Saturday, June 7, 2008

Living With the Truth -- summer reading, novel

In a mode of mythic comedy Jonathan Payne, a second-hand bookseller with a small shop at the seaside town of Rigby (we presume an imaginary Scotland seaside with Atlantic waters dashed against brisk stony cliffs and not along the flatness of Route 20 in Idaho, though Idaho would make an interesting second) is visited by Truth who undertakes to reveal his (Truth for each of us being manifested in the gender we see in ourselves) personality and quirks of taste insofar as what Truth considers that truth needs to be as it is revealed for Jonathan Payne.

There can be too much, or too little of truth in all our lives, and the author, my friend Jim Murdoch with great care, deliberation and crafted talent brings this range of truth for Jonathan Payne out into the open and on to the stage of our imaginations. This is brought about through fairly excellent characterization in such a manner that as the narrative progresses we increasingly share in the well-rounded portrayal of Jonathan Payne – he becomes infectious as he grasps our reading sympathy, with chuckles here and there -- and we are also caught up by the somewhat quirky and nearly trickster personality of Truth. Who would not enjoy Truth without a dash of the sardonic?

“Narrative allegory is distinguished from mythology as reality from symbol; it is, in short, the proper intermedium between person and personification. Where it is too strongly individualized, it ceases to be allegory; this is often felt in the Pilgrim's Progress, where the characters are real persons with nicknames.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the Art of Edmund Spenser

I quote that above from Coleridge on Spenser as the personification of Truth brings into range our consciousness of allegory, or sign and symbol as a character that is Truth is like a sign… in that an author could build a premise on the characterization of Stop Sign… a sort of neoPlatonic kind of post-modernism -- but more importantly that I like reading Edmund Spenser and Coleridge and at the risk of inflating Mr. Murdoch’s sense of his place (Scotland and not Idaho) it is against the backdrop of this literary context within which I read his novel.

I am not exactly sure, I figure when I look into it, if Living with the Truth is allegory or a parable or exactly what?

It is fun and it does cause one to pause and think. Mr. Payne, the protagonist, seems to have a peculiar fixation on the observation of women’s breasts. The truth revealed to me is that I cannot wander around nowadays looking about in the summer weather of Manhattan without reflecting on this character attribute. This offsets my general observation that the majority of people in the world, myself included, look really unfit for magazine covers.

It seems that though Truth may be present, and often bringing about disconcerting revelations to Jonathan about Jonathan, particularly in respect of his sexual proclivities, that truth is not necessarily overbearing and/or inclined to reveal more than a person can bear to handle.

In no manner does Living with the Truth go quite so far as the German author Charlotte Roche, “a headlong dash through every crevice and byproduct, physical and psychological, of its narrator’s body and mind” (courtesy of Nicholas Kulish in the NY Times 06/06/08). Truth in a very kindly manner spares us such physical intimacy.

Truth though often thought of as cold and dispassionate can be sweetly considerate and when not harassing the protagonist with revelations of previously unrevealed reality at times serves as a remarkable foil to reveal the authors sense of ironic humor, “And then she made the fatal mistake of looking him in the face. Oh, dear. It was an erotic work, whose author had greater aspirations for it than it rightly deserved. He was now working on a chicken farm days while the sequel lay in various stages of production on jotters around his lodgings.”

Considering that Jim Murdoch, a frequently erudite blogger on scenes literary (much about Beckett) does not, as far as I know, work on a chicken farm. So even with Truth present there is a hint of modest Dissimulation lurking in the outer hallway.

The comment on it being an erotic work that the spinster peruser of the bookshelves in the second-hand bookshop in her encounter with the eyes of Truth reminds me of an x-brother-in-law, a Brit who suddenly aspired one day to become a novelist, after having had a dab as a painter, and seemed to delight in talking out his most poignant scenes of bodice ripping ecstasy having to do something with the integration of coloured purses. Then he as suddenly moved away with another woman than any I am related with. This personal note regarding a known character all lends credence, in my estimation, to Mr. Murdoch’s ability to paint a fictional character with veracity.

A most difficult revelation it seems for Jonathan is that Truth personifies another person than Jonathan himself who knows exactly what Jonathan knows of himself and assumes is known only by him… with a dash here and there into things known or to be known as True or False in the world at large, mainly these objectives being delicate mirrors with which to further portray Jonathan’s personal insularity and narcissism in the distancing of and his self-imposed removal from personal relationships.

Jonathan is essentially a character who does not want his innermost secrets or secretions known not only to himself, but particularly not by another human, leastways, as human as Truth can be seen to be. Suddenly here in his life is this stranger who knows more of what Jonathan keeps to himself as secret, either to himself or to the world, than Jonathan is accustomed to share.

Purchase directly from the publisher: Living With the Truth, Jim Murdoch, Fandango Virtual

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