Lerner, Haushofer and the Grumpy Publisher

The weather on Sunday was atrocious, so I spent the day reading. My early enthusiasm for Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station waned just past the halfway mark, and died all together after a truly awful recreation of the 2004 Madrid bombings, during which the solipsistic narrator wandered around using it as a handy backdrop for his increasingly turgid musings. Disappointingly, the publisher of Leaving the Atocha Station, a Twitter follower who favourited my first tweet promptly un-followed me after the second.

Though tempted to take Beckett’s next edition of letters from my shelf, I resisted and opened up Marlen Haushofer’s The Loft. I think I discovered Haushofer via flowerville, and plan to read The Wall, supposedly the Austrian writer’s magum opus: “The Wall is an existentialist masterpiece that can offer profound consolation as well as the ultimate lesson in loss”. My reaction was the reverse of reading Lerner’s début. Initially I wasn’t at all sure and read fifty pages before going to sleep. I awoke thinking about the characters, drawn to their passage through the book’s pages, and am now thoroughly engrossed, such a gently powerful story. Now to another fifty pages.

10 thoughts on “Lerner, Haushofer and the Grumpy Publisher

  1. hi anthony,
    thanks for linking past & present.
    had the same feeling, initially, when i read her, first not at all sure and then got drawn in.
    they made a movie of the wall, but haven’t seen yet.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wall_%282012_film%29

    since you always fly around all the world and i am new to flying (excitement) i need to ask you a question – vital question actually. are you allowed a fountainpen on board or is it regarded as dangerous?

    • You’ll be allowed a fountain pen on the aircraft but I never fly with them because the effects can be unpredictable, leaking, and the consequences irritating. Fly for pleasure? May I ask where to?

  2. I liked Leaving the Atocha Station quite a lot (there’s a review at my blog), I saw the whole thing as metaphorically representing some of the problems of poetry.

    The Atocha Station bit didn’t particularly bother me since I think that is how most of us experience these events, even if we witness them. They become backdrop to our own solipsistic narratives. Few lives are changed by most life changing events.

    Bit lame on the publisher’s part though.

    The hype was a barrier to the book. It’s one reason I often prefer reading things in paperback, leaving aside the sheer bulk issue it does mean one’s reading it after the initial hubbub has calmed down a bit.

    • I know many people enjoyed Leaving the Atocha Station. I take your point about how we perceive events, but I am not sure these events, however insidiously, can avoid changing our lives. I thought there was some interesting stuff in the book about language, perception and how we invest poetry with meaning. Otherwise, this book felt insular, inserting the disaster trivialised a horrific event for little narrative effect, beyond emphasising the books triteness and insularity.

      • I see your point. I think perhaps I’m more sceptical about how much anything changes peoples lives. Actually living through a near-death encounter, perhaps, but merely witnessing one? In what way are lives different after than before? People may say, may think, that their lives are changed but do they actually alter how they live in consequence?

        Perhaps another way of putting it is that I think the truth of most lives is both trite and insular, and unavoidably so. That said, I agree that it can be deeply problematic to use tragedy in fiction as mere backdrop (or indeed as foreground). One risks bathos, or borrowed profundity not earned by the actual text.

        • I couldn’t agree more that lives (these days or always?) are both trite and mostly insular.

          I am not sure people always understand just how much the things they see and experience change their lives in a myriad of small ways. I’m no great disciple of neuroscience but small events do apparently affect the plasticity of our brain. Psychological disorder, of the type caused by even minor events, is known as a major risk factor for psychiatric disorders. Fifty percent of people (if not higher) in the west will be treated at some point in their life for a psychiatric disorder. Who can be sure which events are contributing?

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