Blagh! Not only that, blagh-plus! I am not sure about this feeling. On 8 December at around 10 in the morning I finished my new book, Attila’s Angels. For someone who writes weird books he thinks are pretty normal really, this one seems quite weird to me.
This may be a good thing. However, it really really really may not!
It is a departure for me in that it is a ghost story. I enjoyed thinking about, researching and writing these aspects. But there were other aspects I either did not enjoy or felt that I was perhaps treading water despite my desire to move into new territory. Well, such is life. Apparently.
Just now I am reading a serious novelist named Thomas Bernhard, an Austrian of, as Celine put it, the pessimist school. The influence of Celine on his work is obvious, and a Google trawl shows that other readers see this as easily as I do. What is strange is that “serious critics” do not. They compare Bernhard to others, sometimes stretching a very long bow to reach the target but leaving the Frenchman out.
Bernhard has stylistic mannerisms that I find irritating. In the first novel of his I read, Woodcutters, mostly set in a dinner party in Vienna, the narrator – like Celine it seems Bernhard likes first person narrators – keeps remarking that he thought such and such “sitting in the wing chair”. He said this enough times – hundreds – to make me want to go to Vienna, find this piece of furniture, and remove it from reality. In the one I am reading now, The Loser, he says frequently that he thought such and such as in “He should not be so depressed, she said, I thought”. This may be clever but it wears. Really, Thomas, up there in writer heaven, it does!
All the same Bernhard had both writerly and personal courage that evoke Celine in me though the two were on opposite ends when it came to some things if we accept at least a great deal of what their narrators say as their own views. Events in their lives also chime to me.
Both are very shrewd and ferocious to their targets, and can be extremely funny. Woodcutters apparently was banned in Austria when it was first published for the hate crime of making fun of Austrian cultural pretensions.
When I began writing fiction I chose a “sub-literary” form deliberately, not being a great fan of the so-called “bourgeois novel”. People like the literary conceit of the “bourgeois novel”, but I don’t. Writers like Celine and Bernhard didn’t either. That is part of their attraction to me, though other features of their writing also make me drool and when I think I can get away with it, emulate.
“Sub-literature” is nonetheless literature and the best exponents move easily into the realm of the truly great. Shakespeare for example. What! Sub-literary? I can hear the bleats all the way from the green and pleasant land, and elsewhere, but at the time, it was so. Ben Jonson gently mocked his literary merit. But Will also happened to be a genius who could turn his bums-on-seats skills into turns of phrase that echo down the centuries.
Even if you, dear reader, don’t agree with that you might think of detective story writers like Dashiell Hammett (especially) or Raymond Chandler, or even Dame Agatha, all good writers, espionage masters like Len Deighton and John Le Carre, adventure writers like B Traven, another special case. Traven may be the one 20th century great to have escaped notice in that century, despite uneven work. Even so, The Bridge in the Jungle, while flawed, is a masterpiece. The cleverness of the so-called Jungle Novels and Treasure of the Sierra Madre are a treat. .
Where was I? Oh, sub-literature and me, where I have tried to sit for 15 years or so with my “serious purpose in a frivolous genre”. Bernhard and Celine give any would-be writer a glimpse of what is possible, even if we accept that their misanthrophy was real and their cynicism even worse. Bernhard, for example, was so enraged at establishment attempts to capture culture for shall we say inartistic purposes that when he gave an acceptance speech tor a state=sponsored prize he had won, the Minister of Culture and a large section of the audience left the room as his barbs found their targets.
Celine would have applauded.He was extremely mischievous and at one stage during WWII assured a high ranking Nazi that Hitler had been replaced by a Jew.
In his last novel, Celine confidently predicted that “in 200 years I’ll be helping the kids through high school”. He may not have to wait that long. About fifty of those years have passed and parallel text (French on one page, English on the facing page) editions of his work have started to appear. What Bernhard shows is that Celine can continue to inspire.
Meawhile it will be a little while before Attila’s Angels appears on the e-bookshelves ready to be read. I’ll let you know.
Thanks for reading.