On Saturday night I saw The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, famous for being Heath Ledger’s final film. (Interestingly, to me at least, my cousin is married to his cousin.) I’m always disappointed by Terry Gilliam films – they promise a lot, have fascinating moments and concepts, but are undisciplined, unfocused. The struggling travelling caravan of the immortal Dr Parnassus making its way around London is fascinating and the strange worlds of people’s fantasies as they enter his mirror are enjoyable. Just don’t expect too much sense.
On Tuesday night I watched Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 film The Wrestler. I was underwhelmed. It’s a well directed, well acted drama about a washed up wrestler who has nothing to live for but his wrestling, with a parallel drawn between his physical performance in the ring and those of his stripper friend. It is strongly realist, in stark contrast to his other films, Pi, Requiem for a Dream and Fountain, all of which are surreal.
On Wednesday I read in The Australian Literary Review with great interest a writer I like a lot – Lionel Shriver – writing about my favourite writer, Paul Auster. She claims to know his work quite well, and praises him as a great storyteller. She puts her finger on one important quality of his work:
The word “readable” doesn’t do this quality justice. Auster has such a sweet, clear, inviting voice that his novels go down like lemonade. While his characters are vivid, his genius is plot, of which readers of literary fiction are too often starved.
But she thinks he falls short of Philip Roth; unlike Roth, one comes away from Auster – she contends – with an ‘absence of an intellectual, psychological or political souvenir’. His stories are just stories – no meat, just lemonade.
Hmmm. I think she’s wrong. At his best, Auster has a lot of psychological insight into the way we live our lives, the way we respond to choices and circumstances. His souvenirs – for me – are existential, clues to the conduct of life. A sense that someone else lives in the kind of world I live in. But I think I know what she means.
All through the week I’ve been reading Don Watson’s book about America. I’ve been dissatisfied, even a narrative like this is no substitute for reading a novel at the same time. (I had just given up on Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book; I found her prose too annoying, slipping between colloquial and formal, and the feel of popular fiction, with its cliches and a certain kind of first person voice.) I have been thinking about moving to nonfiction for my next book after the library novel. I think it may bring together the two sides of my personality/ interests better than fiction – the researcher in me. But it wouldn’t be the kind of book Watson is writing. It would be less personal, and not have opinions in it.
Watson’s is a rambling travelogue, beautifully written, that keeps recurring around the centrality of fundamentalist Christianity to the experience of living in America. I have an endless fascination and horror with fundamentalist Christianity, and so I find this interesting, all the things he hears on the radio and sees on the telly, all the signs he sees about Jesus. There’s a lot more to it, of course, it’s just as much about politics and history and travel.