Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Queen of the Prisons of Greece - Osman Lins

Let me start this with a warning: This book is one of the toughest read I have ever had. Extremely complex and demanding.

Osman Lins is a prolific writer from Brazil and this is his last fiction completed an year or so before his death of cancer. He was relatively young ( 54 yrs) when died and was recipient of numerous literary awards in his short career in fiction.

In this book, the narrator, examines the unpublished novel of his deceased girlfriend , died in an accident. Was his intention to know her better, or to know their love and relationship better or to know himself better ? However, written as the entries in his diary ( with dates) he takes the reader (and himself) through the pages of the manuscript while discussing literature, critics, art , social commentary, history of Brazil and various other topics.

Maria , the main character of the fiction being discussed, is fighting with the social welfare system of Brazil to get her eligible benefit. As usual, she has been sent across various functionaries for want of multiple documents and proof. She was treated briefly in a mental asylum and we realise that the story of his girlfriend is no different from the character. At many point of time, the narrator, the writer ( his girlfriend) and the character of the novel Maria all intermixed. The division between the narrator,writer and character diminishes. At the end of the reading, you are still left with such a confusion and ambiguity, and not sure who is in the disturbed state of mind ? Is it the narrator, the writer whose unpublished novel the narrator is describing, or the character in the novel Maria. And may be that was the intention by the author. The last chapter was one of the most "unnerving" one I have seen. As the narrator himself declares he doesn't understand anything anymore.

However, this book has some of the best discussion I have seen about the art of writing, the role of narrator in a fiction , critics, the readers and the book itself. They are outstanding and will give us some insight, though adding more complication to the fiction.

Here are some important points, I noted:

The comparison between novel and reader in our times, however, is not limited to a matter of age. The contemporary reader and that of old days are different. The reader ready to evoke what he has read, seduced by processes the sum of which have resulted in a sort of magic he wasn't aware of, has been replaced by suspicious, rebellious reader, not in the least naive, who seems to be saying, when asked: "I don't remember and I don't want to remember"

The new relationship between novelist and reader emerges clearly in the elusive entity to which the narration is entrusted. The story obliterated the text..

Narrative is a verbal event, and therefore it requires an agent to enunciate it; the role of the narrator, enigmatic being, is mysterious and diverse; contemporary fiction has been eliminating the interdictions that hindered its mediator and attempted, in their rigorousness, to impose the laws of the physical world, unchanged, upon the universe of the novel.

This time has come many times for me, and the novels I have read open their sealed doors to some hidden corner of my soul. As for others, they remain inviolable and I contemplate them from the outside, half frightened, half ignorant.

What's the use of a book's synopsis ? A superficial practice, its spreads and resurrects the common idea according to which the story is the novel, not one of its aspects, among those that illustrate the art of narrating the least. Imagining desires, mishaps, reversals of fortune, capitulations, death or triumph, pertains to invention in its raw state. The novelist is born by the act of arranging these events and elaborating a language that could either reflect them or simply make use of them to exist.

I'm not , however, a respectable critic, I don't even aspire to being a critic, and, as far as respectibility goes - so often an industrial virtue, like endurance in engines or color fastness in fabrics- whoever said I possessed it? I'm a sensitive man and, from this point of view, out of step with my times, a sensitive and grieving man, simultaneously the bearer of his fascination for a text and of his love for the one who created it

What I conceal in my eyes is fear. Fear of knowing how time passes.

I know and you knew that works of art are as unlimited as our grasp is limited. For this reason at seeks more lasting and,in some ways, indestructible incarnations than men: so that many minds, successively prodded by the work's never ending secrets, may accumulate decipherings. It's for this reason too, we preserve them: because we know that they try to speak to us, they try to speak to us, they try.

This book require multiple reading to make some sense. If I borrow the words from the book "work of art is unlimited and our grasp is limited".

The queen of the Prisons of Greece
Osman LinsTranslated by Adria Frizzi
Dalkey Archive Press

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