Friday, January 23, 2015

"If I never do anything else, I will have done this."

I am currently reading Marly Youmans' 2014 novel Glimmerglass, a hard shining tale of art and wonder, about how life is art and wonder, how art and wonder are life, how wonder and life are art. I am trying to think of what it reminds me of, and the best I can do right now is sort of mid-period A.S. Byatt crossed with H.D. Thoreau under the tutelage of Lewis Carroll. The prose is vibrant and imaginative, the images of nature rubbing against and through fantastic and magical symbols, and I keep expecting the protagonist, Cynthia, to fall through a hedge into a world of talking, tea-drinking, cigarette-smoking animals (Youmans' hero notices similarities between the denizens of Cooper Patent and characters from children's literature like The Wind and the Willows).
"A long time has passed since my life seemed like a story tinged with mystery, worth the reading," she said slowly, "and I rather marvel that it can feel that way again."
Youmans has written a magic book, is what I keep thinking as I read. Not a book about magic, but a book full of magic, made of magic. A lot of modern literature is about the existential problem and focuses with a serious mind on the pain of existence; Youmans focuses with a serious mind on the joy of existence, without sentiment and treacle.
"My muse," [says Cynthia] "He's not merciful. And is as ruthless as an angel. He's demanding. He doesn't care if I'm cut or lamed or shaking, and he makes me race to keep up. But in the end, he saves me."
I'm only halfway through the book, and I assume there are more thematic threads to be woven into more ideas. Certainly the first half of the narrative overflows with symbolism and what might be foreshadowing. The world of the book is peopled with trolls, angels, saints possessed by demons (maybe), and who knows what else. (I refer to Youmans' literary conceit of presenting her characters as mythic figures while simultaneously presenting them as mudbound humans; the story threatens, as I've said, to tumble backwards through the landscape into myth; it's unstable and hallucinatory, but not in a C.S. Lewis "there is a hidden world accessible through my closet" kind of way. Youmans is doing something new: her world is both mundane and miraculous.) But onward, where I'll see what I see when I see it, I guess.

12 comments:

  1. You see and write about my work in a way that no one else does, and that makes me glad. An editor friend read the post and wrote me a note to say, "This is wonderful." Thank you.

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    1. I'll take that to mean I'm not too seriously misreading your novel, which makes me glad.

      Cynthia has just found the key. I'm so curious to see if there's a minotaur inside the labyrinth/tomb/heart of the earth.

      Maybe when I've finished reading Glimmerglass, I'll write something about doors, gateways and mazes. Locks and keys, hidden treasures, that sort of thing. There's so much going on in the book.

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    2. Somebody just left me a note that you are "so spot-on." I think so too.

      Hope your curiosity was satisfied!

      Knowing you, that "something" could only be illuminating...

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  2. Beautifully conjured, D. G. Myers. I doff my cap!

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  3. Wonderful reflections on the book, and a storyline that contains whimsical childhood connections and touches of fantasy! Art & poetry combine in the unique words inside it. Wonderful tags here.
    J. E. Cook

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  4. My apologies, Scott. I got it wrong. So I shall try again:

    Beautifully conjured, Scott Bailey. I doff my cap!

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    1. And I might say, beautifully illustrated, Clive! I love the chapter head images. It's as if the entire novel is built from the stone facade of Sea House.

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    2. Thank you, Scott, Glad that you got it. Maly's novel is so dense with ideas that it's a gift to the decorator.

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  5. Magic--yes---and serious meditations on the making of art, and on life, wonder, joy, and human selfishness.Yes! I read "Glimmerglass" when it first came out (in September?), and on first reading, kept saying to myself, Whoa! Does it really SAY that?? The rear of the “Georgian heap” subsides into the hillside? Needles keep falling out of her--- ??? And when I finished the book, my first response was to go back through and re-read passages and whole chapters that elicited that kind of surprise. Now your review, D.G. Myers, makes me want to go back and reread the whole book again, starting from scratch. Good job!

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  6. Oops--I see--Scott Bailey, YOU wrote this review, not Mr. Myers. I looked to see who the reviewer was and couldn't find it--or the blogger's name. So I thunk Clive knew!

    Sorry!

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  7. How amusing that my own name was nowhere on the main page of my blog! I never even noticed.

    Marly's book is quite beautiful and rich; I hope it finds a lot of readers. My post fails to do it proper justice.

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  8. I haven't gotten very far into Glimmerglass (one-third?) -- too many demands upon my time because of too many personal and professional reasons -- but I could not have said it all better. Your words are brilliant reflections of an exquisitely polished gem. You have done proper justice, good sir. Well done!

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