Confession Time

June 10, 2009 at 1:34 am (Uncategorized)

I’m feeling frightfully smug because I managed to persuade Llew, someone who doesn’t read fiction, to read Ransom.  David Malouf’s latest, already mentioned here in an earlier post, is a very poetic reworking of a key event in Homer’s Iliad, and I was sure, I was absolutely positive, that Llew would love it. And I was right. I can’t properly convey the joy of seeing a good book into initially resistant and finally appreciative hands, but I’ll tell you, it’s a good feeling. Looking at Llew sitting up in bed reading, unable to put Malouf’s book down, filled me with a great mix of emotions, but one of them undoubtedly was glee. 

I was feeling far less gleeful about my own reading, having just finished Truman Capote’s true crime classic In Cold Blood. I always feel I should read as many of these seminal texts as possible, but I should not read books like this. It’s just bad for my head. Capote masterfully brings the reader into the world and mind of each of the two killers, but you know, they’re spaces I have no wish to inhabit. I can’t help it, I get too involved, and before I know it, I can’t sleep for thinking about these two men. I should point out this same thing happened to Llew when he read one of the only other novels I’ve known him to read in our nearly thirteen years together: Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fiction classic explores the mind of a pathologically self-centred murderer, Raskolnikov, so Crime and Punishment actually has quite a bit in common with Capote’s book, since neither Perry Smith nor Dick Hickock can get over themselves long enough to ever think about another living soul. It’s why they’re so chilling. It’s why I couldn’t sleep thinking about them, and why Llew couldn’t sleep years and years ago thinking about Raskolnikov. Because you can’t help it. These books – one fiction, the other sadly not – are so good you start seeing things from the killer’s point of view. However reluctant your approach, inevitably you reach something close to understanding, and that undeniable knowledge, the awful truth of what lurks within the heart of humanity, is truly horrifying. 

It’s kind of spooked me. 

So now I’ve fled into the relative safety of Ulysses, which I started rereading a while ago with a view to experiencing it without the thesis taint hanging in the air. I thought that whole doctoral-hell-when-will-it-end-please-make-it-stop thing really soiled it for me first time round. But what I’ve discovered and am slightly embarrassed to confess is that it wasn’t relating Ulysses to the work of Don DeLillo that was hard after all, it was Ulysses itself.

Man. May I be frank? I think it’s an unremitting slog! Yes, yes, the best novel every written – and it is unbelievably erudite, a real tour de force of intellectual agility, no question – yes, yes, I worship at the temple as faithfully as any reader/writer, but sheesh! Talk about applying myself – it really feels like work – hard work at that. Is it bad admitting that? It feels bad. It feels sacrilegious. But it’s true. I feel tired just thinking about it. And now I’ve started actively avoiding it. Oops, I left my book at home! Oh no, it’s in the other room, and I’m just so toasty and warm in bed! Drat, I could’ve sworn I had it with me! It’s terrible. Shocking. The book knows I’m fibbing, too. It has a very stern, reproachful air whenever I dart past. Back soon! I cry. Liar, it hisses.  

Of course, this all makes me feel like the biggest lightweight in history. But my guilty secret is a secret no longer. Now you know. I’m the sort of person who runs away from James Joyce like he’s chasing me.



  1. Simonne said,

    He he he! How wonderful for me to read this! I’ve tried Ulysses and failed, and boy, do I feel a bit better now!
    I too, love it, love it, love it when you give a favourite book to someone and they end up loving it too. I made my entire family read The Poisonwood Bible and they all really enjoyed it 🙂
    (Your writing is wonderfully entertaining, Di – can’t wait to read your book!)

  2. doctordi said,

    The Poisonwood Bible, eh? Thanks, Simonne, I’ll add that to my ever-growing list! And I’m so relieved to know I am not the only one who’s struggled with The Best Novel of All Time, or whatever the hell they’re always calling it. I’m determined to persevere. Much like my writing career, all I can do is put my head down and press on…

    (thank you very much! But don’t hold your breath on that front, I fear you’ll grow faint.)

  3. Simonne said,

    Yep, it’s such a great read – draws you right in, and the voices of the girls are so beautifully crafted.
    I’m with ya, girlfriend, in the persevering stakes. Sigh! Maybe we can swap manuscripts one day and read ’em that way! (Not that they won’t get published, they WILL… but mine won’t be for some time yet I fear!)

  4. doctordi said,

    That’s a great idea, I love manuscript swaps! I’m a big fan of the two-way exchange. I’ve leapt, really shamelessly, on a foolhardy offer to read it by someone who shall remain nameless – lest other people read this and start bombarding her – but after I’ve digested whatever feedback comes out of that, let’s revisit this. You’ll probably get picked up in the meantime, but that’s fine with me – I’ll buy your book then instead!

    • Simonne said,

      Oo sounds exciting! I promise I won’t be picked up – I’m about to do a major overhaul, remember?! Sigh!

  5. Jenny said,

    The Poisonwood Bible is too grim for me but i enjoyed it unti near the end. I hated Ulysses and always felt that it was a case of nobody admitting that the emperor has no clothes. But i’m no intellectual.

  6. doctordi said,

    Oh honey, who is?! Where do they hide, these Ulysses-loving intellectuals?! Actually, I had one in the office next door at UNSW… he won the University Medal for his PhD, a Derridian interpretation of Ulysses… just a little light reading. He was clearly someone in the right job… whereas I just had to get out of there toot sweet.

  7. Lilian Nattel said,

    I haven’t read Ulysses and I don’t intend to until, maybe, I’m old and have nothing else on my list to read. (Ha!) When I’m old I intend to go back to school, so I suspect my reading list will be overly full. As for In Cold Blood–my sympathies. The movies about Capote were haunting enough.

  8. Grad said,

    Okay, I’m full-blown with you on this post! I’ve never been able to come close to reading In Cold Blood. I remember the murder of the Clutter family in 1959. I recall my parents discussing the horror of it and making us kids leave the room when it was mentioned on the news. Those murderers populated my nightmares for a time. No way I could re-visit it. As for Ulysses – I listed it as my all-time HATE IT book. I tried to read it when I was a student in Dublin (you know, atmosphere and all that). I couldn’t understand a bit of it…and that chapter that has two periods in the whole thing! What was that all about? When I hear people discussing it as a masterwork, I just feel stupid and dull-witted in their presence. I finished it – and vowed I’d never keep on with a book I hated. P.S. Echoing Simone, I’d like to read that book of yours some time before I kick the bucket. Will you autograph one for me if I send it to you?

  9. davidrochester said,

    Ulysses has defeated me ten times thus far, even when I tried to do it five pages per day. Life, I decided, is too damned short.

    I was really disturbed by In Cold Blood , probably because I identified so strongly with Perry Smith. One step to the left, and I could pretty easily imagine myself taking things out on innocent people, too. Luckily, I’m not that far gone, but … it wasn’t hard to see how it happened.

  10. davidrochester said,

  11. Simonne said,

    PS I feel better now – so much better now – about Ulysses 🙂

  12. doctordi said,

    Lilian, I agree the films were disturbing… but it was watching them that reminded me I’d never read Capote’s book, and he was so intriguing a character himself that I wanted to… um, pay my respects. I guess it’s the same thing with Ulysses.

    Grad, I suspect the book would transport you straight back to childhood. It is a masterwork of storytelling and psychological profiling, though, if you could only get past the nightmares… And as for Ulysses, I think it’s that stream of consciousness narrative that really poleaxes the reader. I just find it incredibly hard to concentrate after a while. My own mind wanders. Far, far away. Still going…

    And if my book ever gets published, do you really think I wouldn’t just send it to you? And even if it doesn’t I’ll still let you read it, I’d be honoured (that goes for the rest of you, too). I’m just trying to assess the chances of its ever being turned into an actual paper and glue book, because that’s how I’d *want* you to read it. I can’t help it – I’m a book lover. But please don’t talk about kicking the bucket.

    David, great post. I completely agree. Perry made me think of my brother, which bothered me greatly for obvious reasons. But I think Capote got at something few people do, and as I said on your comment stream, I think it’s finally one of the most compassionate analyses I’ve ever read. I am delighted by your conclusions regarding Ulysses. I admit I was slightly worried you might be One of Them (because there’s something so old school about you), and I am unashamedly thrilled that you’re not.

  13. doctordi said,

    Simonne, your comments came in oddly out of order… which is why I haven’t acknowledged them in line… but yes, how much better do we feel about Ulysses?! Ah, such a relief coming clean! And good luck with the major overhaul! I pulled mine apart page by page earlier in the year and it was the best thing I could have done – not for my sanity or confidence, but for the ms. I hope it goes brilliantly for you!

  14. doctordi said,

    Could I get any more exclamation marks in there? Do you think? Really?

  15. litlove said,

    I completely agree about Ulysses. I’ve never even begun it as I know Joyce isn’t really for me. The only way I think i could bear it, is to listen to it as an audio book. That would have its advantages (abridging being perhaps one of them), but I do wonder whether it would promote very technicolour dreams. Good on you for passing a wonderful book on, though. That’s an act of good karma in the bookish world!

  16. doctordi said,

    Audio book! Isn’t that cheating? You know, I have never listened to one of these things, but maybe that’s the perfect answer for Ulysses – which DOES have some extremely funny, funny and smart, lines, it’s just I nearly miss them because I’m always drowning by then, and my lungs fill with water when I try to laugh.

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