Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

Deja Dead image

[Published 1998 by Random House UK. First published 1997]

Here in South Africa, we are a little behind when it comes to TV series. Years ago, I watched the first season of ‘Bones’ on a local channel and loved it, so I was enormously excited when I saw that it was scheduled on Fox. We are now on season 3 and I am fused to the couch at 7.30 every night to watch it.

I recently found out that the characters are based on Temperance Brennan from the books by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful when I went to look for it at our local library (which doesn’t stock much of what I would like to read), but there they were – the series of books – waiting for me to read.

‘Deja Dead’ maps Tempe Brennan as she moves from crime scene to the lab (and, most times, on to conduct her own investigations) trying to find a serial killer from the remains of his brutally-attacked victims. As the investigation becomes personal, the intensity is heightened as it becomes a race against the clock to catch the criminal before he kills again.

This book has all of the ingredients for a thrilling crime novel and I couldn’t get to the end of one chapter without carrying on to the next – needing the story to unfold and for the killer to be revealed to calm my thumping heart. On top of the traditional elements of a crime novel, we are given insight into the intricacies of forensic anthropology and how the most telling clues are often marked upon the body, needing to be decoded by someone with the expertise to understand the natural and unnatural effects of life on our bones. It is dark, it is disturbing, it is the things that happen in society we would probably prefer to ignore, but it captures our imaginations nonetheless.

 

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When we Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

When we were Orphans image

 

[Published 2001 by Faber & Faber; first published 2000]

 

I like to think that ‘When we were Orphans’ gives readers an idea of what ‘Never Let me Go’ and ‘The Remains of the Day’ must be like. If the quick pace and allure of style in this book is anything to go by, I can’t wait to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s other works.

 

Christopher Banks is the son of a businessman in Shanghai whose company is involved in the controversial opium trade. When his parents disappear, he is sent to England to live with his aunt and never lets go of his childhood aspiration to become a detective (undoubtedly somewhat fuelled by the desire to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his parents) and he makes a name for himself amongst the British elite for his abilities to do justice in the face of evil.

 

Set in the pre-WWII years, his drive to root out evil in a world still shattered by the First World War is widely revered, and one cannot escape an immense sense of hope, optimism, and humanity at his return to Shanghai to finally investigate the fate of his parents. Christopher’s memories mingle as clues in the greatest mystery of his career and life. In the course of exploring these memories, the multicultural, international community of pre-war Shanghai is revealed, which sheds light on how fractured society could be and how identity in a conventional sense can be lost as a result of colonialism. Where does Christopher belong?

 

This story is about persevering in an evil world, making a difference (if only in your own life), and the legacy left by a personal trauma. As the plot unfolds, we bear witness to a story where the pursuit of truth is paramount – one that is shocking, moving, and holds relevance even if transposed in today’s context.

Tropic of Capricorn quotes

Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos. From the beginning it was never anything but chaos: it was a fluid which enveloped me, which I breathed through the gills. In the sub-strata, where the moon shone steady and opaque, it was smooth and fecundating; above it was a jangle and a discord. In everything I quickly saw the opposite, the contradiction, and between the real and the unreal the irony, the paradox. I was my own worst enemy. There was nothing I wished to do which I could just as well not do. Even as a child, when I lacked for nothing, I wanted to die. I wanted to surrender because I saw no sense in struggling. I felt that nothing would be proved, substantiated, added or subtracted by continuing an existence I had not asked for. Everybody around me was a failure, or if not a failure ridiculous. Especially the successful ones. The successful ones bored me to tears. I was sympathetic to a fault, but it was not sympathy that made me so. It was a purely negative quality, a weakness which blossomed at the mere sight of the human misery. I never helped anyone expecting that it would do any good; I helped because it was helpless to do otherwise. To want to change the condition o affairs seemed futile to me; nothing would be altered, I was convinced, except by a change of heart, and who could change the hearts of men? 9

 

From the very beginning I was independent, in a false way. I had need of nobody because I wanted to be free, free to do and give only as my whims dictated. 10

 

Everything was for tomorrow, but tomorrow never came. The present was only a bridge and on this bridge they are still groaning, as the world groans, and not one idiot thinks of blowing up the bridge. 11

 

For there is only one great adventure and that is inwards towards the self, and for that, time nor space nor even deeds matter. 11

 

Everything that happens, when it has significance, is in the nature of a contradiction. Until the one for whom this is written came along I imagined that somewhere outside, in life, as they say, lay the solutions to all things. I thought, when I came upon her, that I was seizing hold of life, seizing hold of something which I could bite into. Instead I lost hold of life completely. I reached out for something to attach myself to – and I found nothing. But in reaching out, in the effort to grasp, to attach myself, left high and dry as I was, I nevertheless found something I had not looked for – myself. I found that what I had desired all my life was not to live – if what others are doing is called living – but to express myself. I realised that I had never the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it. What is true interests me scarcely at all, nor even what is real; only that interests me which I imagine to be, that which I had stifled every day in order to live. Whether I die today or tomorrow is of no importance to me, never has been, but that today even, after the years of effort, I cannot say what I think and feel – that bothers me, that rankles. From childhood on I can see myself on the track of this spectre, enjoying nothing, desiring nothing but this power, this ability. Everything else is a lie – everything I ever did or said which did not bear upon this. And that is pretty much the greater part of my life. 13

 

I sat riveted to my desk and I travelled around the world at lightning speed, and I learned that everywhere it is the same – hunger, humiliation, ignorance, vice, greed, extortion, chicanery, torture, despotism: the inhumanity of man to man: the fetters, the harness, the halter, the bridle, the whip, the spurs. The finer the calibre the worse off the man. 30

 

To get beneath the facts I would have had to be an artist, and one doesn’t become an artist overnight. First you have to be crushed, to have your conflicting points of view annihilated. You have to be wiped out as a human being in order to be born again an individual. You have to be carbonised and mineralised in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the self. You have to get beyond pity in order to feel from the roots of your being. One can’t make a new heaven and earth with “facts”. There are no “facts” – there is only the fact that man, every man everywhere in the world, is on his way to ordination. Some men take the long route and some take the short route. Every man is working out his destiny in his own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous and patient. 33

 

I relate these incidents briefly and hurriedly as they flash through my mind; my memory is packed with thousands of such details, with a myriad faces, gestures, tales, confessions all entwined and interlaced like the stupendous reeling facade of some Hindu temple made not of stone but of the experience of human flesh, a monstrous dream edifice built entirely of reality and yet not reality itself but merely the vessel in which the mystery of the human being is contained. 37

 

What I had begun, in brief, was a book of hours, of the tedium and monotony of my life in the midst of a ferocious activity. 46

 

[…] anyway each time I passed on high I was truly alone, and whenever that happened the book commenced to write itself, screaming the things which I never breathed, the thoughts I never uttered, the conversations I never held, the hopes, the dreams, the delusions I never admitted. 47

 

In the beginning was the Word. Whatever this was, the Word, disease or creation, it was still running rampant; it would run on and on, outstrip time and space, outlast the angels, unseat God, unhook the universe. Any word contained all words – for him who had become detached through love or sorrow or whatever the cause. In every word the current ran back to the beginning which was lost and which would never be found again since there was neither beginning nor end but only that which expressed itself in beginning and end. 49-50

 

[…] for not to belong to something enduring is the last agony. 52

 

Every day of my life, my tiny, microcosmic life, was a reflection of the outer chaos. 65

 

I wanted to be alone for a thousand years in order to reflect on what I had seen and heard – and in order to forget. I wanted something of the earth which was not of man’s doing, something absolutely divorced from the human of which I was surfeited. I wanted something purely terrestrial and absolutely divested of idea. I wanted to feel the blood running back into my veins, even at the cost of annihilation. I wanted to shake the stone and the light out of my system. I wanted the dark fecundity of nature, the deep well of the womb, silence, or else the lapping of the black waters of death. I wanted to be that night which the remorseless eye illuminated, a night diapered with stars and trailing comets. To be of night, so frighteningly silent, so utterly incomprehensible and eloquent at the same time. never more to speak or to listen or to think. To be englobed and encompassed and to encompass and to englobe at the same time. No more pity, no more tenderness. To be human only terrestrially, like a plant or a worm or a brook. To be decomposed, divested of light and stone, variable as the molecule, durable as the atom, heartless as the earth itself. 70-71

 

And this in the black frenzied nothingness of the hollow of absence leaves a gloomy feeling of saturated despondency not unlike the topmost tip of desperation which is only the gay juvenile maggot of death’s exquisite rupture with life. From this inverted cone of ecstasy life will rise again into prosaic skyscraper eminence, dragging me by the hair and teeth, lousy with howling empty joy, the animated foetus of the unborn death maggot lying in wait for rot and putrefaction. 99

 

Again the night, the incalculably barren, cold, mechanical night of New York in which there is no peace, no refuge, no intimacy. The immense, frozen solitude of the million-footed mob, the cold, waste fire of the electrical display, the overwhelming meaningless of the perfection of the female who through perfection has crossed the frontier of sex and gone into the minus sign, gone into the red, like the electricity, like the neutral energy of the males, like planets without aspect, like peace programmes, like love over the radio. To have money in the pocket in the midst of white, neutral energy, to walk meaningless and unfecundated through the bright glitter of the calcimined streets, to think aloud in full solitude on the edge of madness, to be of a city, a world of dead stone, of waste light, of unintelligible motion, of imponderables and incalculable, of the secret perfection of all that is minus. To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?

Again the dance hall, the money rhythm, the love that comes over the radio, the impersonal, wingless touch of the crowd. A despair that reaches down to the very soles of the boots, and ennui, a desperation. In the midst of the highest mechanical perfection to dance without joy, to be so desperately alone, to be almost inhuman because you are human. If there were life on the moon what more nearly perfect, joyless evidence of it could be there than this. If to travel away from the sun is to reach the chill idiocy of the moon, then we have arrived at our goal and life is but the cold, lunar incandescence of the sun. This is the dance of ice-cold life in the hollow of an atom, and the more we dance the colder it gets. 108-109

 

I have gained nothing by the enlargement of my world: on the contrary, I have lost. I want to become more and more childish and to pass beyond childhood in the opposite direction. I want to go exactly contrary to the normal line of development, pass into a super-infantile realm of being which will be absolutely crazy and chaotic as the world about me. I have been an adult and a father and a responsible member of society. I have earned my daily bread. I have adapted myself to a world which was never mine. I want to break through this enlarged world and stand again on the frontier of an unknown world which will throw this pale, unilateral world into shadow. I want to pass the beyond the responsibility of fatherhood to the irresponsibility of the anarchic man who cannot be coerced nor wheedled nor cajoled nor bribed nor traduced. I want to take as my guide Oberon the night-rider who, under the spread of his black wings, eliminates both beauty and the horror of the past: I want to flee towards a perpetual dawn with a swiftness and relentlessness that leaves no room for remorse, regret, or repentance. I want to outstrip the inventive man who is a curse to an earth in order to stand once again before an impassable deep which not even the strongest wings will enable me to traverse. Even if I must become a wild and natural park inhabited only by idle dreamers I must not stop to rest here in the ordered fatuity of responsible, adult life. I must do this in remembrance of a life beyond all comparison with the life which was promised me, in remembrance of the life of a child who was strangled and stifled by the mutual consent of those who had surrendered. 131-132

 

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood. 159

 

People think that vacuity is nothingness, but it is not so. Vacuity is a discordant fullness, a crowded ghostly world in which the soul goes reconnoitring. 179

 

Through war a town may be reduced to ashes and the entire population wiped out, but what springs up again resembles the old. Death is fecundating, for the soil as well as for the spirit. In America the destruction is completely annihilating. There is no rebirth only a cancerous growth, layer upon layer of new, poisonous tissue, each one uglier than the previous one. 197

 

[…]  if I had preserved only the memory of one word, creative, it is quite sufficient. This word was my talisman. With it I was able to defy the whole […] 199

 

There are times when one must break with one’s friends in order to understand the meaning of friendship. 199

 

I have never found such a man! I have never found a man as generous as myself, as forgiving, as tolerant, as carefree, as reckless, as clean at heart. I forgive myself for every crime I have committed. I do it in the name of humanity. I know what it means to be human, the weakness and the strength of it. I suffer from this knowledge and I revel in it also. If I had the chance to be a star I would reject it. The most wonderful opportunity which life offers is to be human. It embraces the whole universe. It includes the knowledge of death, which not even God enjoys. 208

 

The man who is reborn is always the same man, more and more himself with each rebirth. 209

 

Thus we walked and slept and ate together, the Siamese twins whom Love had joined and whom death alone would separate. 211

 

It was just about this time that the Dadaists were in full swing, to be followed shortly by the Surrealists. I never heard of either group until some ten years later; I never read a French book and I never had a French idea. I was perhaps the unique Dadaist in America, and I didn’t know it. I might just as well have been living in the jungles of the Amazon for all the contact I had with the outside world. Nobody understood what I was writing about or why I wrote that way. I was so lucid they said I was daffy […] I had to write English, naturally, but between my language and the telegraphic code employed by my bosom friends there was a world of difference. Any primitive man would have understood me: only those about me, that is to say, a continent of a hundred million people, failed to understand my language. To write intelligibly for them I would have been obliged first of all to kill something, secondly, to arrest time. I had just made the realisation that life is indestructible and that there is no such thing as time, only the present. Did they expect me to deny a truth which it had taken me all my life to try and catch a glimpse of? They most certainly did. The one thing they did not want to hear about was that life was indestructible. Was their precious new world reared on the destruction of the innocent, on rape and plunder and torture and devastation? 260-261

 

The dissatisfaction which drives one from one word to another, one creation to another, is simply a protest against the futility of postponement. 291

 

The goodness of man stinks more than the evil which is in him, for the goodness is not yet acknowledged, not an affirmation of the conscious self. 292

 

Life stretches out from moment to moment in stupendous infinitude. Nothing can be more real than what you suppose it to be. Whatever you think the cosmos to be it is and it could not possibly be anything else as long as you are you and I am I. You live in the fruits of your action and your action is the harvest of your thought. Thought and action are one, because swimming in it you are in it and of it, and it is everything you desire it to be, no more, no less. Every stroke counts for eternity. The heating and cooling system is one system, and Cancer is separated from Capricorn only by an imaginary line… You are fixed in a reality which permits the thought that nothing is fixed, that even the happiest and mightiest rick will one day be utterly dissolved and fluid from the ocean from which it was born. 301-302

Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller

Tropic of Capricorn image

[First published 1938]

A few months ago, I read  ‘Tropic of Cancer’ as one of the nominated top 100 books of all time and I loved it. With the text somewhat fresh in my mind, I decided to read ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ in an effort to get the full picture. I found the book dominating and difficult to read, which doesn’t mean it isn’t pure genius (something that makes it very hard to write a review). As a man who is vilified by readers, I can only hope that my reviews can compel people to give his books a chance.

Set in New York, ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ covers an earlier part of Miller’s life, yet it was written four years after ‘Tropic of Cancer’. The result is a sense of completeness in Miller’s memoirs – a picture of a young Miller that is written with greater maturity and clarity than in the first book. In his quest for the self, we are given an idea of the motivation for travelling backwards in his memoirs – his journey was incomplete and it is through the fluidity of time that he is able to better understand himself.

I really battled to read this book, but I am so glad I persevered to the end. In typical Miller style, he revealed himself to be more human, more pensive, more able in his ability to reveal hope and joy from the depths of human misery than most of us. By the end of the book, I found myself completely endeared to this man with a foul mouth and, at times, a foul mind. For the most part, I may not agree with him but I certainly respect him. He displays a friction against the world and the way things are. Miller is almost ill-placed in America and in this world and is condemnatory in his immersion into it. His outlook maybe warped at times, but he has his virtues. It is through these waves of contradiction that the reader is left wondering if he has a way of seeing life that is more wise than corrupt, as an ideology is uncovered that is simple and grating.

As a budding young writer, hell bent on expression and creation before most other things, his progress is stifled by the system and an oppressive society. The land of plenty is dispelled and we realise that within Henry Miller is a man with deep-seated anger and hatred. This place he should have considered home created this man with these venomous emotions, yet was instrumental in the pursuit of his destiny. He is a misfit in society with a social conscience he finds it easier to deny.

‘Tropic of Capricorn,’ like its prequel, gives a sense of the surreal. It questions what constitutes art. It is as objectionable as the paintings and sculptures of the time – to be different is to be ‘un-American’ but it also means you are ‘ineradicable’. Miller establishes himself as a pariah, and yet he is relatable in many respects. The torment of the artistic process humanises him and exposes him as deeply, darkly philosophical as he fights for self-determination, for a deeper understanding of life and death, and for meaning and a sense of self in a cruel world.

I don’t know when, but I hope I read this book again. I believe it will be a work that will be better understood over time. In the meantime, it is a seed wedged into my brain as I grapple with its detail. The writing is almost hallucinogenic at times with a rich use of metaphor and imagery that is poetic. He describes the city and love in a way I don’t believe it has ever been (nor will ever be again). Because that is what this book is – it is an expression of anger, hurt, and disillusionment as a result of a broken heart; a loss of love that has an all-encompassing effect on life and ideology.

A Life with Books by Julian Barnes

A Life With Books image

 

[Published 2012 by Jonathan Cape]

 

For book lovers, and especially those who are fans of Julian Barnes, this charming little pamphlet is his passion put into words.

 

Short enough to be an essay on the topic, ‘A Life with Books’ is Barnes’s personal journey and exploration of his love of books. Bound into a miniature book, it is quick enough to read in under an hour. During this reprieve, readers will be moved and amused as we can all relate to his maturation, changes, and epiphanies that come with a lifetime of reading.

 

‘A Life with Books’ is a dedication to these carefully-written, bound, and sold items that enrich so many lives – they embolden us, educate us, temper us. Yet it is also a very personal glimpse into the author’s feelings; feelings that have developed throughout a lifetime of reading and writing.