Rest in Peace, Ruth Rendell (1930-2015). I liked your work, particularly your Barbara Vine novels. Continue reading
I’m sad to read of the death of British writer Sue Townsend at 68. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole novels but for the Lost Diaries and love the wry commentary on British society and current affairs from the Falklands War in 1981 in the first novel through to the Iraq War in Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction and beyond. I felt like the series would go on forever.
Comic writing feels more immune to death. It seems to have already faced up to mortality, and got over it. But Adrian Mole was always getting older; she probably would have even killed him off soon, which I would have found unbearable. There was always a sadness reading about him in his mediocrity. It produces the humour, but it also touches a nerve: everyone thinks they’re special, everyone wants their own specialness recognised. We laugh at Adrian because we can see himself more clearly than he can. But can we see ourselves?
The novels Adrian Mole made me think of are Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Updike’s Rabbit novels are not primarily comic, but they are quite funny; more importantly, they explore the shifts in America over decades through the eyes of an everyman. (Updike did kill Rabbit off before dying a little prematurely himself.) The comparison to Holden Caulfield is a little more obvious, but an interesting one, because Holden is the adolescent we know is special, and it lends his plight a particular kind of poignance. What Townsend makes us realise is that there can be a different kind of poignance in the everyman.
I was meaning to pay tribute to Townsend, and there I am writing about Adrian Mole. I hope she understands. It sounds like she had a hard life, and her humour came out of dark places.
Since I saw that Philip Seymour Hoffman, my favourite actor, was dead on the television news-ticker this morning, my mind has kept hiccuping: PSH is dead! Initially the hiccups were strong and happened every five minutes; by now, they’re less frequent and less violent.
Is it grief I feel when a celebrity I admire dies? Is it a less intense version of what happens when someone I know dies? Or something else entirely, given the ‘relationship’ with the celebrity runs only one way? I don’t know.
(Note on the news ticker, saying ‘breaking news’: it was a delayed broadcast from the east, three hours old, and the presenters didn’t even know about it, the news hadn’t hit them yet. This is what happens when WA is three hours behind the east: sometimes a time bubble opens up, and one becomes aware of watching something from the past, different in an important way to the present.)
Hoffman was amazing – he appears in so many of my favourite films, lighting up so many of them. We watch him age in Synecdoche, New York, and it feels like we have followed him through a lifetime. We want him to be innocent in Doubt. We live in fear of him in Punch-Drunk Love. I don’t think it’s going too far to say he was the quintessential face of film in the first thirteen years of the century.
I just read the sad news of the death of one of WA’s finest novelists, Randolph Stow. He was 74 and living in England.
I’ve often wondered what happened to Stow, why he stopped writing (or at least publishing). His career served as a kind of parable for me – it didn’t matter how well you did, things might still not work out right. He had published several award winning novels by the age of thirty and seemed unstoppable. And yet he published nothing in the last twenty-six years of his life. I tried several times to get into his final novel, The Suburbs of Hell, but I couldn’t, for some reason. Sorry, Randolph.
Over the last few years, I have kept on meaning to read more of his work. Merry-Go-Round In the Sea is surely one of the best Australian novels ever written, one of the great novels about childhood.
I have an obscure connection to Randolph: family legend has it that his mother boarded with my great-grandmother for a time in the 1960s. I don’t even know why, and I don’t know if it’s true.
I was sad to read in the paper yesterday that John Updike died on Tuesday. Just a few weeks ago I was thinking how he was immortal, publishing yet another book, a sequel to the Witches of Eastwick. I thought he had another ten or twenty years with many more novels to come; I didn’t know he was battling for his life.
He was my second favourite writer for a time. I came to grow a little disenchanted with him, but still rated him very highly. I have the illusion of being friends with him, or at least him being a kindly risque uncle I’ve had long conversations with.
I’ve been thinking of his line, ‘After all, you survive every moment except your last,’ as a comfort for my fear of death. But that was when he had survived it all too.
Now there’s no chance of a sixth Rabbit book. It would have been set in 2009, if he had continued the trend. I know it seemed unlikely, given he killed off Rabbit two books ago, but I always thought my hopes would come true and I would have another slice of the Angstrom world.
I will have to write a longer piece about his work and my interactions with it, but I’m at an internet cafe in Richmond and I’ve got to go.
Some more moving and strange and banal comments have appeared on Tom Disch’s blog, now six weeks since he killed himself. Including one comment urging people to tell someone who’s not yet killed themselves how great they are. And this one, bringing Phil Dick into the picture:
Well, you depressing bastard, as if writing The Genocides (and boy did that book get under my skin, buddy! What a masterpiece; first time out the gate and a tour-de-force! Makes me jealous as hell) wasn’t enough, you had to go and do this.
I’ve got to admit I’m a little pissed off at you about it. But God knows (and that’s you, right? So YOU know) I understand where you were coming from, so I’ll cut you some slack. Listen: granted, there’s no afterlife, and you and me and Sam Clemens all know it, but let’s just pretend there is for one second so I can ask you this one favor in return: cut Phil some slack too when you run into him him, would you? He was just another poor slob who made some stupid mistakes, like we all did, (okay so some of his were worse, but its not like the FBI actually read any of that crazy bastard’s letters, right?) so I’ll forgive you if you forgive him, okay?
And this beautiful paragraph from Jerry:
And finally, after running this and letting it run, for days, through my mind and heart and spirit, and with my younger son telling me he wants to remember you from the often happy times of the ’60s and ’70s and that he has been sharing some of his memories of you from then with some of his friends, and my older boy mailing me links to he few photographs he has up a on private site of you (and Charlie too) visiting us, as you often did, on West 87th Street when we were all young, still under 30, I can stop by here and say something.
Last Friday I felt compelled to look up Thomas Disch, my third favourite science fiction writer. I found a link to his livejournal account. He’d written on it just two days earlier, 2 July 2008. I thought up what I could say to him about how great his work is. I couldn’t think of what to write; he’s a bitter, cynical man and I didn’t want to be cut down for liking him.
Then yesterday he shows up on the Wikipedia’s recent deaths list. He’d killed himself that same day I found his blog. I feel pretty sad about that. The worst way to die.
There’s now 111 comments on his last entry, with people telling him how good he was, or how they miss him. But of course he’s not there to read it. I thought of adding to it, but instead I’ve written this. I can’t claim to be as much as a fan of some of them, but I really liked his work.
People seem immortal when they have a blog. They can’t be blogging, and so immediately visible, and then die. It just can’t happen.
334 is the best novel of his I’ve read. I can’t remember too much, but for the bleak wittiness of it, and the droll way he wrote horrific things. I liked the interconnections between the novellas that make it up too. And I liked the irony of the spaceship on the front, when none of it’s set in space. Poor pulp writers.
I read Camp Concentration and The Genocides earlier this decade and liked them as well. It’s only the Puppies of Terra I didn’t like.
His more recent horror books are the best horror books I’ve ever read (I haven’t read many, I must say) – The M.D. and the Businessman.