Monday, 19 July 2010

Bores, Beowulf and the Like

I wrote a precis to Chameleonic not so long ago. My attempt at a Beowulfian (if that isn't a word, it should be) narrative:

“From the frame three faces stared down at him: man, man, woman sketched in sepia, age spotted. His ancestors, who fleeing from the wintered wastes of Tartary across the turbulent seas fell into the arms of pirates when their slim-stemmed boat, battered by a full-bellied wind drank water and sank into the darkness. They followed the sinking ship down, down into the black maw of the sea-mouth. And in the drowning darkness drifted. Then to the sky they turned swimming blindly up, up breaking through the icy sea-skin into the perilous night. Wrapped in the lace embrace of cresting waves they saw the firefly glint of lofted lanterns above the salt-trails. Arms raised like masts they called out to the light-bearers above the tempest’s roar. The skipper’s shout flew up into the icy air and the turning ship cut a combing arc through the tumbling sea. Two nets dipped deep and brought up man, man, woman from the wave-bowels. Man, man, woman lay on the deck dripping frozen beyond feeling. Pirate-men in silvered furs, eyebrows iced, surrounded them and swaddled them in seal skins. The Captain, black-giant frost-beard, pulled woman to her frozen feet and took her to the wooden ship’s warm heart. Gold boars bristled on his cheekpads: gold lions roared upon his fingers and his shadow was as big as a bear’s. He sat her in a rocking chair and from a flat flagon poured fiery fuel to melt her. At length the ice-white face flushed faintly and the ice-cold lips parted. With the first smile the Captain was lost in a love-web, his heart given to her through pulse-beating fingertips: beat, throb, beat. But her heart was given already to the land gods: not for her blue acres seeded with salt, wind-furrowed. Bowel-broken the crucified Captain left man, man, woman on a sea-arm flung into the Channel-mouth. Before them lay green hills crowned with coronals of wheat. A loveliness of larks soared—”

Which brings me on to bores. Because whatever merit this derivative foray into ancient literature may have, it breaks the boredom threshold of the average reader ten words in. In the spirit of trying to be modest, non-precious etc, I'm trying to keep my prose light. Buoyant. My characters winsome and interesting, rather than riddled by the kinds of Kenneth Williams-esque (if you haven't read his autobiography, approach it with the mental equivalent of cleansing wipes: the man was obsessed with his genitalia, which he managed to zip into his fly on a regular basis and then whinge about) problems we all try to escape by diving into the nearest work of literature. That being said, there are plenty of literary bores. Who has EVER finished The Famished Road? Or the Eye Of The Sun? Or War And Peace for that matter, the kind of brickish tome one takes virtuously on holiday and which subtly metamorphoses into a blockbuster with "Spy" in the title a few hours later?
Am also Trying To Be Good and not start scribbling down YET ANOTHER book whose plot has miraculously sprung up in my imagination. ('Wait until you get an advance,' noted The Chap austerely: all very well and good for HIM to say, but when inspiration strikes you can't really pen it behind a metaphorical door to liberate later. Like a hungry child, it needs to be fed and *now*). WWII. Young Russian soldier captured on the Eastern Front and sent to Dachau. Avoids being killed when he is befriended by the crippled wife of a German officer. After liberation, is interrogated as a collaborator back in Moscow. Anyone have a list of good resources whereby I can research what life was like for young Russians in the 30s/40s?

1 comment:

  1. Nikolai Ostrovsky's "How the steel was tempered" -if you can get it.


Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison