The Journal of Failure – Week 18 of 2020

Week 18 of 2020 – 6 May to 12 May 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 1,003/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 14/14 – Success!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 2 minutes / day or 14 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 32 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 3 minutes / day or 21 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 25 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Three (Five total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 17!

Not a bad week.  Not a bad week.

Reading is clearly here with a vengeance.  More on that later.

Writing actually went well for a change.  I vacillate between wanting to write in the morning or the evening.  This week it was evenings only, which worked well.

I have a small child – she’s 1.5 years old.  19 months or thereabouts.  We’ve changed our dynamics such that when she eats between 5:30 and 6pm, we eat.  We all eat the same food now (she has less or no salt), and then the dishes are done, the bath is done, she’s put to bed and it is – 7pm.  The night is ours.

And thus, writing can get done.

I spent most of my writing time working on a short story.  It has echoes of my time in Madrid, though refracted through the lens of a young woman who wants to be a revolutionary even though all she has experienced is middle class life, and all she has read are the novels of Mario Vargas Llosa and Antonio Lobo Antunes.  This went well enough, with a neat (unintended) switch of perspective mid-way through, but I was stumped for what to write about with a larger novel.  I’m stuck between resurrecting something old and dead, or starting afresh.  Every time I want to start from scratch I flick through all of the novels I own (well, a percentage of them) and then… copy a favoured writer.  That’s a base at least.  But I was stumped and stuck.

Eventually, though, I folded the above story into something I was working on mid-last year, and I think it went well.  That helped me formulate some further thinking about where I’m going with it.  There’s something here, I think, but the key is less about appreciating the potential of that which exists in my mind and more about forcing through the daily routine of writing, writing, writing.

For anyone who may be interested, I have read from an excerpt before, as part of a Sublunary Editions event, which you are welcome to watch and listen to here.

I’d certainly encourage anyone who is interested in fine literature to subscribe to Sublunary Editions.  Of course, I have been published there so I am somewhat biased, but all of the writers are handsome in their own way and very talented.

Otherwise, I have been quite taken by a YouTube project recently begun by two people I follow on Twitter – Derek Maine and Knowledgelost.  They are putting on weekly YouTube chats about literature (alongside their other videos), and I definitely recommend a listen.  Here’s the most recent.

I often think up projects involving YouTube or podcasts or what have you, but execution has never been my strong point.  I am pleased to see a growing literary YouTube channel.

In terms of reading I read bits and pieces from a lot of books, and finished a few.

I finished a short poetry collection by Miroslav Holub called Vanishing Lung Syndrome.  Skinning is a very fine poem, and the whole collection (which runs to 70ish pages) is worthwhile.  Holub is concerned with internationality, death, and the violence of damaged body parts.

Marguerite Duras’ L’Amour was excellent.  I quite like the spare, almost script-like prose of later Duras.  I never warmed to The Lover, but L’Amour and Abahn Sabana David (both published by Open Letter Books) are wonderful and really represent the kind of literature I love to read.  She’s rapidly climbing the ranks of one of my favoured writers, and there’s still so much to read.

Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen was what I needed when I read it, which is to say I wanted something urbane, witty, dark, and claustrophobic to the city.  I got it.  I hadn’t read a word of Baudelaire before this, though I do have a bilingual edition of Flowers of Evil somewhere.  I was missing Paris, and missing the ability to walk through a city street, and this helped somewhat with that.

I had some trouble with Seamus Heaney’s New Selected Poems 1966-1987.  It is the second time I’ve read it, and I want to like it more than I do, but I have real trouble with writing that is focused so intently on nature, trees, bogs, mountains.  Whether in prose or a poem.  It doesn’t seem to stick in my brain, my attention wanders, time passes and pages turn and I have taken in nothing.  I have never much liked nature and it’s become more apparent as I have gotten older that I can’t read about it either.  Just slides right off.

Lastly, I have begun an ambitious project to read all of Pynchon again.  20-30 pages a day until it’s done.  It is a long, long project.  I’m about a hundred pages into Pynchon’s V, which I have not read since May 2004, which is astounding to me.  I remember parts of it, too, which says quite a bit about Pynchon as a writer, doesn’t it?

We’ll see if this project has legs or not.  I am very good at creating projects.  Very good.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

Short Story Review – Rubem Fonseca – Night Drive (trans. Clifford E. Landers)

We’ve all been there.  Long day, work that won’t stay at the office, briefcase or bag bulging with papers, reports, briefs.  Things to do.  Maybe you have a wife, maybe you don’t.  Maybe children, maybe not.  Maybe a maid who can serve a meal French style, maybe your maid can only copy the English.  I don’t know.

And maybe you relax by taking the car out late in the night and perfectly executing a hit and run.

Rubem Fonseca’s short story, Night Drive (trans. Clifford E. Landers), is pleasingly banal until it becomes something else entirely.  Fonseca plays it straight, outlining an ordinary evening for our middle-aged narrator, who seems pleasant enough, though he is worn down from work and the needs of his family.  Relatable, I suppose.

The usual house sounds: my daughter in her room practicing voice modulation, quadraphonic music from my son’s room.  “Why don’t you put down that suitcase?” my wife asked.  “Take off those clothes, have a nice glass of whiskey.  You’ve got to learn to relax.”

The evening is built, piece by piece, across two very ordinary pages.  The narrator lets slip no hints as to his later adventure, and isn’t even all that glum or miserable about his life.  A son who asks for money during the coffee course – sure.  A daughter who asks for money during the liqueur course – sure.  These are middle-class issues, but nothing out of the ordinary.

A couple of hundred words later and the narrative shifts.  Details increase and time slows down.  Fonseca takes his time here, luxuriating in the description of the car hitting a woman out running.

I caught her above the knees, right in the middle of her legs, a bit more toward the left leg – a perfect hit.  I heard the impact break the large bones, veered rapidly to the left, shot narrowly past one of the trees, and, tires squealing, skidded back onto the asphalt… I could see that the woman’s broken body had come to rest, covered with blood, on top of the low wall in front of a house.”

Here is a man who takes pride in his work.  Contrast with the quoted paragraph above.  The “usual” house sounds versus the “perfect hit”.  It’s clear as to which part of his life he takes seriously, or where he becomes most alive.  Few people in the world, he muses, “could match my skill driving such a car”.

It’s a fine opening story.  Short enough to keep the reader going, but there’s a lot here.  How this will compare with the remaining stories is something we will find out together, but I leave you with this, a quote from the front cover of the book:

Each of Fonseca’s books is not only a worthwhile journey; it is also, in some way, a necessary one.

From our very own Thomas Pynchon.

Night Drive is a short story by Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca, translated by Clifford E. Landers.  

Author Rubem Fonseca
Title Night Drive (from The Taker and Other Stories)
Translator Clifford E. Landers
Nationality Brazilian
Publisher Open Letter Books

 

Short Story Review – Najwa Binshatwan – The Government Sea (trans. Sawad Hussain)

An enticing concept for a short story can romance me to go just about anywhere the author pleases.  Najwa Binshatwan’s story, The Government Sea (trans. Sawad Hussain), sees a group of mental hospital patients, all old men, as they grapple with the sea near their hospital having suddenly vanished – gone to Malta.

Okay, from there you can take me anywhere and I’m happy to go.

Why, one individual wonders, would the sea have gone to Malta?  It has no relatives there.  Another person marvels at the garbage hidden underneath the water, the wreckages and dead bodies and discard junk.  We were swimming in that?

“Now that the sea’s run away, what we couldn’t see before is now in broad daylight,” added another.
“Dead fish, migrant bodies, and all sorts of garbage. Before, the surface was swollen with jellyfish, sea turtles, and boats abandoned by those who’d decided to travel by foot instead.”

And

“Of course it drowned, a painful death. Just look at all the migrant bodies that filled it up, and still there was no drainage system installed. Just look at all that trash and sewage.”

There’s a lot to like here.  The narrative is played straight but the people speaking are clearly bonkers.  Has the sea truly vanished, or are they just held back by a sign which admonishes them not to swim in the water?  The sea is “Under maintenance”, which sends the patients into paroxysms of confusion.  What they fail to realise is that signs can be moved from their original place, the classic ‘do not move from here’ written on every cleaner’s wet floor sign – where is here?  Where is the sea?

For me, the story is at its weakest when Binshatwan describes ordinary scenes, such as the below –

Angered, one of the men stomped against the floor, making the stale bowl of spaghetti by the door jump.  Cockroaches scurried out to seize the caked dregs of noodles and sauce that spilled out of the airborne bowl.

This reads clumsy.  The use of “Angered” takes away my own ability to interpret the man’s actions, and bowls don’t jump.  “airborne” doesn’t fit to my ear, and the whole section reads like an unedited first draft.  The flow just isn’t there.  Not so with dialogue, which is excellent; equally pleasing is the description of the vanished sea and the exposed sea-bed.

Through all of the patient’s hijinks and japes there is a strong undercurrent of violence and death.  Everyone is having such a good time (including the dear reader) that you don’t, at first, notice just how many body parts are on display, how many dead, how much violence.  The story floats on blood and flesh but my, aren’t we laughing?

And then everyone dies from a terrorist’s bomb.

With appreciation from M Lynx Qualey for providing the copy of ArabLit.

The Government Sea is a short story by Libyan writer Najwa Binshatwan, translated by Sawad Hussain.  

Author Najwa Binshatwan
Title The Government Sea
Translator Sawad Hussain
Nationality Libyan
Publisher Arablit Quarterly

 

Short Story Review – Gabriela Babnik – Ida (trans. Rawley Grau)

Ah, the immigration story.

An apartment building, the apartments, I suppose, all crammed together.  Enough so that Ida feels bad for those around her, who can hear her small child screaming.  Enough so that she wakes up at night to hear love-making, and she knows, she knows, that it comes from the black man and his partner above her.  She touches herself.

and sometimes, with the lovemaking, even the windows
would move. They would be carried from one end to the other
and at such moments Ida held on to the bed. With one hand.
With the other she reached down to between her legs, parted
the folds, sank into the soft flesh, and went inside.

In the light of day, though, what is fantasy becomes reality.  She visits the young couple. They have a child, ginger-haired, and they aren’t particularly interested in her discussion points.  Ida wishes to better understand why an African – his word – would come to Slovenia.  Was it for money?  For healthcare?  For money?  For money?  For money?  She can’t help herself, continuously steering the conversation back to that point.  Surely, she reasons, that this is why an African would want to come to Europe.  No other reason.

“It’s obvious you haven’t been through any war,” Ida said.
She didn’t know why she wanted to confront him, why she
persisted.

Muhammed, who comes from Burkina Faso, attempts first to gently dissuade her, but then becomes increasingly frustrated.  Why should he act as the mouthpiece for all Africans, and why should he be forced to admit what isn’t true?  He doesn’t state it outright (he is under no obligation to do so, after all; Ida, for all her masturbation, is a nosy neighbour), but it seems that he is here for love and for adventure.  Fine reasons.

Ida, blaming her menstruation, keeps pushing.  Muhammed is the dominant speaker here but his partner floats in and out of the room, looking after their small child.  At one point Ida touches the boy’s hair and the woman airily observes that they are teaching him to avoid being touched by strangers, especially on his head.  Clever.  Ida understands, and then pushes and pushes.

In the end, the conversation dies.  Ida, the European, is unsatisfied with the black African’s answers.  Ida, the European, makes an offhand comment to the other woman, who knows exactly what she means.  And then Ida, the European, is roundly chastised while Muhammed prays in the other room and then she leaves, defeated.

I suspect the late-night moans will continue from their room, though from now on I expect that Ida will not insert herself into their activities, even if from afar.  Not after that conversation.

Ida is a short story by Slovene writer Gabriela Babnik, translated by Rawley Grau.  

Author Gabriela Babnik
Title Ida
Translator Rawley Grau
Nationality Slovene
Publisher European Union Prize for Literature

Please see also the other stories under review from this series:

The Journal of Failure – Week 17 of 2020

Week 17 of 2020 – 29 April to 5 May 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 177/700 – Failure!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 11/14 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 1 minutes / day or 7 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 9 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 3 minutes / day or 21 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 12 minutes – Failure!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Two (Two total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 17!

Ah, and so, that old vice raises its head. Alcohol.  I blame the long weekend – well, no, I blame myself.  Myself.

The week started ok but it ended pretty poorly.  I am the kind of person who can drink alcohol without issue in terms of how it makes me feel the next day, except that my mind cannot focus on anything.  Physically I’m fine (maybe just tired), and mentally I’m ok except that I only really have the ability to focus on or enjoy YouTube and the like.  Which is a real bummer.

Here in Queensland, Australia, we had a number of restrictions relaxed, which essentially meant that we could see other people for the first time.  And so, my brother visited on Saturday.  We saw some friends on Saturday.  We saw my wife’s parents on Monday.  Drinks all round, celebrations all round.  Because there are so many small children the days started earlier, but boy they didn’t finish earlier!

Anyway, all of this is to say that it’s my fault and I should be better.

In terms of writing, I spent a small amount of time (12 minutes!) reconnecting with a larger piece I wrote a few years back about Rasputin.  I think there’s something to it, but I also recognise that I likely need to start its from scratch to regain the flow.  But there’s something there, I think.  It’s a touch too heavily influenced by Roberto Bolaño.  He is an author I admire very much as of today’s date (7 May 2020), but for whom I no longer feel an unhealthy obsession.  He’s a very important writer to me, but not as important as he was in my twenties or early thirties.  So, rewriting would benefit me and the project because I could smooth out some of those overt influences.

The shorter work involves a plump, cigarette-smoking widower in Belarus who is trying to untangle himself from the illicit smuggling empire his university-friend is running.  It’s not too bad.  I need to determine what kind of word count I’m aiming towards in order to give it stronger focus, but that will come as I continue writing it.

It should be noted that I am astonishingly aware that these goals are miniscule, and that not meeting them suggests a lack of interest in writing altogether.  Oh yes, I wrestle with that.  My heart wishes to write the most when I am incapable of doing so – it is the yearning, perhaps, that attracts me the most.  Having written is simply wonderful, though, and the times after the times where I have sat down to write are among the most satisfying of my life.

I finished just two books this week, and both of them were already well along by the time the week rolled by.

The first was Guy de Maupassant’s Pierre and Jean.    Not too bad.  Not too bad.  Pierre and Jean are brothers.  One of them inherits a fortune from a family friend, and one does not.  This leads Pierre (the “does not”) to become consumed with jealousy toward his brother; he wallows in misery, despondency, and suspicion towards others, which culminates in the primary thrust of the novel, which is whether or not their mother was unfaithful.  The first few pages (deliberately) impress upon the reader that this will be an inheritance novel, and then it swerves into something darker.  But not too dark, and therein lies the problem – Pierre plods gloomily about and then the book ends.  Not too bad.

Lastly, László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, which I finished as I started – underwhelmed.  I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the final ten or twenty pages, as I thought we were done with writers writing books where a character writes the start of the book in the final pages.  Yikes, I really did.  But otherwise, the mood Krasznahorkai sets is clear and effective – this is a gloomy, decaying, dark, grimy world.  And perhaps that is my problem.  I am not squeamish but nonetheless such matters are not to my taste.  There is something extremely unappealing to me about grubbiness.  Evil I can handle – Mikhail Bulgakov’s examination of Satan (and the rest) in The Master and Margerita or Roberto Bolaño’s glimpse into the abyss with 2666, or the demonic dwarf in Pär Lagerkvist’s The Dwarf.  These are all fine.  The Dwarf is perhaps the closest in terms of gloominess and grubbiness, but it’s offset by Lagerkvist’s humour and the excess of personality displayed by Piccoline.  So perhaps what I am looking for is levity.  Those reviewers who suggest that Krasznahorkai is funny are, well, differently made than I.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

Short Story Review – Myrto Azina Chronides – A European Story (trans. Despina Pirketti)

The pain comes – labour pain. It tears the pelvis apart, my
loins, my uterus a ball of steel.I can feel him throughout my
entire body. He spreads all the way down to my nails. My
head empties and compresses like an accordion exhaling.“I’ll
go get the midwife” he tells me and uses his handkerchief to
wipe the sweat off my face.

Well, this is a fine way to open a collection of European short stories.  It’s mildly – mildly – on the nose, but given the mission of the book (to highlight the works of EUPL winners and have them write about Europe), well, it can be forgiven.  How else would you start a collection like this?

A European Story (trans. Despina Pirketti) by Myrto Azina Chronides is one grand metaphor for the generation after WWII as it grapples with birthing the new Europe.  Pretty explicitly so.

Mum died: a Jewish woman in Auschwitz, a British woman
during the Blitz, a Greek woman in German-occupied Athens
or perhaps a Trümmerfrau in Dresden, who had survived
the horror and perished amidst the ruins of the war, a Polish
woman, a…

The story shifts between a woman giving birth, and the woman’s life and memories prior to childbirth.  The sentences are short and sharp, and so are most of the paragraphs, running rapidly through European history both recent and ancient, connecting like occurrences and comparing events.  It’s a heady mix.

The childbirth sequences are the strongest from a purely narrative perspective.  It made me glad, not for the first time, that it is an experience I am able to avoid.  The narrator show indications of empowerment here; she notes that her partner is fearful of her power as she gives birth – this is an event of great magnitude, and she is the one who is doing it.

The other parts of the story are good, but they rely on overwhelming the reader with references to European history and concepts.  I like this – I love that kind of thing – but as a narrative it’s a bit disjointed.  The effect is to show the gamut of European history, and it works, but how much of this is truly a story?

I’m sinking; I feel that I’m sliding somewhere until I lose
consciousness. Everything around me turns red. I float upon
golden white clouds. Far away, at the edge of the horizon,
upon a distant hill, soldiers by the thousands are hoisting
their flags simultaneously. They’re not war banners. They’re
filled with blue skies and yellow stars: unity, solidarity, harmony. I melt within feelings of utter serenity.

And in the middle of the red meadow, a tree is born. I tentatively approach it: the tree of life carrying an apple. I come
even closer. But it’s not the fruit of Knowledge, I tell myself.
It is the apple offered to Paris, prince of Troy, by Discord, and
instead of “for the fairest” it reads “for the best”. I’m devastated.

I would say, politely, that this story doesn’t stand up on its own.  Contained within this collection it is fine and an appropriate starting point – but it is clearly a commissioned work, and feels like one.  I’m curious about Chronides and her other works, but this one is perhaps a touch too prepaid.

A European Story is a short story by Cypriot writer Myrto Azina Chronides, translated by Despina Pirketti.  

Author Myrto Azina Chronides
Title A European Story
Translator Despina Pirketti
Nationality Cypriot
Publisher European Union Prize for Literature

See also the other titles under review:

Short Story Review – Rasha Abbas – How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile (trans. Fatima El-Kalay)

The central metaphor to Rasha Abbas’ short story, How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile (trans. Fatima El-Kalay) is abundantly apparent throughout the text, but you know what?  That’s ok.  Writing as someone who lives in a peaceful, quiet country (Australia), the message being conveyed is foreign to me, completely so – it is not and could not be a lived experience.  Not for me.  But for the narrator?  And the other people in her country?  Oh, yes.

The narrator has had poor eyesight for as long as she can remember.  Early on, she receives new glasses, and now she can see the city as it is.  As it is, which is to say – bombed streets, ruined buildings, missiles and helicopters overhead.  They were always there, but not for her.  She lived a more pleasant life before attaining clarity.

A few days later I received my new glasses. Things were undoubtedly better, but it was too late to see the city. Instead, all I got to see were very lucid scenes of red missiles, flaring in the night, heading to some unknown place, fired from the bottom of the mountain that overlooked our elevated window. Or the sight of military helicopters slowly hovering in the early morning, on their way to other neighborhoods.

This is, politely, a violent place.  Somewhere that is utterly foreign to me.

On the way, there was a police officer joking with a local child. He pointed his rifle at him and asked him which football team he supported. The boy exposed his belly in defiance before the rifle, proud of his preferred team, even though it apparently didn’t go down well with the policeman.

Ah, my Western sense of what is ordinary and right are in trouble!  Abbas is able to reframe the conflict in Syria to be new to the narrator via the mechanism of the new glasses, which then allows it to be explained to a foreign reader.  Not that she is obliged to do this, of course; writers from far-off countries to myself are under no obligation to serve as teachers or educators.  But it is appreciated nonetheless.

There is a lot crammed into these short pages.  An aside about a butcher’s son, who babbles and burns pictures of the President and gives presents to children, and who may have been vanished along with his father – this is great, evocative, interesting writing.  It contrasts neatly with the more matter-of-fact appreciation of violence and destruction from the narrator, as she finally sees her city for what it is.

 He loved wild birds, and would catch them and place them in cages, and forcefully give them as gifts to the local children.

The ending is very neat indeed.  Swimming in a pool with a friend she has made, the narrator wonders to herself at how miserable it must be to have always seen clearly.  And there’s something to that, there’s something to being forced into an awakening about what is familiar and known.  We must reassess, we must see things with new eyes, and it is hurts us, so be it.  If it helps us, so be it.  Seeing the world afresh each day is an impossibility to which we must at least attempt.  And how wonderful if we can do it once or twice a month?  Revelatory.

With appreciation from M Lynx Qualey for providing the copy of ArabLit.

How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile is a short story by Syrian writer Rasha Abbas, translated by Fatima El-Kalay.  

Author Rasha Abbas
Title How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile
Translator Fatima El-Kalay
Nationality Syrian
Publisher Arablit Quarterly

 

The Journal of Failure – Week 16 of 2020

Week 16 of 2020 – 22 April to 28 April 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 1,177/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 13/14 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – No goal this week, friends

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – No goal this week, friends

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 16!

The last two weeks I have focused entirely on reading.  It’s been a hell of a time, what with the Coronavirus, but here we are.  Like many people, the first couple of weeks at home were spent addled with wine and fear, which resulted in very little that was good.

But times have changed.  Or, they haven’t, and I have become accustomed to what we constantly hear referred to as the ‘new normal’.  Lucky us, lucky all?

Last week I read 902 pages, and this week, 1,177.  I am woefully behind where I’d like to be for the year, but these two weeks have helped.  I decided to do nothing more than read, read, read.  And so I did.  There were a few failures here and there (I have, for some reason, purchased and started playing Persona 5 Royal), but by and large I read widely and well.

I read

  • Guy de Maupassant’s Pierre and Jean (trans. Leonard Tancock)
  • Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands (trans. Lisa Dillman)
  • Albert Camus’ The Plague (trans. Stuart Gilbert)
  • Holly Watson’s Never Seen the Sea
  • Mari Saat’s The Saviour of Lasnamäe (trans. Susan Wilson)
  • Jose Saramago’s All the Names (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

Along with some other bits and pieces of books I didn’t finish.

Not too bad.  Five of six were translated, which is about where I’d like the ratios to land.

Such Small Hands is a bit of an incredible feat of literary horror, and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t have a small daughter between the age of zero and six.  After that, sure, go for it.  But if you do – traumatic stuff.  You’ll never look at a doll the same way…

All the Names remains the Saramago novel I feel the fondest towards.  It is his most human, I think, and is very sensitive to loneliness and the dull glow of feeling for one’s fellow man.  It’s too long, I think, but not by much.  10 pages, maybe 20, cut from around the middle, and it’d be a perfect novel to smash a frozen heart.

The Saviour of Lasnamäe managed to be a novel about a woman becoming a prostitute without, you know, wallowing in what it means for a woman to become a prostitute.  I quite admire Saat’s courage in putting in place the steps by which a middle-aged woman becomes a prostitute and then…shifts the novel entirely to her daughter, who is pretty much unaware of this, and continues along with a reasonably conventional romance plot.  Very good, very good.

The others were fine.  Nothing in particular to say.

I’m halfway through Krasznahorkai’s Satantango.  Actually, nope, looking at it, I’m about two thirds of the way through.  I don’t care for this novel much.  Or, more accurately, I have been reading deliriously effusive praise for Mr. K for many years now, and this novel hasn’t done much for me.  Where I’m at, right now, on page 205-206, I am reminded quite positively by Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant, but otherwise I’m left a bit cold.  It’s…fine?

I have, once again, started reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which is a fantasy series stretching out across 10 books and 10,000 or so pages.  Gardens of the Moon is the first one.  I usually stop midway through the second, or the third.  Will I press on this time?  I don’t know.  Fantasy nonsense can be a bit hard to swallow at times, but a dear friend of mine is so very fond of the series.  I shall do it for him.

I have too many books on the go, I am working from home which means podcasts spring eternal (I need more – please recommend).  My poor dog needs a bath and I never seem to have time or remember to do it until he lies underneath me, stinking of doggy goodness.  My daughter continues to speak like a three year old and yet she’s only one and a half.  My wife is stressed and tired and burning the candle at both ends because she is a school teacher (be nicer to school teachers).  And on and on it goes, and in a lot of ways I am the luckiest person in the world, because forcing me to sit surrounded by my books is what I would wish if I had the divine on my side.

Otherwise, I feel that my reading is secure and it is time now to write.  Not much, baby steps, work those muscles, but I need to do it.  I have broken a number of bad habits over the last two weeks, and I wish now to add in the good ones.  I am not overly concerned with achieving some kind of productive personality – how horribly middle class of me – but instead wish to become akin to the rustling of paper, to be a footnote for all of the books.  Just literature.  That’s all.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

The Journal of Failure – Week 6 of 2020

Week 6 of 2020 – 5 February to 11 February 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 718/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 13/14 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 10 minutes 30 seconds / week
  • Achieved – 18 minutes/10 minutes 30 seconds – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 21 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 35 minutes/21 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 6!

And so another week goes by, this week mostly one of success, I suppose.  The goals are small, but achieving them builds up a steady bank of success, an unbroken line of doing the things I say I should be doing.

Reading went well. I am currently deep in the throes of an Open Letter reading spree, and will continue this for the foreseeable future.  I am fortunate enough to own all of the books ever published by Open Letter, and while I’ve often liked their books I have never really loved any.  I want a book that smashes me, pummels my soul, shows me new things in literature.  I want to love.  I’m a simple man.  But I do like them all, and they are generally thematically and stylistically very much what I want from a novel.  I’m never disappointed.

I’m also deep into Frank Bidart’s Half-Light, which is his collected poems from 1965-2016.  I’ve long discussed my weakness when it comes to poetry.  I want to like it more, but I don’t know much about it or how to read it.  But really the only way to get better is to read, and so I am.

Many years ago I started this website with the idea of posting the fragmentary writing I was creating every few days.  Essentially what I would do is take the book I was currently reading, take a sentence from whatever page I was on, write that down (or an approximation) and use that as a springboard to write a half page or full page in that style or using those themes.  It has worked pretty well, I suppose, or at least it did, and I have written over two hundred of them.  Some have turned into published stories, and just this January I sold a fragment which was turned into the story Automatic / Typewriter Keys and published by Sublunary Editions.

So anyway all of that is to say I’m back into the fragments, one of which I wrote and posted just last night.  This one was influenced by Frank Bidart’s poem, The War of Vaslav Nijinsky.  It was wonderful returning to this technique.  I see it partly as a muscle-stretching exercise, but also as planting seeds of fiction which may one day turn into something.

In terms of a long piece, I did work on a larger bit of writing.  I am still floundering in that area of my writing, but it’s starting to firm up.

Many years ago I wrote about 15,000 words on a novella I had planned out about Rasputin.  I liked it and like it, but I haven’t touched it in a while.  It’s always in the back of my mind, ticking away as ‘the novella I am working on’.  And yet, and yet, and yet – I opened Google Docs yesterday and the last time I touched it was 2016.  Good gravy!  That is not a going concern.

But I want it to be.  I’m going to devote the next week to seeing if the project still has legs, if I can reconnect with it, if it is something worth putting time into.  The idea is very strong, but it’s the execution, as always, that makes it . We’ll see.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

Fragment #211 – 11 February 2020

It’s true that, until now, there was little in the way of discourse surrounding Joseph’s behaviour.  Some-someone must have slammed the door – what’s that?  NOTHING.

Joseph was not trustworthy.  We knew that.  We would never write: Joseph wasn’t trustworthy.  ‘Wasn’t’ is a word used either to obfuscate meaning or when discussing matters of friendship.  It wasn’t for Joseph.

 

HE

IS NOT

OUR FRIEND

 

And yet he’s there each month now.  We all are, we make the trip.  Marshall should have been dead by now.  He isn’t.  Nobody thinks he is being selfish, but how many times can we hold a last long boozy dreadful lunch?  It’s always the last one at the time, and now nobody has a healthy liver.  We’re ageing visibly, catching up to Marshall.  At least he has an excuse.  Cancer is an EXCUSE.

Oh we met when we were young.  We’re all friends now and have been for decades.  We know the names of each other’s CHILDREN, and have even been to their parties.  What’s that?  A car backing up?  Why is it so loud?

Joseph and Marshall either always hated each other or were the closest of everyone.  Depends who you ask.  Joseph says one thing.  Marshall won’t be able to answer soon enough.  But just don’t ask me.  I can’t take SIDES.  I can’t even decide between ice cream flavours.  I am not supposed to be the leader.

 

WHAT WAS THAT

 

We’re all dead eventually.  Marshall will be the first of us, I suppose, unless there’s some kind of an accident to one of us before – when?  Then.  What?  An ACCIDENT you say?

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.