Sunday 31 October 2010

A brief study of the Early Modern Emo

The story of how I got to read this book when I did is, for me, much more interesting than the book itself.

Several weeks ago, one of my dearest friends informed me that I must read Robin Cook's Crisis for it was, in her estimation, one of the worst books ever written. Sarah characterized it something like this: "Crisis reads like it was written by a semi-literate mental case, in another language, and then it was translated into English by a machine." I wondered why she finished it? Because, she said, it was so bad, that it made her laugh out loud, in joyous disbelief, multiple times. She pressed it upon me, and I took it, but only after she read aloud some of its choicest passages of pure shittitude and I, too, laughed uproarously.

Well, without Sarah to read this twice-cursed pile of pants aloud to me, it was doomed. But before I even tried to read Crisis, I was imagining stealing Raych's Horrible Dare Challenge idea and turning it into a book club for me and my friends. Sarah and I discussed it, and wondered how we'd be able to find anything as shockingly back as Crisis. Soon after, I picked up a copy of Flowers in the Attic and knew it wouldn't be difficult at all. Behold the first 1.5 paragraphs of Flowers in the Attic, which is a book about child abuse (bad!) and incest (good? Gah!):
It is so appropriate  to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captives by greed. But, we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.

Charles Dickens would often start his novels with the birth of the protagonist and, being a favorite author of both mine and Chris's, I would duplicate his style - if I could. But he was a genius born to write without difficulty while I find every word I put down, I put down with tears, with bitter blood, with sour gall, well mixed and blended with shame and guilt. 
Aaahhh, aaah! The horror of this novel's writing was something I could get behind; its salaciousness, luridness, hideousness, and repetitive use of melodramatic and mixed metaphors could be great good fun. I read it when I was 12, and remember very clearly all the brother-sister make-out sessions. So, in preparation for this future book club of barfiness, I began reading Crisis on the subway one day. I got about 15 pages in when, in pure rage, I got off the subway, tossed the book violently into a trashcan, and went to a nearby shop to find myself something better to read. I picked André Gide's The Immoralist because the writing seemed good, it was short, and the font was large. All good reasons, really.

The Immoralist was immeasurably better to read than either Crisis or Flowers in the Attic. Of course it was. But while both the writing and translating were very, very good, and I could certainly write a very fine undergraduate essay about the narrator's suppressed and racially problematic homoerotic inclinations, I didn't enjoy it much. You see, I'm beginning to detect a trend in the French literature that I'm not pleased with.

The narrators of too many of the books I've already read for the French literature project - and I have at least 20 more planned for!! - are all some version of the same whinging, self-centred little bastard who thinks very intensely about (if not also highly of) himself, but not very much or very nicely of others, particularly women. The main characteristics of what I shall henceforth refer to as the Early Modern Emo are masturbatory navel-gazing, Profound Ennui, a fairly deeply felt but shallowly executed commitment to what is Authentic and Real (ill defined, of course), and careless abuse of those who truly (and inexplicably) care about him. As far as I can tell, the only French author talented enough to make this compelling was Balzac.

Reading about a gold-plated asshole is interesting once, maybe even twice depending on who the author is, but as a literary sub-tradition? Bah, it's tiresome and dulls quickly. When I next delve into the French lit, I clearly need to try something either hilarious or written before the year 1700, ideally both; otherwise, I may kick my self-edumacation in this country's bookish history to the curb.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Man, sounds like you need some Victor Hugo. Or some Jarry - Ubu Ubu Ubu - just full on crazy. Or some Colette - she eats these emo kids alive.

Trapunto said...

That is a good story! I have thrown a book in a trashcan only two times. Both times it felt satisfyingly wicked. One book had a disemboweling in it, so I disemboweled it first.

Did your time as a bookstore proprietor make it easier to send books to the trash?

Bookphilia said...

Amateur Reader: Today is the anniversary of Jarry's death at the tender age of 34! I will look for him - and yes, a return to Colette is definitely in order!

Trapunto: You know, tossing books is easier now that I've been a bookseller, if only because I have a much clearer idea of what's hard to find and what is as ubiquitous as coat hangers. Bad as it was, if Crisis were at all rare, I wouldn't have tossed it. As it was, I felt I couldn't help spread that contagion any further.

Anonymous said...

Try reading 'Assassin's Creed: The Novel'. Yeah, serves me right for even getting that one out of the library. Truly dire. I know what you mean about some of the French novels. I wonder whether novels by female writers would come across as different.

nicole said...

Ha, I was linked just the other day to some list or other on Goodreads of, like, "the 100 worst novels of all time," as voted on by members. Flowers in the Attick was pretty high up and I was all, "Come on, that was the business—bad, but so, so awesome."

Also, I totally feel you on the French lit thing. It's why I've almost totally neglected the area. I'm trying to get past it (obviously helped by a great many of AR's posts).