Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tomorrow is Today

By the time tomorrow comes it is always today. And seeing as it currently appears to be today, the musicy blog post that I promised 'tomorrow' shall now follow.

Actually, it'll follow after this booky bit. My real excuse for the post not appearing on Thursday was that I spent much of the day proof-reading (not much fun, but agreeably well paid) and then went out (rather more fun, though less well paid). The next day, I didn't much fancy staring at a computer screen - I wandered, I drank coffee, I read. Admittedly, some of what I read was on the computer, but mostly it was Alasdair Gray's The Ends of Our Tethers.

Of his other books, I've only read Unlikely Stories, Mostly, another, though much longer, short stories collection; near unreadable for one large chunk, but beautifully designed, laid-out and illustrated, and in the main imaginative, playful, funny, somehow just a little off-kilter.

The unreadable chunk even seemed quite forgiveable: there was a spirit of experimentation - typographical and otherwise - about it; and it seemed wholly in-keeping with the book and the personality of the writer that some bits might fail and some succeed brilliantly.

You see, there's a sort of unapologetically shambolic and erratic but brilliant spirit that runs through Gray's writing (what I've seen of it), and I assume through him. I kind of like that, and if his experiments sometimes don't quite work out... well, a) it's not like you had no warning, and b) trying something and failing is another story in itself, regardless of the events of the actual narrative itself. I'd much rather read someone with ambition and imagination trying and failing, than someone competently and deliberately keeping within their own disappointing little box, not even occasionally bumping up against its sides, or testing their own limits. That's what being dead's for.

As for The Ends of Our Tethers; overall, I'd say it was a short and irascibly enjoyable read.

Granted, the first story - barely the faintest ring of truth about it, but at least short (read, slight) and a little bit whimsical - set the bar very low for those that followed, and while limbo-dancing beneath it might have been the greater challenge, happily, the remaining twelve cleared it pretty comfortably.

Yes, you couldn't help feeling there was a sense of laziness, and cobbling together about it all: a couple of short shorts being little more than anecdotes of friends; an account of going on an anti-war march that was journalism rather than fiction; even the book itself was less fulsomely illustrated and much more conventionally laid out than normal. But having said that: with each of those borrowed anecdotes Gray had a point to make; the anti-war march piece was in keeping with the other stories, with an author who so often draws on autobiography (or gives that impression), and was suitably seething with indignation; and the book was still somewhat more pleasing to look at than your average paperback.

Admittedly there were a few pages where a character took some delight in fascinatedly cataloguing the different kinds of scabs, crusts, and dry skin that picking at his loss-induced eczema would cause him, and what he did with them, but the rest didn't stray into unreadability (and that bit only if you found The Singing Detective unwatchable). No, all in all, thirteen (well, twelve) more and less entertaining easy reads, depicting various combinations of bafflement: at men, at women, at himself, war, politics, inequality, ageing, and at the world in general.

Flaws?

Of course. Plenty. But I doubt he'll apologise for them. They're part of the fun. And Gray knows it: with a defiant ambiguity I can't help smiling at, the book's even been subtitled 13 Sorry Stories. And the bit at the back describing where the stories come from: Critic Fuel. Two finer bookends for this collection I couldn't imagine.

And in that cheeky spirit of wilful non-apology: actually, I think tomorrow might just be tomorrow after all...

5 comments:

Rob Hopcott said...

What a delightful read ;-)

I think I'm in awe of your intelligence and er, um, now what's that word? Um, the discernment thingy.

(You know, the one meaning perceptive ... ooh, that might be it ... The word I'm looking for, I mean. Er, no ... Not quite the one; still need to think some more ...)

Er, I'd better go. By now, I've probably been deleted for immoderation.

Um, I liked your blog so much that I'll be back ... Er, sorry ...

Um, better think quick now ... How to end? I know!

:-) :-) :-)

patroclus said...

If tomorrow is today, does that mean we've had coffee already?

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

Ah, but by the end of the post tomorrow was tomorrow again. And still no music post... so that must be right, I suppose...

See you tomorrow* :)

*erm, Tuesday, 26/2/08, for the sake of confusion avoidance.

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

Hi Rob,

Um, thank you... very nice of you to say :) Drop by any time. Sometimes there are even new blog posts... Actually, there've been a few lately - I'm trying to trick myself into writing more often and generally being more productive. It's sort of working...

[Clicks on profile link]

God, you've got a lot of blogs! - didn't know quite where to start. I'll have a bit more of a look around sometime soon. Erm, when I'm feeling less deeply ashamed of my hopeless laziness, maybe...

:)

Rob Hopcott said...

Hi Occasional Poster of Comments,

Most people who aren't after intensely themed discussion end up at Cafe Hopcott. It's laid back, friendly and the visitors weird and interesting ... Oh, and it has nice virtual organic cake.