Thoughts

Lueur Interieure, Gao Xingjian 2006

Currently, I’m on page 121 of Soul Mountain and I can’t seem to form a solid opinion of it, nor am I fully immersed in the prose. Virginia Woolf writes in her essay, The Love of Reading, that

…our first duty as readers is to try and understand what the writer is making from the first word with which he builds his first sentence to the last with which he ends his book. We must not impose our design upon him; we must not try to make him conform his will to ours. We must allow Defoe to be Defoe and Jane Austen to be Jane Austen as freely as we allow the tiger to have his fur and the tortoise to have his shell.

In other words, we must not try to interpret what we read until we have reached the very last sentence. That’s why I’m iffy about mid-way book thoughts, and judging books before I’ve completed them: until the moment  our eyes reach the last page, the book has an indefinite shape. As Woolf says,

the book as a whole is different from the book received currently in several different parts. It has a shape, it has a being.

Despite knowing this, I’m rather worried at my inability to connect with the writing. I seem to be floating – hovering – outside of Gao’s vision; unable to understand or engage with the story. His writing is quirky, poetic, wonderfully dreamlike at times, but I don’t think I understand Soul Mountain at all. I’ll keep reading, of course, and I am content with enjoying the ride (i.e. appreciating the writing); hopefully, by the time I reach the last page I’ll be more enlightened.

I’ve also decided to do away with fixed reading lists for now, because Matt over at A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook is beginning a sort of read-a-long. He will be reading five books, and since three of them:

  • Middlemarch, George Eliot
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu

are on my proposed to-read list for 2009, I’ll be participating for sure. The exact dates have yet to be announced, but until then I’ll be reading whatever takes my fancy. Probably Fitzgerald, and then my two library books – The Waves and The White Tiger – and maybe The Weaker Vessel. Or the Ishiguro. Or A Year in Provence. I’ll probably keep a list of books in the sidebar, but it’ll be susceptible to change.

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18 thoughts on “Thoughts

    1. Zawan – oh, you don’t have to worry about this book avoiding judgement purely because it won the Nobel Prize. I’m not as nice as that! In fact, I think it’s often the case that prize winners invite more scrutiny precisely because they’ve been put upon a pedestal. Also, I never think of books as “good” or “bad”. Just as human beings have both flaws and merits to their personalities, I believe all books have “good” and “bad” aspects. Especially this book. That’s why I’ve decided to save any real judgements until I’ve completed it. My frustration stems more from not being able to penetrate the outer, superficial elements of the story to reach the author’s meaning.

  1. Maybe you’re not in the right mood for it.

    I have thrown down some books in disgust only to pick them up a year later and wish for more hours in the day and night to finish.

    1. Isabel – that might be the case, but if I always relied on mood to get me through, I’d never get through a ton of books! I really struggled with Anna Karenina b/c I wasn’t in the right mood, so I’ve decided to put it down for the moment, but I think I’ll be okay with Soul Mountain, because I am enjoying and appreciating the writing. I get what you mean though; it happens to me often enough. The first time I picked up Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I couldn’t get past the first two chapters, but when I read it recently I absolutely loved it :)

  2. I think that’s the whole idea of the book.. I was also floating, like in a dream, the whole time. That’s the reason why a lot of readers didn’t like it, as it was so ambiguous. As for me, I loved the feeling. Maybe you should just let go and allow yourself to float?? Although I would completely understand why anyone wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I did, for the above-reasons you just mentioned. :)

    1. claire – Well, I’m not sure I understand why everything is, and that part I don’t like. I think it’s just that the book is hard to categorise; hard to define. While I’m definitely enjoying the feeling, the logical part of my brain is getting frustrated!

      I hate that I can’t stick to resolutions, but I’ve decided to leave this book until after I’ve finished The White Tiger.

  3. You know, that’s okay.. the point is having fun with your reading. I’m like that, too, if not enjoying or getting the book, I’d move on.. :)

    1. Funny though, it doesn’t make much of a difference. I basically stayed up the whole night to read White Tiger, and I managed to finish it this morning – I can get back to Soul Mountain now!

  4. Hi Zawan,
    I do have a Shelfari account, but I don’t really use it b/c I always forget to update it with new books. I used to use Goodreads, but nowadays I don’t really use that either..

  5. Given that you stayed up all night reading it, I take it that you enjoyed White Tiger? I am planning to read it as soon as I can get a copy from the library, but I’d love to know your take on it.

    Also, I’m a huge proponent of the idea that there’s a time for each book, and there’s no point forcing a book if you’re not loving it. And hey, if a book happens to be over your head, there’s no shame in that either – that’s what re-reads are for! ;)

  6. I found it very difficult to get into his vision even though the writing is plain and simple. I realize, maybe after about three chapters, that you cannot take his word literally. He’s saying A nut his mind is going off the tangent to Z. The second-person narrative in alternating chapters doesn’t help either. I was about halfway through the book and decided to start over.

    1. Yeah, I got to about halfway and at one point I paused and re-read the first few chapters just to make sure I understood what was going on. Definitely a case of the unreliable narrator going on. There’s so much to delve into here, but at the moment, I’m just enjoying the ride.

    1. Matthew – argh; I do know Mandarin, but it’s my third language so I’m not proficient enough to read literature in it. And it’s been six years since I studied or spoke it. That would be a really interesting experience, though – especially since I’ll be picking up my Chinese studies again this year. When my language skills improve, I’ll definitely try reading the original. Thanks :)

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