It was a shame we didn’t see the Shirleys again, as their upskittling shenanigans had us laughing, then in true Brecht/Frisch style, asking ‘Why are we laughing at this; and why are we laughing at it here?’ They made us uncomfortable. Shouldn’t we feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that, to some extent, the point?
In 2005 during a two month trip around Argentina, I visited the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, on a Thursday afternoon. The Plaza de Mayo is a large, official, elegant square surrounded by large, official, elegant buildings, with the long pink house of the Argentine government along one side. On this particular visit the number of armed guards seemed to have doubled, and a number of women wearing white scarves were gathered in a group.
First things first. Random House needs a severe admonishment for the presentation of this novel. If I’d seen Refusal in its current incarnation on the shelves in a bookshop, I would have passed it by and never thought about it. This needs to be seen to.
Veronica is a novel ostensibly centring on the relationship between two dysfunctional women – a naïve model and an eccentric proof reader – in 1970s and 80s New York. Elizabeth, the protagonist, narrates the action from middle age, long after Veronica’s death and well into her own debilitating loss of limb, wreck of career, and affliction with hepatitis.
Barker’s paranoia is revealed as history itself, and her fluid perspective is temporal, skittering up and down the centuries, making arbitrary connections between characters separated by aeons, and generating baffling laws of series to which the narrative continually cross refers.
‘Elegant’ is something Cusk almost pulls off, but it’s always overshadowed. A nice passage about an oversized kitchen that vaguely echoes a Tom Wolfe-style ‘dog-eat-dog-eat-possession’ paranoia is ruined by a dreadful internal monologue about personal failure.
Z has managed an emancipation which has enabled her to see all human interaction as belonging to discourse – merely a matter of choice. This choice has led her (and the reader) through an odyssey which feels a good deal more intimate than its pan-continental scope would suggest.
It is always tempting to imagine Jean Baudrillard preparing to write a book by sharpening an axe, swinging it into his computer monitor, then gluing the shattered pieces to a celluloid film reel, projecting it to a crowded room full of admirers and absolutely forbidding them to take it seriously.
Oksana is a Russian teenager who was lured to Europe under the promise of a better life, and Hope is a spoilt English girl. The alternating narrative voice is fine when the two characters are racing to their inevitable collision, but when they’re sharing a bed in a room with two freebasing Estonian prostitutes?