Monday, June 26, 2006

Book 10: High Fidelity

By Nick Hornby

I must say, this was a brilliant find at The Word bookstore. I was looking for a light, undemanding read for my upcoming trip to Vietnam, and there it was, in perfect paperback condition, for only $6! Usually, due to my packrat tendencies to cherish things which give me pleasure, I hold on to books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, to revisit eloquent passages, to lend to others, to maybe even save for a future re-read.

So I was sadly reluctant to leave Hi Fi behind in Hanoi for my host, Seb, who expressed interest in reading it. How could I refuse someone who provided me free, comfortable lodging for a full week? Sigh. Besides, “High Fidelity” is the kind of poignantly funny book that’s meant to be shared, because it will frivolously enrich other people’s lives just as it frivolously enriched yours.

If you’ve seen the movie and read the book, you’ll see how the movie version is one of the best adaptations of a novel in cinematic history, despite the fact that the film producers had replaced the very English Crouch End setting with the very Americanized one of Chicago, Illinois. Reading the novel was a lot like watching the movie all over again, and more, because you get the itty bitty novelistic gems a movie normally glosses over, such as the brilliant term “snob obscurantist”. What’s more, by reading the novel, you get to experience the original droll British wit. By the same token, the movie did capture a good chunk of the book’s subtle, but all-important gemmy little details, and most significantly, it faithfully captured the novel’s humour, insight and spirit.

Anyway, we all know the premise of “High Fidelity”, so I won’t bother with a plot summary. What I will say is that what I most appreciate about Hornby’s novel are its sly jabs at people with bad, aka populist, taste. If you’ve ever been a bit of a snob about anything, esp. music, and have visited many a friend, or a friend of a friend’s home, you may have had many of the following experience:

"So I wander over to the shelf, and turn my head to one side and squint, and sure enough, it’s a disaster area, the sort of CD collection that is so poisonously awful that it should be put in a steel case and shipped off to some Third World waste dump. They’re all there: Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, Simply Red, the Beatles, of course, Mike Oldfield (Tubular Bells I and II), Meat Loaf … "

Brilliant, just fucking brilliant!

Book 9: The Story of the Eye (by Lord Auch)

By Georges Bataille (1928)
Translated by Joachim Neugroschel (1977)

Hopping from the populist genre fiction of Stephen King to a classic of transgressive pornographic literature by Surrealist bad-boy, Georges Bataille… what will Meezly read next?

I’ve been curious about this book since my university days (not because it’s Bjork’s fave book of all time and that everyone should read it. Eeesh.) and it’s exactly the kind of book a liberal arts student would be curious about. Ah, remember that time? when you were young and everything was new and cool and exciting, and you were constantly seeking out works of art and literature that’s shocking and bursts your sheltered middle-class bubble. I don’t actively seek this stuff out anymore, but I was nevertheless pleased to come across a cheap used copy at The Word bookshop.

Originally published in 1928, “The Story of the Eye” is still shockingly obscene today, and still strangely compelling notwithstanding. The no-holds-barred profane attacks against the Catholic Church are definitely the best thing about this book: the money shots, if you will. This short novella is basically about the depraved exploits of two lovers and soul-mates, a boy and a girl, who grow up to be sophisticated libertines.

Their misadventures finally result in death, which force them to flee their native France and seek refuge in Spain, where they hook up with a like-minded older benefactor. The exploits of this bizarre trio finally culminate in a (surprise) Catholic Church where they commit unimaginable atrocities against a very unlucky handsome young Spanish priest. Just when you think the level of depravity has reached its (civilized?) limit, Bataille lays it on even more! The two protagonist-lovers, Simone and the unnamed narrator, make Micky and Mallory look like kindergarten teachers.

I suppose what elevates this work from mere exploitative pap like Natural Born Killers … is the philosophy and passion behind it. You get a very clear idea as to what kind of people they are, and what drives them to commit these inconceivable offenses. Although the narration is stiff at times (could be the translation, and the fact that Batailles is not a great writer), the writing is still laughingly very French:

“I associate the moon with the vaginal blood of mothers, sisters, that is, the menstrua with their sickening stench …”

Mm hmm, right, dude.