I find writing notes on what I read can clarify my thoughts and it also helps to jog the memory on plots and characters that would otherwise be all too quickly forgotten.
I’ve just stumbled upon a notebook of short handwritten reviews written between 1983-1993 which goes to show that I was blogging even before I had the internet! Rather than simply let them gather dust again, I am turning into a short series of blog posts so this is the first of a baker’s dozen (that’s 13 for all you non-bakers out there!).
DYING, IN OTHER WORDS by Maggie Gee (Harvester Press, 1991)
This is an ambitious novel with death as the obsessive theme.
Characters are introduced and, almost without exception, killed off. Some deaths are violent, some are tragic and many are farcical. The black humour makes the point that the most savage joke of all is death itself.
Because our demise is a certainty and may come at any time Maggie Gee makes the valid observation that there is nothing at all to gain from putting off our ambitions; as she puts it: “saving life is the quickest way to die”.
The characters in the novel include dreamers, murderers and millionaires. Most have dark secrets or fears which are kept hidden so each seems remote from the other.
The biggest fear of all is that after death the person will be forgotten:“And over this death looms another; the death which might come voicelessly, senselessly [..] dying with no words”.
The author’s main influences are undoubtedly Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka. The final section is made up of poems based on the characters in the novel and a series pf excellent short essays denouncing the 9 to 5 routine and bureaucracy with Kafkaesque accuracy.
There the first novel’s classic error of writing for effect when a simpler statement would be more forceful.
Gee has admitted that many details of the girl Moira’s life are autobiographical and said that the fragmented and, at times, incoherent structure of the novel was deliberate. As a self-consciously experimental work, it is not always successful but the author’s honesty shines through.