Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

White writing

It’s been a while since my last post–events (principally the passing of a close grandparent) have distracted me from my duty to the blogosphere. The break makes you realize one clear connection between a blog and its pre-digital antecedent, the diary. In both cases, gaps in the entries often actually suggest heightened activity rather than a lull or an absence of anything to say. Sheer busyness might mean there’s simply not time to write or emotions might still be too raw to be recorded. Life goes on despite the blank pages.This seems to counter the French writer Henry de Montherlant‘s famous, and rather smug, dictum that “Happiness writes white.” But it seems to me that few, except the preternaturally gifted, can write creatively when upset, anxious, or merely distracted. This impression seems to lie behind the phoniness I sometimes detect in fictions that employ a diary or epistolary form. For how many people race to their diaries to record an accident or trauma? Yet sentences along the lines of “My hands are still shaking as I transcribe the events I have just witnessed” seem to open too many letters in novels. Perhaps the most famous epistolary novel (and the longest in English) is Samuel Richardson‘s Clarissa. At least Richardson recognizes that sometimes the pen cannot or will refuse to capture the holder’s experience. Since the novel was published more than 250 years ago there’s been an ongoing debate (at least among those paid to query such matters) about whether the heroine Clarissa was actually raped by the caddish Lovelace. The very idea of rape is so abhorrent to Clarissa that she, through her letters, cannot bring herself to describe what actually happened between her and Lovelace. Sometimes, contre Montherlant, misery can only write white. Happiness is in very short supply in the book I’ve been reading over the past week or so (yes, I know, I’ve somehow found the time to read–put it down to the consolations of art): Gerard Woodward extraordinary “I’ll Go to Bed at Noon.” It’s difficult to give an idea of the tone of this book, which chronicles the disastrous alcoholic lives of the Jones family and its circle in 1970s London, but two incidents might give a flavour of Woodward’s barmy brilliance. When his cat Scipio dies, Janus, the demonic drunken son of Colette and Aldous–as another critic has pointed out, many of the names seem inspired by Iris Murdoch–delivers an elaborate eulogy to his dead tabby, tracing the cat’s esteemed lineage before finishing with a quote from Schiller’s Ode to Joy. Later on, Janus who works as a night porter in a hospital, brings home a brain wrapped in a tabloid newspaper and asks his mother to study it. Strange, disturbing, and frequently hilarious, Woodward’s novel is among the best five new works of fiction I’ve read this year.