sleep,” when one book is withdrawn from the shelves the others “draw breath” and fill the space. The snow outside seems to have a life of its own as well; it arranges itself in “snowy chimeras” that hypnotize and entice the narrator. It’s part of what makes him buy a book written in a strange alphabet, part of why he decides to pursue the source of the mysterious script. As he says:
(...) the snow lying everywhere is almost already the beginning of the unreal. It too urges us to leave: we are bound to find in it footprints of chimerical beings, footsteps that will lead us to secret lairs in the depths of the city.
In this novel's world, the decision to buy a strange book is not a minor one. It is a step towards crossing the frontiers of our ordinary, normal, logical lives, and it is described as such from the start:

A Gripe about Ernesto Sabato's The Tunnel

Hello, everyone! I'm delighted to see you around in a new year, and I hope it will be a good one for you (and me as well)! I'd like to be able to say I have big plans for 2014, but right now my great ambition is to choose a good book to start my year with. I finished 2013 on a not-so-great note, with Sabato's The Tunnel, and I want to get the bad taste out of my mouth as soon as possible.

I read The Tunnel because it’s one of those books that are inescapable in my social circle. The author, Ernesto Sabato, used to be a physicist, and a rather successful one at that. He got a PhD in Theoretical Physics, a fellowship at the Marie Curie Institute, a position at MIT, the works. Then he quit and started writing and became successful as a writer, providing inspiration and hope for physics students with a taste in books and secret literary ambitions everywhere.

So I read The Tunnel fully expecting it to blow my mind. That didn’t happen: I think it’s a bad book and I also didn’t enjoy reading it. I will get around to reviewing it sometime soon, hopefully. In the meantime, I want to use this footnote to elaborate on the “not enjoying reading it” part. 

I realize that compartmentalizing my criticism like this may sound weird, since the intellectual assessment I make of a book and the experience of reading it can never be completely different things. But the peculiar thing about reading The Tunnel is that, even though I realized within the first few pages that I was not going to enjoy it, I had high hopes until the very end that it would turn out to be a good book. It had such good recommendations from people I trust (and I so wanted to like the writer) that I was sure there will be a great pay-off. I was waiting for, not hoping for, the twist or revelation that would illuminate the subject matter in an original way, making the obnoxiousness I was putting up with worth it. So now that I know there is no pay-off, I am amazed I managed to stand the torturously bad writing for so long, and I need to vent.