Thursday, December 18, 2008

Political fiction, Good Behaviour

First of all and before I forget, you should read Ronni's most recent post here on her blog in which she talks about contemporary political fiction. I think we all need to read this post more now than ever. Breath of fresh air, I'm telling you. As an added bonus, the talks about one of the best books I've ever read, the much underrated Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman, that is part of the Sally Lockhart series. His Dark Materials is an important work and I'll forever be grateful for its existence as it's essential and I wouldn't be the girl I am without it. However, I feel that The Tiger in the Well is just as good and makes just as valid points as HDM and I'm happy she used it. Pullman is definitely one of my favourite writers and I don't think he's ever got the attention he deserves. How else can I explain that the world still isn't a better place ? If people read his books, I'm convinced it could be.
I love the Internet for that : it seems to be a place where I meet or read like-minded people I would never meet in real life. It hurts sometimes, just knowing that such people exist and yet knowing also that we'll never meet, that our paths will never cross. More than anything, I think, knowing that I'm not alone in this. I don't meet the best people in real life to say the least, so it's easy to forget. Ronni, thank you.

Philip Pullman

In other news, yesterday I finished Good Behaviour by Molly Keane. Here's the very good (as usual) Amazon review :

With some wickedly crafty portraits, this Irish author, published here for the first time, pinpricks beneath the crusty "good behaviour" of some strenuously leisured Irish gentry in the 1920s, thus exposing a particularly refined brand of savagery. Principal victim is young Aroon St. Charles - who, as a child and young woman, is at the mercy of her own timid, vulnerable nature and at the mercy of Mummie, an icy and elegant woman who loathes children, sociability, and housekeeping, whose every remark is a bare bodkin. Aroon and younger brother Hubert, therefore, concentrate on drawing out affection from charming Papa, a marvelous horseman and discreet womanizer who's only impressed by the children's equestrian expertise. Lavish love, then, comes only from their governess, that plump partridge Mrs. Brock, whom they adore - but Mrs. Brock, a veteran of rejection who aches to love, will (helped along by the dreadful servant known as Wild Rose) end up as a suicide. And somehow it seems that Aroon, too, is always fated to be unloved and "on the outside." Although there are chimeric moments when she feels she's "there at the heart of things" - Papa and Hubert take her to dances, her Charleston is "a poem," dazzling young Richard Massingham shares jokes and memories with her - there are all those mysterious closed circuits which Aroon cannot explain: Mummie and Papa; Hubert and Richard; Papa and two hearty female neighbors; Papa and Wild Rose. Then Richard, after an upsetting voyeur's visit to Aroon's bed, leaves - and Hubert is killed in an auto accident. But "our good behaviour went on and on. . . no one spoke of the pain." Aroon's hopes for marriage to Richard fade, dying abruptly after Papa's suspicion-ridden death. And, flushed with the heat of her love for Richard (she never did see the implications of his intense friendship with Hubert), Axoon will let helping hands - and life - pass her by. Wily, shrewd, and terribly sad all at the same time: the story of a soul shriveling against cool, dark, shiny backgrounds.

I thought it bizarrely good, in the way everything cruel yet compelling is "bizarrely good". I liked that it challenged the reader so much throughout - I didn't know how I felt, what to think or even if there was anything to think at all. The writing can be so funny sometimes but I didn't dare laugh as I didn't know if it was honestly funny or just plain heartbreaking. Very unsettling. I think I loved it, to be honest. It certainly was interesting and I'm looking forward to reading more by the author. The introduction makes it very clear that this one is Keane's best, though. I'm guessing the earlier ones are more straightforward. Highly recommended.

I've already started Our Spoons Came from Woolworths which is a delight only Virago can offer - it's such a crazy book, reminiscent of Diary of a Provincial Lady, but I think I like Spoons better, the characters are more layered.