Friday, May 22, 2009

A book and a book

Suddenly had the urge to read, so here they are:

"Disquiet" by Julia Leigh. A haunting, lyrical novella about love and lost, snap shots into womanhood, motherhood, and yearning. A woman takes her two children to her estranged mother's chateau in rural France, seeking refuge from her abusive husband. Her brother and his wife are also there, for what would have been a baptism and baby welcoming party but what turned out to be a preparation for a funeral. As she thinks and plans suicide, the brother's wife, mother of a dead baby girl, carries the bundled dead baby around and feeds it milk. During the night they place the baby's body in a wicker basket and puts it in the walk-in refrigerator. The woman's children, meanwhile, scheme to runaway to get back to their father. They finally get on a canoe and paddle out to the middle of the lake, but there water begins to seep in, the paddle floats away, and both canoe and passengers begin to sink. When the woman sees her children drowning, she swims out, get the older one to help his sister to the shore, while she stays in the middle of the lake, contemplating drowning. The son, who previously hates his mother for taking them away from their father, swims back out to her and persuades her to swim to shore. All the meanwhile the sister in law stands on the shore and watches with the dead baby in her arms. After the incident, the woman decides to get the sister in law to finally bury the dead baby, and she finally acquiesce. The final scene is that of the baby's burial.

My thoughts: haunting, beautiful, lyrical, flows like Rio Negro, that blackwater river of the Amazon, bearing in its quiet currents all the ugly and grotesque possibilities of life. I LOVE IT!

The other book I just finished reading, and kind of wish I hadn't picked up:
"Esther's Inheritance," by the Hungarian writer Sandor Marai. Hate it. Can't get my head around it. Don't like anything about it. It's a story about Esther and her love of a perpetual liar, Lajos, who lies to and robs everybody because he is so disarmingly charming and wields a certain unexplanable power over the spirits of those with whom he comes to contact. So he lies and cheats and robs her, then disappears, then twenty years later suddenly announces that he's coming back. And he comes back, carries fake gifts for everyone, and in a pedantic diatribe about love and life, and in a theatrically over done manner, manages to convince
Esther that she has to sign over the house to him, her last and remaining source of life. Why does she do this? In every single page, she acknowledges that she sees through him and his lies. She even tells him so herself. Yet at the same time whenever she describes his "charm", she uses words like "(super)natural," "magical," "unexplanable," and "spell." As if her love is like a spell that cannot be broken, that her love for this liar and scoundrel has somehow become its own animal and has taken on a life outside of her control. So she succumbs, and signs the house over to him, all the while knowing that she is being conned! As she explains it, "...that Lajos was right in saying that there is a kind of invisible order in life and that what one has begun one has also to end..." When her friend, a man who had previously saved her by saving the house (her savior, no less), the one representing sense and logic and reason (a man--did I point that out already?), tries to stop her, she says, "I think only a woman could really understand this, the kind of woman who is no longer young and no longer expects anything from life..." I have so many problems with this sentence, this book, I don't even know where to begin. I know a woman like Esther, and she was married for many years to man like Lajos. He lied to her, cheated her, and cheated on her. But she stayed with him, loved and worked for him, because of the very reason Esther mentions: because she was "no longer young and no longer expects anything from life." She surrendered to that sick abjection. Until she decided she's had enough, and kicked him out of the house, back to where he came from. From what I hear, he went on to fool other women, even married one, but she became stronger, stopped thinking that she needed to man to be happy, and now she's very happy. So she, a woman no longer young and seemingly no longer expecting anything from life, does expect something for and from herself after all.

It's so interesting how the two works can differ so much in their presentations of the possible solutions/escapes of abuse. "Disquiet" gives two possible choices: suicide, or life. Here, the abused woman chose life, even when she is surrounded and confronted by death. In the end, let death be buried, where it belongs. "Esther's Inheritance," on the other hand, offers not a choice but a surrender. It is as if this love, which she has never had any control over, of this man who continually takes and takes and takes is a genetic condition, incurable, in-operable, and which has somehow become her bones, her blood, until she no longer knows what to do except to give in. And that's all she does, resignation. That is her "inheritance," a slow dwindling of the self until there is nothing left, everything is carried away or auctioned off, or waiting to be sold. She doesn't fight, neither for death or life. It's as if she's in perpetual limbo, without any will or even breath, just waiting until the day when she will be nothing.

Perhaps the difference is because one is a woman writing, and the other is a man writing what he thinks a woman would write.

1 comment:

  1. Mình cũng không thích quyển "Di sản của Eszther" đó.