Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hitchens, Roth and decency

Time for a literary diversion. Sometimes a bad review can be deeply satisfying and my thanks go to Will for pointing out this stinker.

I can't comment on the novel itself because I haven't read Roth, and after that, I don't want to. I have too much respect for Hitchens' literary tastes. From the review, the book appears to be a misanthropic picture of life as sordid, squalid and miserable. An obligatory part of this world view is a depiction of revolting sex. Stripped from the context of erotica, it is almost impossible to write a description of sex that isn't either unconsciously comic or generally disgusting. This is why the Bad Sex in Literature Award continues to flourish and amuse. However, this style of writing uses it to signify the debased nature of the human condition, though Hitchens suggests that 'Roth has degraded the Eros-Thanatos dialectic of some of his earlier work and is now using his fiction, first to kill off certain characters and to shoot the wounded, and second to give himself something to masturbate about'.

As an antidote to this form of literary self-indulgence, it is nice to read something that celebrates life, not as something easy, but in ways that convey respect, dignity and affection. The reading that reminded me of this tonight was not a new novel or biography; it was drawn from the blogosphere. Freens in Springburn has taken the opportunity to enlarge upon the memories of his grandfather. I found it a touching reminder of the beauty of a life lived well.

Almost forty years after his death, he is still a presence: with me are the memories of his quotations, the aroma of his pipe tobacco (like aromatic liquorice), his hand-tied fishing flies, his broad, flat bunnets, his pawky humour, and, still, as I listen to digitally-remastered CDs of Björling singing Nessun Dorma or Questa o quella or La donna e mobile, I raise a dram to the memory of a great and abiding influence and a good and decent man.

That one paragraph is worth a thousand pages of loathsome middle class angst.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that.

Anonymous said...




The Plump said...


Sarcastic bastard.