Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book: The Tiger's Wife; Movie: Never Let Me Go

If you haven't heard of The Tiger's Wife then I'm certain you will fairly soon. It seems to be the literary sensation du jour. Everybody is raving about it - critics, booksellers, writers and readers the world over. It's a first novel by a young 25 year old American woman Tea Obreht.

These are the accolades on the front and back covers:

'Tea Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years'. Colum McCann

'A novel of surpassing beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Tea Obreht is a towering new talent'. T.C. Boyle

'The Tiger's Wife is a marvel of beauty and imagination. Tea Obreht is a tremendously talented writer.'
Ann Patchett

Here's Tea's short bio: 'Tea Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia. She was the youngest author on The New Yorker's Top 20 Writers Under 40 list. Her short fiction has been selected for The Best American Short Stories 2010, and the Guardian Summer fiction issue.'

Now there's a clue right there as to why this novel is simply not worthy of all the starry-eyed attention it is receiving. Obreht is primarily a short story writer, and it shows. The problem with the novel is a structural one. The half dozen or so self-contained stories, while fascinating and 'magical' in themselves, are only tangentially meshed into a coherent, meaningful whole. Like units in an apartment block, each with its own life, they don't link into the one, transcendent narrative. There's no resonance, or powerful meanings. No vision. No metaphysics. 

I don't want stories. I want a novel.

Oh, Obreht can write alright. No doubt about that. But I'm so sick of reading novels by graduates of creative writing or literature programs. They are, well, so 'writerly'. I couldn't finish The Legacy, a first novel by Australian Kirsten Tranter, for the same reason. After 200 pages I bailed. It was just so annoyingly show-offy and self-indulgent. It badly need a good editor to take an axe to it. (Though it has just made the long-list for this year's Miles Franklin award. So who am I?)

Then this afternoon I went to see the new movie Never Let Me Go, just because British actor Carey Mulligan was in it. I'll see anything with Carey Mulligan in it, because she's just so beautiful - in an intelligent, interesting way. (If you don't know her, get out the DVD of An Education, and you'll see what I mean).

Never Let Me Go is a superb film directed by Mark Momanek, with a screenplay by Alex Garland (The Beach), that absolutely blew me away. Here is meaning, vision, resonance, metaphysics in abundance. It's PROFOUND. I hadn't read the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro so didn't really know what to expect, but it's essentially about young people and their innocence, and how society fences them in, tells lies to them, shatters their illusions, squeezes the life out of them. It has a sci-fi premise, which most dumb reviewers can't get beyond, but that is a scaffold that makes so much sense as an organising principle for the movie's larger meanings.

And it's also a very moving love story. 

Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield are the other two leads, and the wonderful and ageless Charlotte Rampling has a minor part as well.

See this film.

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