Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reading: SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq

Submission is about an academic-intellectual's conversion to Islam, It's also about the end of a brilliant intellectual life devoted to research the life and works of J.K.Huysman, the French novelist.

The setting is the new imaginary France under Islamic rule. The professor- an atheist -  loses his job in the university, but he's given a grand compensation as pension, and materially at least he has no worries for now or the future. Soon he is trapped by an intellectual whore of the new regime, who offers him the post of a departmental head in a newly founded Islamic university. But on a condition: he has to convert to Islam.

As it happens, he faces a lot of conflicts around this time.  Just in his forties, a bachelor, and with a vibrant sex life, he used to choose his partners from his students in the class. Now he has to collect his women from dating sites. 

In his analysis of Islam vis-a-vis Christianity or Buddhism, he doesn't find anything different or new about it, but he's curious about polygamy permitted by the religion. His new mentor suggests him he could have as many as three wives along with a fat salary in his new position.

The professor has submission at last, fully aware that his dear intellectual life with his special fascination for Huysman is now over.

Written in the first person, Michel Houellbecq's "Submission" is apparently a simple story, but a fine and discreet critique of Islam in the new order of world politics. It's also a masterly narrative about the academic environment and intellectuals not only of France, but the world over.

It's an honest and original work. I liked it. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Man Booker Prize 2017

So the Man Booker Prize goes to another American writer this year: George Saunders. Last year it was Paul Beatty. Tow Americans in a row.

No doubt the Man Booker is now US-cenrtic. And there will be  less and less chance for any non-American writer to get it now.  Forget the days when Arundhati Roy, then a first-time author based in India, won it. 

But George is a brilliant short-story writer. And he treats writing very seriously. He has a humanitarian world-view, and pens his characters with insight and empathy. But what I like about him is his thoughts about fiction writing.  Try to read any of his interviews.            

 Lincoln in the Bardo is his first novel. I ought to be interested in it, but it deals with death and has a narrative in which more than one hundred ghosts deliver their insight and wisdom around it. It seems so weird to me, and frankly, I can't bring myself to like it. I don't think I'll ever read it.

But our Booker judges liked it. May be ghosts are a new thing after the vampire that has ruled the American publishing scene for far too long.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 goes to Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is a British writer - a traditional novelist with some  popular appeal. A Japanese who migrated to UK when he was just five, and subsequently raised in England.. Has an oeuvre of seven/eight novels, wrote just one novel in last 10 years. Interestingly, he's a school-trained writer( has an MA which is equivalent to MFA), and probably the first one to have received the Nobel Prize. 

He was not on Ladbrokes or any betting site. The SA's picking of him has surprised a lot of people simply because he happens to be a writer that no one was talking about and even betting on.

He is best known for his novel "Remains of the Day" which was also filmed.

The same novel - that still sits in my shelf- I tried to read some years ago.  I remember I had put it down halfway through. It seemed so dull and austere to me. He was obviously not my kind of writer.

Ishiguro is, to my mind, not that influential or important in the way  Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood is. But he is lucky to have a godfather in Kenzaburo Oe, the Nobel Laureate, who has been recommending him for more than a decade. His cross-cultural background and apolitical stand in these turbulent times seems to have helped him.

He is of course, a safe choice after last year's controversial  Bob Dylan.

But Salman Rushdie and Haruki Murakami might have to eventually suffer because of this selection. Rushdie is not going to win the Nobel Prize in next four tears, and for Murakami, the original Japanese writer, there is really no hope for the Prize at all.

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