As regular readers will know, we’ve long refused to let Robinsod write for us due to his penchant for filth and gutter politics. But seeing as the book he’s offered to review for us is written by Ian Wishart we felt it was somehow appropriate.
Attempting the unreadable
A literary analysis of Absolute Power
I had high hopes for Absolute Power, I really did. If Faulkner taught us anything with The Sound and the Fury it was that a tale told by an idiot could be a masterpiece, if Nabokov’s Pale Fire offers us any lesson it’s that an exposition of paranoia and madness can make for damn fine reading.
So it was with great literary expectation that I picked up on the first of the excerpts published on Cameron Slater’s blog. I have to say I was disappointed and further reading just brought further disappointment. I mean sure the idiocy, madness and paranoia are all there. So too the stream of consciousness prose, the wild Pynchonesque explosion of detail beyond logic and the refusal to be bound by traditional narratological process. It should have all added up to some kind of masterpiece.
But it hasn’t.
Take for example the following line:
Like all good serial killers, H2 seldom leaves her paw prints at the scene of a crime
WTF??? So she’s like a serial killer dog? Right? That’s a metaphor we’re all familiar with. Especially since Lassie was picked up for disappearing all those LA hookers (in fact I think Wishart may have covered this in his ‘labour has mob connections’ section). Wrong. It’s just lousy writing.
In the much better exposition of madness that is Nabokov’s Pale Fire the insanity is introduced gradually through ever expanding annotations to a fictional long poem made by its crazy protagonist until finally the reader is overwhelmed by the madness and it’s done beautifully. In The Sound and the Fury the main narrator is a man/child named Benjy who is, through some form of intellectual disability, unable to distinguish between past and present. The narratives of his passages are entirely associative and yet they can be mapped out and with the contributions of other narrators can be made sense of. Sadly although Wishart’s narrator is clearly mad we are not brought into it gradually and so cannot appreciate a Nabokovian “knight-shift of the mind” and his logic, which also seems to be associative, offers no decodable sense or meaning as Faulkner’s does.
I have tried all sorts of tricks to unpackage the text of Absolute Power and tried all kinds of comparisons. I thought it might have been written in the mode of the metafictionalists and so co-read it with William Gass and Robert Coover. But they have a philosophical meta-text that provides a key to their reading. Wishart hasn’t. I tried reading it as self-reflexive pot-boiler and co-read it with Phillip K Dick but there was no self-reflexivity. I even tried reading as a work of magical realism alongside Jorge Luis Borges but it was just too nasty and dull to fit that fine genre. In the end I tried to read it as a cultural object, a novel-length manifestation of the impotent rage that is the Kiwiblog comments section and, while it started to make sense that way, what was the point and why would I subject myself to that? So I swapped to reading the backs of cereal packets just to find some relief.
If there is a common thread between most of the masterpieces that feature insane or impaired narrators it is that they are full of the sound and the fury signifying nothing. Wishart’s work is certainly this. But not in the good clever and existential way. More in the ‘man who has been let down by community care’ way. I really can’t understand why he bothered