intense sensations

Posts Tagged ‘creative writing

The Go-BetweenThe Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most perfect novels ever written. It has many layers and levels, thanks to its brilliant narrative structure of an old man recollecting a tragic love story he witnessed in intense close up as a young boy. It is a rare case of a complex narrative structure actually being necessary for the proper exposition of the plot. For the story is not just about what happened when the narrator was a boy, but how it changed his life as a man and how, towards the end of his life, writing about it changed him again.

It is evocative and sensual like nothing else I’ve read. It makes nostalgia seem religious and sexual desire seem pure.

The damage that is done to the lovers and to Leo, the narrator of the story, is not caused by their sexual feelings but by the constraints that society puts them under.

This is a profound work and reading it is a profound experience.

Amongst other things, it is a story about the power of imaginative writing to transform and heal the writer. This is a subject that interests me deeply.

Sometimes in my fantasies I run courses in creative writing and this is definitely one of the books I would choose to make compulsory reading for my students, for, apart from being a billiant novel, it is one of the best books there is on how to write.

Vanessa Wu has a new story out called Black Silk Blindfold

CandyCandy by Mian Mian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I find it very restful. I do not like books that portray heroin addiction as heroic. The persistent image of the artist as addict is a disservice to art and creativity. Junkies have no imagination. This book is not one of those.

“Honestly, heroin is nothing but glorified shit.”

What makes this book appealing is the author’s use of creative writing as a form of rehab. Her imagination is redemptive. Special praise is due, too, to Andrea Lingenfelter, who has rendered the original Chinese into an English that is beautiful, warm and poetic. I like to immerse myself in it at the end of a stressful day, like sinking into a relaxing bath.

Bless you, also, The Book Depository.

Best New American Voices 2008Best New American Voices 2008 by Richard Bausch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By the end of the third story in this collection, which deals with the long term emotional impact of being sexually molested by an uncle, I was exhausted.

I skipped the fourth story because I didn’t understand the first three paragraphs and came to the fifth story, Quiet Men by Leslie Jamison.

It begins:

“HE was a poet who worked with intricate forms—villanelles and pantoums—but during our month together he spoke quite simply.”

My bookmark got stuck there for a few months, which is a shame, as Quiet Men is a fascinating story.

A lot of the stories from these American creative writing courses seem like they’ve had all the life pressed out of them. The sentences are so smooth and dry that their meaning eludes you. They don’t express any emotion. The emotion is there but it’s buried very deep. Which makes it somehow more literary, I suppose.

Quiet Men, as that first sentence shows, is interested in this tension between what is said and what is felt. It’s written in a very understated way but it’s full of dynamic contradictions. The narrator tells a man she’s just had sex with that she’s not interested in talking about emotions…

“but secretly I wanted him to ask some questions. I wanted to discuss why we wouldn’t talk about our emotions, and what it would mean, and how it would feel.”

The man doesn’t find her attractive and she finds that arousing.

“I liked the thought of him aroused by a woman he found unattractive.”

It’s a very polished story. They’re all very polished stories. I long for something a little bit more raw. When the man rips her bra off and fucks her from behind, I don’t want it to be told to me in a neutral tone through ten layers of polished glass.

But still, Quiet Men is so deeply interesting that it remains interesting in spite of all the polish. The girl, who has had sex with a cruel man as a sort of experiment, turns on him with her own cruel intention:

“After a few nights, I decided to start telling Treat everything he didn’t want to hear. It would be like pressing a bruise to produce a certain, predictable feeling.”

There is a lot of dry humour in this story. She meets a simple minded guy who takes her for a ride in his tow truck and talks in clichés. She tells him it’s nice when people like you. “I was trying to practice saying things that were simple and true,” she writes. Probably because after years of polishing your prose at an American university, it’s a really hard thing to do.

Leslie Jamison has written a novel called The Gin Closet that is probably worth investigating.

I haven’t read the other stories in the collection yet, though. I’m a very slow reader.

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Books by Vanessa Wu

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