I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Flipped through John Fowles's Mantissa

F is for Fowles.
Backlog from 2010's A to Z Challenge
My copy:
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0316290270
Read: April 1, 2010
195 pages

I pulled out this book from my TBB (To be Blogged) pile and stared at it perplexed, trying to retrieve from the faulty data base called my mind a memory of what this book is all about. So far removed is its story from my reality, that I did not connect enough with it to make it memorable.

But as I flipped through the pages trying to remember, I wondered to myself how I could have forgotten. This is the one of the strangest, most fantastic stories I've ever read. Not so much a story, but glimpses of the life of a writer -- the secret life of a frustrated, sick, maybe starving, maybe even sex-starved writer. And his muse.

A muse who is not your typical luminous feminine figure floating just above your head, dressed in a diaphanous Grecian gown demurely whispering prose suggestions, coaxing you out of writer's block.

No, this is a muse who barges into a room wearing a skimpy nurse's uniform ready for sexual cosplay, flirts, cockteases, insults, and fights. A muse who gets jealous. A muse who complains about being used, abused, and taken for granted. In her words:

"Her voice rises. Never a thought for her as a person, only for what can be got out of her. Never a moment's consideration for her emotions. Never enough imagination to realize that she may be secretly dying for a little tenderness and sympathy, that she's also a woman and can't help it if certain combinations of circumstance and mood do make her need the services of a male body in an entirely natural female way..."

The story is narrated by Miles Green, an author whose relationship with her muse can be described in present day phraseology as, "it's complicated." His muse, aside from being his muse, is also his lover, his sex slave, his doctor, his tormentor, his conscience, and many other things. My own memory is foggy as I blog about the book 2 months away from the anniversary of reading it, so I'll let Amazon summarize it for me:

"Most of the book is dialogue between Miles and Erato as he alternately romances and berates his muse, the essence of his creativity, and is repaid in kind. It's an animated metaphor for the process of writing, and many times the characters seem to know they are merely characters in a book. It begins in a hospital where Miles has just recovered, having lost his memory through some accident, but that scenario quickly ends as Erato takes on numerous personalities and attitudes in her interaction with Miles."

John Fowles writes with copious wit, intelligence, and sardonic humor. He seems like the kind of person you'd like to invite to dinner, and every minute will be filled with fascinating, clever banter. You don't get all his jokes, but you know they're funny.

It's not the kind of book you read while waiting for your turn in the bank. Not unless it's okay for you to endure the stares of people as you snicker, or even laugh out loud. The repartee between author and muse is extremely entertaining.

The downside is that there is a minimum IQ requirement for reading this book described by the front cover blurb as, "clever and wickedly funny." And mine falls slightly below the quota. There were spots where the literary allusions were all lost to me. But still, I did enjoy the read even though half of the time, I wasn't sure what he and his muse were talking about.

The book starts with this killer of a first sentence:

"It was conscious of a luminous and infinite haze, as if it were floating, godlike, alpha and omega, over a sea of vapor and looking down then less happily after an interval of obscure duration, or murmured sounds and peripheral shadows, which reduced the impression of boundless space and empire to something much more contracted and unaccommodating."And I knew right away, this book would require my complete attention and the use of more brain cells I'm used to using.

And though this is fiction so fantabulous, and the story supposedly happens only inside the narrator's schizophrenic head, I wonder how much of this is autobiographical. For how else could Fowles have come up with such wicked imaginings if he didn't enjoy the same kind of ever so slightly demented relationship with his own muse?

I highly recommend this book to writers. Though I said this story is so far removed from mine, I can relate to the frustration of writer's block so bad you go a bit crazy. At the very least, you'll be immensely entertained, albeit slightly disturbed or disgusted depending on your ability to handle prurience.

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