Sunday, 24 April 2016

Book review: On Being Blue, William H Gass, 1975

Towards the end of On Being Blue, Gass talks about the ability of literature to let us see inside another's head. He's clearly enamored of the idea, as OBB reads like the unexpurgated laying down of a stream of consciousness - and not just any consciousness, but rather one caught up in a dream or fever state. It's messy. It's as poetic as it is incoherent. As insightful as it is baffling.

It's like five short essays jumbled together and broken apart like torn leaves in a tossed salad, where for a couple of mouthfuls you're enjoying chicory, and then suddenly you're eating red chard. And then what's with the orange segments? Or like if wave foam momentarily resembled something, and then almost instantly became something else.

Which could be great, if there was substance to the shambles if not method to the madness. But having read 90-odd pages I've gained ... what? The knowledge that sex is difficult to write about? That philosophy can be unsatisfying?

Gass also says "you might expect writers to love their words, although the truth is that writers usually love whatever their words represent", and I didn't get the impression this was a criticism, but with Gass you suspect the opposite is true, and that words - like colours in a painting - are selected based on how they work together to convey not so much meaning but more sensation, like a drop of hot wax on a nipple is all the more intense when it comes after the frigid tracing of an ice cube.

Which would be fine over 90 lines, but it's less appealing over 90 pages.

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