Apologies – to the three people who actually follow this blog – for the long silence. I have been dwelling in that intellectual desert, Hong Kong. Now some people will criticise that statement on the grounds that there is probably a great deal of intellectual endeavor going on in that place – just that it is taking place in another language. Quite right too. I consider the wrist slapped. So I will fall back on the existential, only-talking-from-my-own-extremely-limited-personal-perspective, position.
Now, for those who don’t know me, I used to live in Hong Kong and I have many connections to the place – I was brought up there, lived many happy years there, married there, founded charities there, wrote books there, brought up 2 children there, walked along hillside tracks there and all in all treasure these memories. But this time I went back after 5 years and …felt completely disconnected from the place. The words that come to mind are remorseless and relentless. There is a constant battle with surging humanity – a lot of it mainland in origin. Believe me there are going to be ructions in Hong Kong – serious ructions (in the form of demonstrations, even riots) – so it will be a long time before I go back. The great thing about the trip was falling into old conversations frictionlessly with old friends as if I had been away a week rather than 5 years. So it was an extraordinary pleasure for me – on my return – to stand in the street not far from here and savour the solitude of the place. This is something you can never feel in Hong Kong. There is nowhere you can escape to – nowhere urban – where you can feel so wonderfully alone. I’m sure that will pall but it was a great pleasure.
A pleasure too to browse the book racks again. I discovered a new writer – Walker Percy, a Louisiana doctor turned novelist. There were four of his books in the racks (the good thing about this second hand world is that collections sometimes stay together) – here we had the leavings from the table of someone who had once enjoyed Walker Percy. I bought two of the books on the grounds that they might be good (to buy all four smacked too much of an investment). However, 100 pages into the first of these books – The Thanatos Syndrome – I was excited enough to rush out to get the other two – but then the second half of the book did not quite live up to the promise of the first – was it a thriller, a social commentary or black humour or what? Anyway, he writes well,and thoughtfully, about the Louisiana folk heritage – and he’s Catholic so we can’t ever quite escape the philosophical excursions into the murky swamps of guilt and sin. He was certainly well reviewed as a leading American writer (who wasn’t that well known) – Here is the Amazon summary bio:
Walker Percy (1916-1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a U.S. senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction titles–including the classic novel The Moviegoer (1961), winner of the National Book Award–and fifteen works of nonfiction. In 2005, Time magazine named The Moviegoer one of the best English-language books published since 1923.
OK. So I should have known about him, I guess – and so it is a pleasure to make his acquaintance even if I have done so rather tardily.
The point is I could never in a million years bump into a second hand copy of any novel by Walker Percy in the cultural desert of Hong Kong (though some people see it as more of a cultural dessert!)
And then another book rack on another day brought me face to face with Aritha van Herk and her book The Pig Pen. I see from a brief excursion into the ethernet that van Herk is a contemporary Canadian author. I have to say that a novel with the title The Pig Pen doesn’t excite the intellectually questiing juices and I left the book there. This was despite a sub-title that pulled out all the stops: “One woman. Nine men. The wilderness.” – the back cover talked of passions bubbling to the surface and the book ending in a loud climax.
I think the blurb writer was Ms van Herk herself – it often is the author who has to do this job – and that she was having a joke. I hadn’t realised – it was a post-modernist joke – and that she was probably laughing as loud as I was. I was screeching with laughter. One day I must buy the book.