THE AFTERNOON OF A WRITER by Peter Handke
(Translated by Ralph Manheim, Minerva paperback, 1991)
One of Zadie Smith’s more sobering rules for budding writers was that they should be resigned to “the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied”.
This bleak, but no doubt realistic, viewpoint is one I suspect Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke would also subscribe to.
In ‘The Afternoon Of A Writer’ he presents the scribe’s life as one dogged by self doubt, guilt and constant feelings of inadequacy.
The brief tale follows a nameless man who having spent some time writing “a few lines that had clarified a state of affairs to his satisfaction” goes out for a random stroll around a nameless European city before returning home where he feeds his nameless cat and goes to bed. His life is no bed of roses! Continue reading
The fifth in a series of 13 book reviews from my pre-blogging years.
STEPPENWOLF by Hermann Hesse (1927)
The Steppenwolf of the title is Henry Holler, a tired intellectual living a solitary life in an attic flat in a cosy bourgeois home. He is 50 years old and weary of life to the point of contemplating suicide. The nephew of his landlady observes that “the root of his pessimism was not world contempt but self contempt”.
Holler thinks of himself as a kind of Jekyll & Hyde figure with the wolf in him representing the pleasures of the flesh. Despite his book learning he finds no enjoyment in the spiritual life and finds himself “outside all social circles, beloved by none”.
In this desperate state he meets Hermine who is a member of a Magic Theatre advertised as being ‘For Madmen Only’. She teaches Holler to laugh, dance and enjoy sex without guilt.
Above all, she despises his patronizing attitude to those he regards as uneducated: “You learned people and artists have, no doubt, all sorts of superior things in your heads, but you’re human beings like the rest of us, and we too have our dreams and fancies”.
Through Pablo, who plays in the theatre company’s band, Holler learns that music is not something to be felt with the heart not something to analyse or philosophise over.
The moral of Hesse’s novel can be summed up by the criticism of what he calls the “never-ceasing machinery” of everyday life which can prevent people from being “the critics of their own lives and from recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead”.
What he advocates as an alternative is to “learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest”.
I second that emotion.
A TASTE OF HONEY directed by Tony Richardson (UK, 1961)
Shelagh Delaney’s unsentimental view of procreation puts the hearts and flowers romance of Valentine’s Day into proper perspective : “It’s chaotic – a bit of love, a bit of lust and there you are. We don’t ask for life, we have it thrust upon us”.
Lines like these help explain why A Taste of Honey retains its contemporary edge more than half a century after it was first performed.
London’s National Theatre are about to stage a new version to bring the play’s honest, down to earth characters to a new generation of theatre goers.
No prizes too for guessing why Delaney was such a formative influence on the young Steven Patrick Morrissey.
Labelling A Taste of Honey as a ‘kitchen sink realism’ might lead you expect a mundane and bleak drama. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a play (and movie) that fizzes with energy and humourously challenges popular preconceptions about so-called ‘ordinary’ working class lives in Northern Britain. Continue reading