Interruptus: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled

my reading of Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire continues progressively, if slowly, but i dipped a small toe into Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled. twice, actually, goaded by some reviews that say The Unconsoled is more reminiscent or suggestive or something of expressionist films than anything else. or something.

the first time i dipped a toe (i.e., read the first couple or so pages), i was struck by how i couldn't shake the image of the characters as Asian, when the book is, in fact, set in some obscure Eastern (?) European city. for some reason, i couldn't frame my imagination properly, and all the dialogue was spoken with distinctly faux-Asian accents in my head. while that may have to do with the name of the author being jammed into my subconscious than anything else, it bothered me more than it probably should have, and i put the book down not expecting to be drawn to it again anytime soon.

this morning, i was admiring the cover of the Vintage International edition, absorbed in the cool Nosferatu/Caligari-ness of it, and thought to give my little toe another dip. (incidentally, i find the Faber and Faber edition prettier, with a subtler expressionist film edge to the cover, and a less artificial/modern/manufactured book-smell. there's a more elegant feel to the entire book, but it feels oddly flimsier, something i find typical of UK editions: pretty and seemingly delicate, whether or not they are as fragile as they seem.)

thankfully, all the dialogue was now spoken with distinctly faux-European accents in my head.

i now declare that i'll be getting to the book as soon as i can, i.e. after Voice, and probably after Lemony Snicket's The End.

right. Saturday. office. work. groan.


Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire: part three of N: The Cremation Fields

as things keep popping up in my other life, i begin to find it harder and harder to sustain these reviews. my nights are still deeply immersed in Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire, but while that in itself ought to speak volumes about Mr Moore's writing and the story he's telling, it's becoming more difficult for me to put my thoughts on the book to words.

these past few nights, i've been finding myself almost reluctant to return to the book, wearied by the day, eyes heavy with longing for sleep, my brain still a-whirl with the stories that continue to build in my head but refuse to properly translate into words on the page...and yet when i do break open the book, i'm instantly caught up in 'The Cremation Fields's acerbic narrations.

refreshingly, the narrator does not ask for our sympathy: she has done and is doing something inexcusably horrible, her mind coldly calculating all the while, even as she describes in oddly beautiful grotesqueries the world in which she lives. and yet i find myself totally absorbed in learning about her life.

perhaps that descriptive quality of Mr Moore's writing is most remarkable to my mind. his writing rarely falls into the florid-if-precise descriptiveness of, say, Mervyn Peake, preferring a few quick phrases ('Boiled fish her breasts,' for instance) over painting an entire scene for the reader, and yet he manages to create vivid images in the mind's eye that make it easy to imagine an illustrator creating a graphic version of the book.

the book manages to be graphic without being literally illustrated in the way of Mr Moore's more familiar work. the visual quality of a prose work is something that seems amazing in the writings of the likes of Mr Peake, Angela Carter and, more recently, China Mieville, but is downright mystifying in Mr Moore's work. he describes character actions, motivations and ruminations more than actual scenes, and yet the image in the reader's minds eye is startlingly alive with atmosphere and detail.

i find myself thinking that a talented illustrator would find turning this book into a graphic novel a no-brainer, and, ultimately, an inessential and pointless exercise. it is so easy to enter the world of Voice that full illustration seems redundant.

is this, then, escapist fiction? i suppose that depends on how you define the term. there is certainly nothing easy or obviously liberating about the themes and events that populate both 'Hob's Hog' and 'Fields', both stories revealing (and, perhaps, grotesquely reveling in) the 'dirt' of the 'real world', but immersion into the book's world of symbols, images and words is so complete as to rip the reader away from his place on the page, and fly him off to *somewhere else* entirely.


Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire: Part two of N: Hob's Hog and The Cremation Fields

there’s a grotesque sense of relief that comes with the end of ‘Hob’s Hog’. by the time you get to the literal Voice of the Fire at the end of this story, you ought to have become accustomed to the nameless narrator’s pre-literate English; yet it becomes no less trying on the mind, as, even with the limited vocabulary and restrictive, sophisticatedly unsophisticated grammar, Alan Moore manages to twist the words into novel turns of phrase that, while compulsively readable, are so unfamiliar that they aren’t always easy to tease into meaning.

as the fire burned at the end of ‘Hog’, i found myself struggling for air, coming out the other end of the liquid flames to take a deep lungful of ‘The Cremation Fields’.

set 1,500 years later, ‘Fields’ is an almost literal breath of fresh air after Mr Moore’s stifling linguistic tricks in ‘Hog’. the narrator’s voice is more conventional here, and, to be sure, is very distinct from the narrator of ‘Hog’, being, for one thing, capable of more complicated ideas (we find her at the beginning of the story violently initiating what looks to be a ‘long con’), and, even more refreshing to my mind, imbued with a sense of humor. but the poetry, though ‘translated’ and, perhaps, ‘transubstantiated’, feels much the same. like the shifting lines of a well-crafted jazz piece, the rhythm changes, but, somehow, the soul of the overall composition is kept intact.

i should have come to this book with a fresher set of eyes, a less tainted mind. as it is, i keep thinking of everything in terms of what they say about ‘magic’: is magic, then, violent? because Voice, thus far, is so riddled with violence, both mental and physical, figurative and literal, insinuated and barefaced, that at this point it appears that whatever Mr Moore may have to say on the topic of magic—the interplay of symbols and meaning, of language, experience, fact and fiction—that it is difficult to come to any other basic conclusion.

Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire, thus far, is as dark as it is illuminating. right now, i can’t imagine coming to the end of this book without that fact still burning in my mind.


Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire: part one of N: Hob's Hog

i’ve found it impossible not to draw comparisons between Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire and Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy. published around the same time, Autopsy’s premise bares similarities to that of Voice, both being, in a way, ‘geographical biographies’: Autopsy is the biography of London as told from the perspective of her literal prisoner, Norton; Voice tells the story of Moore’s home of Northampton.

(there, however, it may be necessary to point out, the similarities end, for Moore, if any of the previous reviews that have been written on the work are to be believed, has a deeper intention, using Northampton’s ‘biography’ as structural framework to underpin musings on the principles and concept of ‘magic’.)

on the surface, perhaps, and comparing the first few pages of the two books, one might think that Sinclair’s writing is superior. Sinclair’s words are beautifully chosen, and the sentences and phrases clamber over each other as though to outdo each other in cleverness. by comparison, Moore’s nameless narrator in the opening story of Voice, 'Hob’s Hog', has a harshly limited vocabulary, and is written in a painfully reductive voice, being, for one thing, confined to the present tense and, for another, lacking all but the most basic forms of pronouns (he, she and I) -- there are almost certainly other grammatical and otherwise-structural limitations that i am unable to identify. furthermore, language to Moore's narrator is painfully literal, and so is the world in his mind, such that he is unable to grasp the concept of symbols, and therefore distinguish between ‘truth’ and ‘metaphor’, ‘objective’ and ‘perceived’ reality: dreams and memories and illusions and hallucinations are muddled in with his own physical experiences.

and yet, Hog’s narrator, it seems, has a better grasp of rhythm than Sinclair’s Norton: Norton’s sentences and phrases jar against each other, such that one is tempted to tear apart his fragmented narration and frame each sequence of words as a separate entity. the style has made Autopsy, in my mind, at least, virtually unreadable as a single coherent text. (reading it in bits and pieces, however, is another matter entirely.)

'Hob’s Hog', on the other hand, i find nearly impossible to put down, but for the fatigue that eventually wins out from the difficulty of comprehension. i recall an earlier review, that compared reading 'Hog' to the first time one reads Shakespeare as a child: the words are familiar, but are constructed in a way that makes it difficult for an inexperienced reader to comprehend, and while the words flow beautifully, virtually singing in the mind’s ear, one may find oneself hindered by the incomprehensibility of the strings of words, such that i, personally, occasionally find myself having enjoyed an entire page of text without necessarily having understood what has been said, and therefore having to retrace my footsteps to the last landmark of comprehension, and read it all again.

Neil Gaiman, in his introduction, compared Voice of the Fire to a circle, quoting Alan Moore quoting Charles Fort: you can start at any point in the narrative and proceed to ‘measure the circle’ from there. i’ve only started reading the book and could, of course, therefore be wrong; however, if other reviewers’ readings of Mr Moore’s intentions are to be believed, i find that the beginning of the book is, in fact, the best place to start.

from the first few pages alone, i’ve already begun to ‘glean’ what Mr Moore has to say about language and magic, and if i’m on the right track, there can be no better introduction to the ideas behind the Voice of the Fire than 'Hob’s Hog'.


Interstitium: Angela Carter and Philip K. Dick

haven't been reading as much as i used to, being occupied by work and writing and other things on my mind, but over the past weeks i have managed the first chaps of Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop and Nights at the Circus, plus about a third of Philip K. Dick's Ubik.

i'd meant to say more, but my brain has decided to be reticent on my other life at the moment. hopefully i'll have it all down in the next few days.