Friday 14 June 2013

Apes and monkeys

I read Rose Tremain's The way I found her (Vintage 1998) because I wanted something to clear my mind after the upset of reading Appelfeld (see previous post). She seems to me an author who writes well and wouldn't involve my emotions too much.

It is a strange book, a bit lopsided in its structure, but it does keep you turning the pages and it does pack a bit of a wallop towards the end, with a stunning description of two people being kept hostage - a situation she could not possibly have experienced herself. Altogether, the book is a tour de force, as the protagonist is male and an adolescent male to boot. One of the many intertwining elements of the rich story is his sexual awakening. She manages to describe frantic adolescent lust without being off-putting or deriding the boy. Most of the characters' sexuality is a part of the story, as in real life. Not everything is clearly spelled out, and one is required to think things through a bit, something I always enjoy. The boy reads Le Grand Meaulne, and Crime and Punishment, and comments on parallels between the novels and his own life. He worries about plagiarism, there being a novel in the process of being written, in the novel.

I lay in bed last night and reviewed the book in my mind, considering how the play of different elements. I did have the impression that she had toured Paris pen in hand and transferred everything she saw and experienced to the book. Very detailed, sometimes unnecessarily so.

She mentions orang utangs in the beginning, by which the writer in the story means readers without discernment, and later the symbol comes back, with kidnappers wearing monkey masks. (I know, orang utangs are not monkeys, but the apes and monkeys are pretty close in most people's minds.) Some symmetries seemed contrived when I thought more about them, but that only bothered me a little.

The boy's thoughts are fresh and funny: he takes a beautiful dog for walks every day. It's 'like being Arthur Miller out with Marilyn Monroe' - everyone recognises the dog. Yes, I do think that is an older person's comment rather than a young boy's. This happens more than once, for instance when he notices a woman's 'expensive perfume' - the 'expensive' is not the thought of a 13-year old. He is more realistic in his surprise when he finds out that lipstick colours have individual names.

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