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“Translators are people who read books for us.” @almabooks @TimParksauthor

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Pen in Hand: Reading, Re-reading and Other Mysteries by Tim Parks

Books about books are obviously a huge favourite of we bookish bloggers (although I suspect I don’t have as many on my shelves as some do….!) Yet they come in all shapes, sizes and formats; and the contents and focus can vary so much, taking in everything to a person’s history of their reading life to more erudite analyses of why we read, that it could be argued that they really don’t constitute a genre of their own. Tim Park’s new collection of essays is a good case in point: the subtitle hints that there might be something a little more in depth than usual and that turned out to be the case.

Parks is known as a novelist, essayist and translator, and it’s in this latter guise that I’ve encountered him in the past; he’s been responsible for translating some of the works of my beloved Italo Calvino, but I’ve not read any of his fiction or non-fiction works. So when Will from the lovely Alma Books kindly offered a review copy of “Pen in Hand” I was intrigued and keen to give Parks a look. “Pen…” is a very dippable work, so I’ve been spending time with it over several weeks; and a very stimulating read it is too!

The pieces in the book have appeared online in the New York Review of Books Daily and the New York Times; having them collected in one volume makes perfect sense because each essay can be read separately, but there is a continuity between them and the cumulative effect is mentally exhilarating. Parks has divided his writings up into four sections, titled “How Could You Like That Book?”, “Reading and Writing”, “Malpractice” and “Gained and Lost in Translation”. Within the book’s pages is contained wide-ranging discussions of everything from visualising when reading through Dylan’s Nobel to whether too many books are being produced.This latter particularly resonated, as I’ve long wondered about the effect of modern publishing techniques; it’s so easy nowadays to produce a book in a word-processing program and press a button – voila, latest attempt at a bestseller. My late dad was a typesetter by trade, setting metal type by hand for many, many years until computers took over (and he retrained). If a book was going to be set by hand, it had to be considered worthwhile putting into print; I’d go along with the argument that a *lot* of stuff that appears nowadays isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

But I digress. Parks produces a wonderful essay on another modern blight, the constant distractions which beset us, called “Reading: The Struggle”; there is a thoughtful discussion of autofiction which I found particularly helpful when reading an excellent example of that kind of book recently; and he expressed concern about our current tendency to novelise our novelists, stating “We should read our great authors, not mythologize them.” He’s a drily witty writer, dropping in all sorts ot sentences which raise a chuckle while making a point: for example, “My mother used to warn me that God saw everything I did and even thought, so that one of the reliefs of losing faith was the recovery of a little privacy.”

An extensive section of essays on translation make up the final part of the book, and these were particularly timely and fascinating. Several cover the translation of Primo Levi’s writings, specifically in the Collected Works (three ginormous volumes I lugged back from a trip to London a while back). Parks is critical of some of the renderings (being a translator from Italian himself, of course) and gives examples with which it’s hard to argue (although his renderings are perhaps a little more literal than the versions he critiques). Translation is a difficult art, I guess, and Parks has the advantage of having lived in Italy for many years so that as well as being linguistically suited to translate, he also has the cultural background. However, despite his misgivings, I hope the power of Levi’s words will still come through to me in English as I make my way through the massive volumes.

“Pen in Hand” is certainly no light read, and that’s a good thing in my view. The essays are stimulating, sometimes controversial, entertaining and each set me thinking about any number of bookish and literature-related subjects. There were some real “Yes!” moments when he nailed some thought I’d been struggling to pin down, and although I didn’t always agree with Parks’ views, reading them was fascinating. To combine the scholarly and the entertaining in a way that’s always readable is a real achievement and if you want to read some invigorating and enjoyable essays on reading and its perils, I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

Review copy kindly supplied by Alma Books, for which many thanks.

Simon at Stuck in a Book has also reviewed the book, and you can read his thoughts here.

“…language the source of itself…” #tompickard @mordentower50

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Fiends Fell by Tom Pickard

As I mentioned in my previous post on Morden Tower and its poets, when I was searching the local library catalogue for Tom Pickard’s works, “Fiends Fell” was the only book available. I knew nothing about it, but I took a punt and reserved it so I could perhaps get a feel for Pickard’s work. It was possibly not what I was expecting, but that didn’t stop it being a very marvellous read.

Pickard has been publishing since the 1960s, but I sense he’s always moved outside the mainstream. That may be because of his personality, inclination or the fact that he doesn’t fit into any convenient niche. “Fiends Fell” is a recent work from 2017, published by Flood Editions, Chicago; and it’s a bracing mixture of genres. Although published so recently, the introductory lines place the events it charts in the early 2000s, as Pickard refers to himself as being 56 and with an ended marriage. So the poet escapes, taking refuge in a high stretch of the North Pennine hills; and the book charts a year of the time he spent living there.

night blows up fast from the valley
dykes dissolve in thick fog
I follow my feet home

Lodging above a cafe, and sometimes helping out there, Pickard considers his past, his future, nature and the elements, and of course poetry. Prose sections are interspersed with short bursts of poetry, and the writer struggles to work in an attic which physically rocks and rattles when assailed by the elements. Often earthy, he wrestles with his lusts and also more prosaic matters of money. As I mentioned in my previous post, Basil Bunting suffered impoverishment in later life, and as Pickard deals with his bankruptcy as pragmatically as he can, it really does seem that it’s impossible to make a living as a poet nowadays (if it ever was…)

When I put my head out of the attic window all I saw was stars and the wind wrapped itself around my neck like a cold silk scarf.

The blurb likens the book to the Japanese Haibun, a mixture of prose and haiku, and it’s a format which is so effective here. The record of extreme weather, loneliness, the artistic urge and the need to make poetry is balanced with actual verse, slowing the reading down and allowing time for contemplation. It’s a wonderfully rich narrative and underpinning it all is the challenge and drama of living in extreme conditions, on what feels like the edge of a precipice when nature may sweep you away at any time. The wind is a constant presence, almost a tangible being from a fairytale; Pickard’s trips outside during the winter months remind you how precarious our existence can be and how extreme weather conditions can destroy us without pause.

In bed and a pack of winds are arriving at the windows. They pass by. They gather. They whine painfully, begging in.

If there is a pin-thin gap they will take it. If there is a wormhole they will snake it. If there are eaves they will heave.

Pickard uses the book also to explore autobiography, albeit in a fragmentary fashion. From what I’ve read, his early life was lively to say the least. He left school at the age of 14 and if the memoir elements here are to be believed came from a complex family background. Pickard’s grandson visits and bonds with the poet, offering a glimpse of a family life. But the poet is left alone again to wrestle with himself and the elements, as well as the state of the world. As befits a working class Geordie, he has a suitably scathing view of Britain and its class system…

We’ll never be a grown-up nation until we’re a republic – meanwhile we kowtow, fawn and flounce in search of favour.

Hovering over the book is the shade of Pickard’s dear friend, Basil Bunting; obviously a pivotal figure in the former’s life, at one point he reflects “I found a teacher of another kind, in Bunting”. He also calls him his mentor, and it’s worth remembering that Pickard was only 17 when he married Connie and they founded Morden Tower so it’s obvious to infer that he regarded Bunting as a father figure. Poetry is better off because of their association, which not only spawned “Briggflatts”, but also apparently informed Pickard’s work.

The Pennines, via Wikimedia Commons – einklich.net [CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0%5D

But I digress. Pickard survives the winter, and indeed the year documented in what he calls the “Fiends Fell Journal”. The book ends with a lyrical poetry sequence, “Lark and Merlin”, which convinces me I want to read more of Pickard’s verse. Because it has to be said that his writing is powerful and beautiful, and evokes vividly the intensity of living in such an extreme landscape. What happened to Pickard after the end of the Journal section of the book I don’t know; but there is a rumour online that the poet is working on “Fiends Fell 2” and if that’s so, I for one can’t wait! 😀

*****

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did borrow “Fiends Fell” from the local library. The best plans, etc, etc…. I loved it so much I ended up sending off for a copy of my own, so at one point there were two Pickards in the house:

The library one has now gone back, and I feel no guilt. This is a book I know I’ll return to, so I definitely needed my own copy! 😀

The Wild North East – Morden Tower, Newcastle and its poetry #basilbunting #tompickard @bloodaxebooks @mordentower50

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Once again, I have to blame that Andy Miller for his influence; bookish Twitter can play havoc with your reading plans and inclinations, and a random Tweet where Andy mentioned he was listening to “Briggflatts” by Basil Bunting sent me off exploring. I had never heard of Bunting and frankly I wanted to know why. Unfortunately, this curiosity opened a whole can of worms, as a quick look online revealed a fascinating history of an author, and also a strong connection with Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Morden Tower and its poetry scene. This was another oddity, as Allan Ginsberg famously read there in the 1960s, and I hadn’t heard of that either. I’ve been down the wormhole ever since, really…

Basil Cheesman Bunting (what a fabulous name) was really a one-off; a link to the modernist past of poetry. Born in Northumberland in 1900, he spent much of his early life living abroad. During the First World War he was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector; later he lived in Paris and worked with Ford Madox Ford and for Ezra Pound, who admired his work. Always peripatetic, he spent the interwar years moving between Italy, the USA and the Canary Isles with his first wife and family. During WW2, he enlisted in the RAF and ended up in what was then Persia as a translator, remaining there until 1952. After a divorce from his first wife, he remarried and moved back to Northumberland, somehow ending up working at the Newcastle Chronicle newpaper. It was back in Newcastle that he fell in with Tom Pickard, and things changed…

Morden Tower was a crumbling old building on part of the surviving old 13th century wall of Newcastle, apparently built to keep out the Scottish invaders (sorry chaps….) Connie and Tom Pickard initiated poetry readings in the Tower, starting on 16th June 1964 (Bloomsday!) Bunting was supportive of their venture, and the venue grew in popularity. In 1965 it hosted the first reading of “Briggflatts”, widely regarded as Bunting’s masterpiece. The venue never looked back, and it’s still there now (although I’m not sure how active) which is a bit marvellous! If you look at the list of poets who’ve read there – Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Stevie Smith, Robert Creeley, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti plus more recently Linton Kwesi Johnson and Carol Ann Duffy – well, it’s fairly mind-blowing!

Alas, Bunting’s story proves that you can’t make a living out of poetry, as he spent much of his later life in povery despite being hailed as one of Britain’s great late modernist poets. And Tom Pickard seems to have gone through some of the same struggles (as will be seen when I get on to considering his “Fiends Fell” in a later post). Connie Pickard apparently continued to organise events at the Tower for 50 years, long after parting from Tom, and eventually received an award for it – go, Connie!

Well – let’s get onto some bookish stuff… When I first read about all of this fascinating poetic history, I of course had to go off and checkout what books were availalble. “Briggflatts” was the obvious first point of call, and it was stocked by my local library. I borrowed it, and then decided I would never read it in time to get it back before accruing massive fines, so I bought my own copy. It’s an excellent, beautifully produced and reasonably priced edition from the wonderful Bloodaxe Books which also contains a CD of Bunting reading the poem and a DVD with a documentary on Bunting – bargain, basically!

I was also intrigued to find that Morden Tower had published one of Bunting’s poems themselves. I imagined it might cost a bomb but it didn’t so a rather old and fragile edition now resides chez Ramblings…

A bit more rooting about online revealed that Bloodaxe had also put out in 1990 an anthology celebrating 25 years of readings at the Tower, called “High on the Walls”. I haven’t been able to find a 50th anniversary collection, but the 25th anniversary one has arrived on my shelves, and it contains a remarkable array of contributions.

And finally, Tom Pickard. The local library only had one book of his in the catalogue (see how good I’m trying to be about buying books), and that is a more recent title, “Fiends Fell”. I borrowed it and I’ve read it and I loved it – so much so that I’m afraid I’ve actually bought my own copy… *sigh*. I’ll be reviewing this on the Ramblings soon, and maybe will tackle “Briggflatts” and the anthology over the summer.

So the Morden Tower/Newcastle poetry wormhole is proving to be fascinating. There’s quite a bit of stuff online and I shall put a few links at the end of this post for anyone who’s interested in exploring a little further. Meantime, I really must resist the temptation to jump on the next train to Newcastle to have a look at Morden Tower in the flesh!! 😀

*****

For further reading on Bunting, there’s a great post at the Chronicle Live website here:

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/basil-buntings-poem-briggflatts-50-10636468

There’s also a piece on the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “Briggflatts”:

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/50th-anniversary-buntings-briggflatts-marked-11412530

The Morden Tower site:

http://www.mordentower.org/

You can read the original published text of Briggflatts as it appeared in Poetry Magazine, on the Poetry Foundation website:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/30206/briggflatts

 

 

Barnes on Books! A short digression…

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A Life with Books by Julian Barnes

It’s all that Annabel’s fault! She did a post last month on an Independent Bookshop Week event she attended and mentioned in passing (as well as showing a picture) the essays put out in the past by the IBW organsers to celebrate books and bookshops; and one of these was by Julian Barnes. You might have noticed that I’ve rediscovered Barnes’ writing recently, and rather marvellous it is too. And with a title like “A Life with Books”, this little essay sounded essential for me, especially as I’d loved Robert Macfarlane’s “The Gifts of Reading” so much. So of course I had to send off for it, didn’t I?? 😀

“A Life… ” is 27 pages of loveliness wherein Barnes looks back at the books he’s encountered over his reading life, meditates on them and discusses the necessity of the printed book; and I’m completely in accord with his views on the latter. He rather cleverly recognises that “Books will have to become more desirable: not luxury goods, but well-designed, attractive, making us want to pick them up, buy them, give them as presents, keep them, think about rereading them, and remember in later years that this was the edition in which we first encountered what lay inside.” Thinking of all the attractive editions being brought out by any number of publishers, particularly some of my favourite (often smaller) imprints, I think he’s definitely spot on.

I also found unexpected resonances in his discussions of the fate of bookshops. Like Barnes, I come from a time “when most towns of reasonable size had at least one large, long-established second-hand bookshop, often found within the shadow of the cathedral or city“. Barnes’ adventures as a rabid bookbuyer were entertaining and gave me attacks of nostalgia; however, all of us booklovers are aware of the declining number of bookshops on the streets. Barnes particularly focused on a city in which I used to work, Salisbury, which was riddled with bookshops in the early 1980s – bliss! One such was D.M. Beach of Salisbury, located in a wonderful old building on the corner of the High Street which must have cost a fortune in rent. It housed the most wonderful antiquarian books and was vaguely intimidating for an impoverished youngster. Barnes reflects sadly that “All those old, rambling, beautifully-sited shops have gone” and Beach’s is no exception – it closed in 1999.

Barnes is always an excellent writer, and this elegant little essay ended up being an affecting paean for books, bookshops and what they can do for our lives. Fortunately paper books seem to be fighting back, with a wonderful array of lovely publications from imprints who are passionate about them appearing left, right and centre. Bookshops are having a harder time, and I personally live in a biggish town with only a Waterstones – so I do try to support that so we can at least have a bookish presence on the High Street. Anyway, I’m so glad that Annabel’s post nudged me into tracking down a copy of this; I may even have a collection of Barnes’ essays somewhere and on the strength of this one, it will be well worth reading! 😀

Penguin Moderns 25 and 26 – Left-field and kind of weird….

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It’s a little disconcerting how the Penguin Moderns pairs that I pull out to read often seem to fall quite naturally together. The last two, 23 and 24, were inspiration women authors; however 25 and 26 go off in a very different direction, with a duo of dudes who most definitely want to push the envelope!

Penguin Modern 25 – The Finger by William S. Burroughs

Burroughs is something of a notorious figure (or at least, he was, back when I was reading him in the 1980s!). Connected to the Beat movement by his friendship with Kerouac, Ginsberg et al, his writing is individual, often shocking and frequently labelled obscene because of its treatment of sex and drugs. Yet it’s also often very, very funny; and although things like “Naked Lunch” can be considered difficult to read, he’s also capable of much more straightforward narratives. This Penguin Modern gathers six short pieces, drawn from a collection called “Interzone” and they’re readable, entertaining, often funny and sometimes moving.

Burroughs in 1983 – Chuck Patch [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

So The Finger is a skewed tale of a deliberate amputation; The Junky’s Christmas a wistful and wishful-thinking fantasy; Lee and the Boys a vignette of life in Tangiers; In the Cafe Central captures the hidden truth beneath surface level impressions; and Dream of the Penal Colony is just that, a surreal imagining of imprisonment. The story that perhaps affected me most, though, was Driving Lesson; all of the stories in effect draw on Burroughs’ life featuring his alter ego Lee (autofiction again, anyone??), but this seemed rooted in his youth in St. Louis, scion of a rich family who couldn’t understand him, and there was an underlying sense of melancholy which touched me.

It was three o’clock in the morning. Not a car on the street, not a sound. A pocket of immobile silence… Jack’s face was blank, oblivious, the beautiful mouth a little open. Bill lit a cigarette from the dashboard lighter, muttering a denunciation of car lighters and car clocks. A piece of burning tobacco fell on his thigh, and he brushed away it away petulantly. He looked at Jack’s face and put the cigarettes away. The car had moved into a dream beyond contact with the lives, forces and objects of the city. They were alone, safe, floating in the summer night, moon spinning around the world. The dashboard shone like a fireplace, lighting the two young faces: one weak and beautiful, with a beauty that would show every day that much older; the other thin, intense, reflecting unmistakably the qualities loosely covered by the word ‘intellectual,’ at the same time with the look of a tormented, trapped animal. The speedometer crept up… 50… 60…

I haven’t read Burroughs in decades, though I do still have his books on my shelves. However, having read this, as well as Andrew Lees’ excellent “Mentored by a Madman“, I do find myself drawn back to his work. Perhaps a re-read is in order…

Penguin Modern 26 – The End by Samuel Beckett

In contrast, Beckett (an equally controversial author) is someone I’ve never read; the closest I’ve come is the old Open University version of “Waiting for Godot” featuring Leo McKern and Max Wall which used to turn up in the wee small hours of BBC2 decades ago. I found “Godot” intriguing, so why I’ve never explored Beckett’s writing is unclear… 😀

Samuel Beckett – Roger Pic [Public domain] – via Wikimedia Commons

Anyways, as they say, this Penguin Modern contains two stories by the great man, The End and The Calmative. Both were written in French and published in 1954; in 1967 they were translated into English, The Calmative by Beckett himself and The End by Richard Seaver in association with Beckett. And a strange little pair of fictions they are. Both are narrated by vagabonds; are they alive, are they dead, are the ill, do they really exist? Nothing is clear with Beckett, which is be expected I suppose, if “Godot” is anything to go by. The narrators wander; look for shelter; decay; beg; scrape together food occasionally; and ponder on the apparent reality around them. I’m not sure what to actually make of these stories – I guess I need to read a bit more of Beckett to get a handle on him – but they were unusual, entertaining, often bleakly funny and quite unsettling. Which is no doubt what the author intended… 😀

******

So what an unusual and thought-provoking pair of Penguin Moderns this was. I enjoyed re-encountering Burroughs and found myself intrigued by Beckett. The pair of Bs turned out to be bleak, black and often affecting. Yay for the Penguin Moderns for taking me to authors I wouldn’t necessarily seek out myself! 😀

Exploring modern Japanese literature with the Red Circle Minis @shinynewbooks @TeamRedCircle

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You might recall that amongst the images of piles of books I shared recently on the Ramblings, there was one featuring three attractive and slim volumes of Japanese literature. These are the Red Circle Minis, and they’re the result of a fascinating new initiative from Red Circle Authors. The latter is a venture which refuses to be categorised – website, publisher, agent, promoter, general cheerleader for Japanese writing; all of these could be used to describe Red Circle!

The Red Circle Minis

Co-founded by Richard Nathan and Koji Chikatan, Red Circle Authors has an impressive website with all manner of resources for anyone wanting to explore Japanese literature. The Minis are the first three editions in a planned series – bite-sized, beautifully produced pieces of fiction ideal for a quick literary fix. The range of subject matter covered is already wide, taking in AI issues, the psychology of searching for missing children and the curse of TV celebrity.

I’ve written more extensively about the Red Circle venture for Shiny New Books here; and I cover the first three Minis in more detail here. The Red Circle Minis were a joy and delight to read, so do have a look at my Shiny New Books pieces and check out Red Circle – I’m very much looking forward to seeing what titles appear next! 😀

Images of beauty and decay #mishima @classicpenguins #Japan

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The Frolic of the Beasts by Yukio Mishima
Translated by Andrew Clare

You might recall me getting a teeny bit over-exited on the Ramblings a while back, when I discovered that some newly-translated Mishima was about to make its debut in pretty Penguin editions. He’s an author I have a history with; as I’ve mentioned before, I went through a serious Japanese lit phase pre blog, and Mishima was something of an obsession. So naturally I picked up the Penguin Modern “Star” and the Modern Classic “The Frolic of the Beasts” as soon as they came out; but I’m having to hold back on the former as I’m reading the Moderns sequentially and it seems wrong to jump ahead… However, “Frolic…” has been sitting there on the shelf looking quizzically at me since it arrived, and as I was in Japanese literature mode recently after reading the Red Circle Minis (more of which later), the time was right for frolicking with Yukio… ;D

With a memory as rubbish as mine, and no proper record of what I read when, I’m going to be hard-pressed to say how this compares to the author’s other works. “Frolic…” is from 1961, so later-period Mishima; his first published novel was 1948, although he wrote short works before that; and he died in 1970. So by the time of “Frolic…” Mishima was an established author, and here he’s definitely at the height of his powers.

“The Frolic of the Beasts” concerns, of course, love and human relations. There are three main protagonists: Koji, a young student madly in love with the older Yuko. She, in turn, is married to the even older Ippei, a literary critic and libertine. The triangle created by these three troubled humans is a complex one, and as the book opens we see the three frozen in time, having their photograph taken by a harbour. There are references to past incidents, and hints of those to come, while Mishima nails his characters to this precise point in their history. It is no secret by the end of that opening that some of the characters are now dead; what follows is a masterly piece of storytelling as the author gradually and beautifully reveals the events which led up to that point.

She folded her parasol, asking the question in her typically sensuous voice, which conjured up the image of a small, stifling room filled with fetid flowers.

We find that Koji has recently returned from a spell in prison, and the reason for this makes his acceptance back into the family of Yuko even more unusual. There was in the past infidelity all round – Ippei had regular mistresses and Yuko had Koji; however, that was not enough for Yuko, and the complex powerplay between her and her husband brought about the first act of violence in the book, for which Koji paid the price. His return to Ippei and Yuko, now living by the coast where Yuko manages a plant nursery, brings tensions to the surface once more. The behaviour of this trio is mirrored by three young people in the town, Kimi and two young men who view for her favours. Kimi is the daughter of Teijiro, who tends the nursery, yet avoids him when she visits the town; here, too, there is baggage. The story unfolds with an inevitability, particularly since we have an inkling of what will happen; and, as the quote on the blurb says, we watch “the three of them – three fish caught in a net of sin“, yet unable to escape.

I’ve deliberately kept my description of events vague, because watching Mishima unfold his tale is mesmerising and too many details would spoil that. As I said, by the time he wrote this book, Mishima was an author totally in control of his characters and story, and the book is quite breathtaking. When I read his “Acts of Worship” for the #1965club I was blown away by his portrayal of the complexities of relationships, and his nuanced rendering here is just as striking. He captures Yuko’s fickleness, cause of so many problems; Koji’s immaturity and obsession with Yuko; Ippei’s arrogance and need to control. And he can completely throw you off balance, as when he drops into the narrative unexpectedly a shocking, almost casual revelation by Kimi’s father.

Koji dreamed of the worlds infiltrated by his dispersed flowers and leaves. He imagined a society of dazzling immensity and grotesque pitch-dark complication where these flowers and leaves hung, as if they were little ribbons secured here and there over its body. The flowers were mere caricatures there. These flowers and leaves would scatter and infiltrate shrewdly, like germs, a variety of entirely useless places in society for the purposes of practical sentimentalism, hypocrisy, peace and order, vanity, death, disease…

But above and beyond his narrative skills, what struck me strongly was his incredibly beautiful prose; it’s marvellously evocative of place, so much so that the setting becomes tangible as you read. The small fishing port of Iro, where much of the book takes place, is vivid and alive; and Mishima’s sense of, and sympathy with, the natural world is powerful and intoxicating.

Via Wikimedia Commons – see here for attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukio_Mishima_01.jpg

Mishima’s characters are not necessarily particularly *nice* people; they’re flawed and damaged, and yet I felt sympathy for them as I read. The author seems to basically see humanity as being controlled by animal passions; hence, presumably, the title of the book. The narrative is laden with imagery: of death and decay, of beauty and corruption; and the moral corruption of Mishima’s characters is mirrored in much of the natural world which juxtaposes that beauty with squalor.

I’ve left it a little while before writing about this book, because it was a powerful read and I wanted to let it settle a bit before marshalling my thoughts. “Frolic…” is most definitely a book which stays with you; not only for its compelling and ultimately tragic storyline, but also because of the stunning writing and the images left in the mind after finishing it. I’ve no idea why this book hasn’t been translated into English before, because I thought it was outstanding. Maybe it’s regarded as minor Mishima compared with his more famous works; but for the writing alone it deserves its place in his canon, and frankly if there are any more untranslated Mishimas out there to come my way in the near future, I shall be a very happy woman!

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