Writing Britain – the creme da le creme!

I was very fortunate to get my ticket on the last week it was being shown at the British Library – it’s one of those things that I would get round to buying if I had enough time, and impulsively picked a day and went straight to Euston Square.

The exhibition showcases so many writing displays in different formats – from manuscripts to video clips and voice recordings of writers past and present. What’s amazing about these manuscripts is that you get a more personal feel that is rarely since well… the printing press. If only I’d studied graphology – seeing how personality has often been analysed through writing. You can normally hear volumes how writers select their words (through our eyes of course – not going Barthes on you guys yet) but when you see what they’ve chosen over certain other words that they may have scribbled in the corners, or even grammatical errors that they’ve created, some the same as me – it creates a bond between you and the writer to see art in that raw unedited form. I couldn’tΒ suppressΒ a gasp when I was reading Blake’s manuscript of London to find a rough version of Tyger Tyger in the corner (I know, gasping in a library! I live dangerously).

Separated into all sorts of sections – the city, the seaside, the country and the wilderness – all these concepts where British Literature has flourished with peppered each corner, even with recordings and manuscripts of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath side by side. This was also punctuated with photographs and video montages, making the whole sensory feast complete. All the big guns are shown, from Chaucer to Dickens to Woolf to Robert Louis Stephenson to Kurieshi to Lewis Carroll to Shakespeare to the Romantic poets and Ballard as just a few examples. Can’t wait to see what else the British Library has to offer this year!

Review of Hyperion

Now when I first heard this title mentioned, I thought “Hmmmm, very familiar”, and for those who’ve studied Romantic poetry before, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, this reference to Keats is but in a long weft of literature references that have been beautifully woven into the narrative fabric, but seeing as the Keats character is an artificial reincarnation who does get some action, I can assume that he is the victor by far.

As Science Fiction writers, like say Asimov, often focus more on the atmosphere and plot rather than character, we see a U-turn. The different angles and characters of this the frame narrative, which most famously features in the Canterbury Tales, depict the different back stories of a motley bunch on their “pilgrimage” to the Time Tombs and the mysterious killing machines of the Shrike, whose fuzzy at best image will come into focus throughout the Cantos. Who said that a Science Fiction novel can’t contain character? Dan Simmons occupies the mind and soul of a drunken poet, a detective, a soldier, a priest, a scholar and detective to fill us in on the background as they travel in a very slow moving starship. In fact, the mix of personalities and characters united in their quest is somewhat redolent of the Final Fantasy series or Chrono Trigger – Square with amazing substance that just blows you away. Simmons’ style is so poetic yet so laidback and comfortable a read that you often find yourself re-reading to make sure you haven’t missed a trick. You may associate poetic with the art of restraint and holding back, but the sensual and violent images portrayed by Simmons just crackle and spit with raw energy. No matter where you are when reading it, it’s hard to come back into reality for quite a while.

We switch between perspectives until the carpet is yanked under your feet so to speak and we arrive back into the group’s perspective Β and the characters we have just grown up alongside and our attitudes towards them warp like a kaleidoscope. It has a lovely open-ended way of concluding the first chapter, which is perfect for me as I hate conclusive endings, weirdly enough!

My reading history usually contains 2 piles – one where you chip away at a book’s armour, a war of attrition in which you have to take stock and return, only to find yourself completely lost and the ones where you commit to the long haul, finishing it in one go until your mind becomes so saturated with the world that you can’t think straight. It feels like your mind has been punctured, spilling out entrails of thought on the pavement. Passers by will think you insane or drunk. Yes, this book made me inebriated with ideas. Be careful what you do before or after reading!