Friday, 30 March 2012

The long and winding road*

I love a story that takes me on a journey.  It doesn’t matter if it’s literally a journey as in The Road or metaphorically like Great Expectations, as long as I go somewhere.

The book I’m reading right now, doesn’t do journeys. Granted, I’m only halfway through it but I’m bored. Bored.  I’m not going to divulge the name of the book or who it’s by because one of my pet hates is readers and writers who rubbish authors.   I have to tell you, also, that this book is currently on the short list for the Miles Franklin Award, so I am in no position to be critical of it. (As an aside, it worries me that there are books on the MF list that I do not like. Anyone else feel this way?)  Anyway, this book is just not for me; it’s lyrical and descriptive but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere although the blurb on the back tells me that it should be going somewhere. 

I’ve been thinking of how best to describe the kind of book that enthralls me from the first sentence and I think it’s got to do with the promise of a journey, and then the setting about of fulfilling that promise fairly early on in the piece. I’ve qualified that because it’s no good promising something, and then not delivering.  Or promising something, but dithering over it until Christmas.

I wondered if there was a book where procrastination took place, but I still enjoyed the read – I wasn’t bored – and I came up with one: 

Andrew McGahan’s 1988.  McGahan’s novel sets out, interestingly, promising both a literal and a metaphorical journey.  The main character, Gordon, a young man with little prospects and little get up and go I have to say, heads to far north Queensland on a road trip to take care of a weather station. Once he reaches the weather station, the metaphorical journey begins. Well, I think it does. I loved this book. Some of my classmates – we had to read it for uni – would disagree. They said to me, “Why do you love it? Please explain. Nothing happens.”  While it’s true that to a certain extent nothing happens, what enthralled me was Gordon’s response to his isolation and his boredom. It’s sordid and nasty and strangely compelling but then Gordon, in contrast to his boring name, is an intriguing character. Somehow, I empathized with him, and I wondered if it was my own experience of youth that bonded me to him.  Here are a couple of lines from the middle of the book to think about:

They forgot about me again. I pulled on my beer.
I felt stupid. Slow. After an hour the beer was all gone.

While I don't think I would have turned out to be a Gordon, certainly the potential to do so was there. 

My conclusion? That your own life experience informs your response to and reading of literature.  

And now, with an appreciation that there will be other readers who will find it a joy -- just not me -- I am going to put aside the book that is on the Miles Franklin list, and pick up another. I think it's The Elegance of the Hedgehog that awaits me but I may also dip into Before I go to Sleep again because I inhaled it the first time.

*Compliments to The Beatles  

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