This was a surprise. Here’s when reading something because it’s on a list pays off. I wouldn’t have touched this book if it hadn’t been on the 1001 list. Glad I did though.
Cunningham writes one novel every five years. He must take time crafting them. This is original in its inception being an involved narrative of three interwoven lives over 100 years, and he writes with great attention to detail and style, a feature which not everyone appreciates it seems.
Book Haven expected more. Living Juicy, despite being impacted deeply by it, felt it was flowery in places. But it has certainly been made more accessible by the film version which Nick’s Flick Picks describes as having “darkened the book considerably.” This, I feel, can only be a good thing. Cunningham didn’t intend this to be light reading in the first place. All of these and more (i.e. Grumpy Old Bookman) consider Cunningham’s style to be a bit forced in places too. I’d agree with this.
And why is a book where every character considers homosexual relationships any less skewed than the whole literary tradition that shuns them? Is Cunningham saying it’s an alternative or the alternative? Beats me! But I’m not going to harp on about that. It’s not the point of the novel and therefore seems pointlessly overdone by him.
I’d describe it as haunting. Cunningham invests even the characters’ simple acts with a significance that belies them. As he does so, he seems to be asking questions about just how insignificant our daily lives really are. I won’t elaborate the plot, which Fringe describes far better than I could in any case. Rather, I’d like to comment on a section at the close of the book.
We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep – it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows… more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably followed by others, far darker and more difficult.
I disagree quite strongly with this on a couple of points. Firstly, I don’t believe that anything we do is either simple or ordinary. I can’t help but think that Cunningham is a bit schizophrenic here. Take the purchase of some roses for example. Seems simple and ordinary but throughout the novel, but the roses resonate with symbology at the same time. Ironically, none of the characters catch this at all.
And then consider what Cunningham calls “consolation.” This, in his estimation, add up to an hour of value here or there in the 648,000 or so hours that I have on this planet. Now, that can hardly be called consolation. That’s enough to make the average person downright depressed.
Someone asked me the other day what my two happiest moments had been so far in life. Now I was fascinated by two things as I attempted to answer their question. Firstly, that they asked me for more than one moment, and secondly, that I found it so so hard to choose between so many moments that I’ve had. I’ve a feeling that Cunningham is a man for whom daily life is a bit of a mundane chore perhaps.
In the post-modern, post-nihilist world, we scramble for meaning for our “simple or ordinary” lives. But the Good News is that everything we do, everything we are, can count as profound and sublime. You can hear this philosophy in the writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one who recognised the value of the simple, ordinary things we do and changed lives with it.
So, while Cunningham writes a well-crafted novel, there is little hope for the suffering characters he creates and consequently little hope that anyone involved in real-life suffering will get from this novel. “You had your moment a decade ago,” he seems to say. “Now just sit back and suffer the pointless ride to death.” Well, your life isn’t pointless. It’s profound. So there.
She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather.
Dead, we are revealed in our true dimensions, and they are surprisingly modest.
“Come in, Mrs Brown,” she says. “Everything’s ready.”
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good> excellent > superb