intense sensations

Posts Tagged ‘literature

phoenix risingThis month I made an astounding discovery. All those WordPress blogs I’d followed throughout the year hadn’t fallen silent. WordPress had simply changed something so the default setting when I followed them was not to send me any updates by email. So those bloggers had been busy all year and I didn’t know. Instead I have been reading the words of just a few old friends.

Well, old friends are important and I don’t feel deprived. But I think this illustrates how hard it is to use social media when you are, at the same time, trying to write.

You might think I’ve not written much this year. When I look back I see I have published only a few short stories. But I’ve been writing constantly and hardly had time to so much as look on Facebook, which has a different layout and a different set of security features whenever I do.

Even without the handicapping hindrances of social media, the fruits of my work may still not appear next year. My two novels are progressing quite slowly and need quite a bit more loving yet. And it seems to me that it’s not very cost-effective to write novels when they are offered at $0.99 or $2.99. I just can’t seem to make the economics of it work for me, after tax and incidental costs are accounted for.

So it is with breathless admiration that I pick up a well-written book by a contemporary writer and immerse myself in its extraordinary depths. How do writers do it? Aren’t they amazing? Much more intimate than the internet, a novel is like a warm hug from someone you thought was a stranger but who turns out to be someone you have known and loved all your life.

So I have been immersing myself in books this Christmas and in the New Year I’ll be sharing some of them with you.

I was going to tease you with some tantalising titles and some links to titillating blogs. But I think I have over-reached myself and I’m going on too long. In fact, I’m desperate to curl up (and stretch out) with a fabulous Italian novel, that ought to make me want to slash my wrists but instead makes me want to listen to Björk and mop the kitchen floor with ripped up pages of Twilight.

Oh, the joys of Literature with a capital L!

This novel and many more will be reviewed on my blog in 2013. See you then, I hope!

And merry Christmas to all of you!

Kiss, kiss!

Vanessa Wu


JustineJustine by Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book offers an excellent lesson in how to escape censorship but is otherwise rather dull.

For those of you who don’t know, Paypal is currently trying to clean up the internet by refusing to do business with any site that offers for sale works of a lewd and depraved nature (as defined by Paypal.) Justine is one of the dirtiest, most depraved, most wicked books you will ever come across but has nevertheless managed to elude Paypal’s obsessive team of censors by adopting the following ingenious ploys.

1. The author has chosen for a pen-name something that sounds vaguely aristocratic. Americans revere titles. For the Marquis de Sade, they are a matter of contempt (“forged by the impertinence that seeks, and sustained by the credulity that bestows them.”)

2. The novel is disguised as a work of philosophical literature. You can depict any act, no matter how bestial or disgusting, so long as your tale has a scholarly imprint. On the back of my paperback copy of this book the label “Literature” is stamped in the top-left and in the bottom-right corners, where even the most stupid of censors can’t miss it.

3. It is written in French. Most Americans can’t understand French and those who can know that French, being the language of love and having been kept implicitly pure down the centuries by the French Academy appointed for that purpose, permits everything. That said, my scholarly translation was produced in America by American scholars. It is always a good idea to enlist the aid of scholars in editing your work if you can because most of them are sexually repressed and therefore see nearly any kinky fantasy as normal.

4. The author employs circumlocution. Okay, this ruse can backfire but it keeps all but the most intelligent of readers off your back. (And censors, by definition are not intelligent readers.) So, for example, when Justine is stripped naked and softened up prior to being gang-raped by four hardened criminals, the author finds ingenious ways to stimulate the imagination by using language that is deliberately imprecise:

“… as soon as I was as he [one of the gang members] desired me to be, [i.e. naked] having made me crouch down on all fours so that I resembled a beast, Dubois [the female gang leader] took in hand a very monstrous object and led it to the peristyles of first one and then the other of Nature’s altars, and under her guidance the blows it delivered to me here and there were like those of a battering ram thundering at the gates of a besieged town in the olden days.”

This pretty simile, by the way, reminds me of one of my favourite Chinese books, Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu. The title is based on a French proverb:

Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.

There is much more to be said about this extraordinary novel but as it is nearly all of an intellectual and moralistic nature I suspect it will have little interest for my friends, acquaintances and readers, so, with a heavy heart, I will give this book two stars for effort and move on.

'Salem's Lot‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When asked which of his novels he thought would last Stephen King said The Shining, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. The ‘S’ novels.

I think they’ll all last because Stephen King has the knack of getting inside people’s lives and putting them on the page.

Stephen King reminds me a lot of Dickens without being as good. While Dickens can skewer a character in a single phrase, Stephen King recreates them with layer upon layer of trivial details. You might not like his characters but you can see them in your mind’s eye and in that respect they are real.

Another thing Stephen King does well is to vary the rhythm and syntax of his sentences, which means his prose is relatively free from noticeable mannerisms and you can read it for a long time without getting tired. This is the mark of a writer who has read and written a lot. It’s something the reader appreciates only subconsciously. Although his books are long, they are very readable. He doesn’t talk down to his audience. Some of the passages in this books are quite poetic and his vocabulary is very rich. But his sentences are elegantly constructed and the details he notices and presents are very pertinent.

It took me a while to appreciate how deeply literate Stephen King is. I am not a big fan of his but I admire his craftsmanship and I always find his books pleasurable to read. I have been drawn to his books more and more recently, since I have begun to write for publication. I think all writers can learn a lot from him, not so much from his book On Writing as from the novels themselves.

If I were being totally fair, I suppose I should give this 5 stars. But since he is not quite as good as Dickens and this is probably not his best book, I’ll give it only 3. Sorry, SK, but I don’t think you need a leg up from me.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits

Books by Vanessa Wu

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