Month: July 2013

Let’s Discuss — On the Beach by Nevil Shute

 “It’s going to go on spreading down here, southwards, till it gets to us?”

 “That’s what they say.” 

[…] 

“Can’t anything be done to stop it?” 

He shook his head. “Not a thing. It’s the winds. It’s mighty difficult to dodge what’s carried on the wind. You just can’t do it. You’ve got to take what’s coming to you, and make the best of it.” (39)

It’s the end of world.

But the end is not instant. It’s gradual…yet still relatively quick—between six to nine months.

So what do you do? Maybe it depends on your job, your family, your faith…your view of death.

Maybe it depends on how you go out…let’s say radioactive poisoning?

Yeah, that’s it. Radioactive poisoning carried by the winds to your neighborhoods, to your doorstep, through the cracks of your window screens, in the water you drink and in the air you breathe while you sleep.

That’s how you’ll get. And there isn’t a thing you can do about it…Or is there?

“Nausea,” the chemist said. “That’s the first symptom. Then vomiting, and diarrhea. Bloody stools.  All the symptoms increase in intensity…Finally death occurs from sheer exhaustion.” He paused. “In the very end, infection or leukemia may be the actual cause of death. The blood-forming tissues are destroyed, you see, by the loss of body salts in the fluids. It might go one way or the other.” (150)

Radioactive poisoning.  It’s the end of the world.

Will you choose a decent death?

On the Beach is a realistically fictionalized post apocalyptic account of how men live out the remainder of their lives. It essentially asks, if this were to happen (a third world war initiated and ended by the atom bomb) then how would go out? Not if you go out, but how. How would you like to go out?

What I love about this book is despite the scenario, the potential to be a melodramatic undertaking, it’s a non-dramatic, thought-provoking story.

War mongering countries in the northern hemisphere exacerbated tensions between what were Russia and China of the future. The two countries were competing to be top-tier first-world countries, but they each had something the other needed. Russia needed China’s ports, specifically Shanghai, which would serve a geopolitical advantage. And China needed Russia’s land because its overpopulation was problematic for future development. China had no allies except Russia, so Russia was free to act against them, and so began nuclear warfare. A warfare where there was no “winner.” It was not a viable action , and it only led to more reactions. The end result was the decimation of the entire northern hemisphere, via impact of bombs or poisoning of the population. The only remaining survivors are those south of the equator, but even they will pass on eventually. Wind cannot be stopped.

However, winds carrying the poison will reach Australia and the South Pacific last.  And this is where readers will follow the last weeks of the survivors. American, Dwight Towers,  and Australians; Moira Davidson, and Peter and Mary Holmes are the central characters. It’s interesting to see how they cope with their fate. What’s remarkable is how unremarkable they live out the last months. They re-purpose things that soon won’t serve any purpose or engage in busy work. For example, Mary Holmes is obsessed with gardening. She plants seeds and imagines blossoms she will never see, harvests she will never reap. Just cultivating her own garden….it reminds me of the ending of Voltaire’s Candide. Sometimes there is talk of who’s to blame for all that happened, or questions about legacy: how do we tell the history of what led up to the end? which books do we seal away in the tallest mountain? how do we preserve our small piece of civilization? But all these questions are superseded by a bigger one:

What’s the point?

When the end draws near they all make the important decision. Readers will decide if death was decent.

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Let’s Discuss — The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anthony Patch with no record of achievement, without courage, without strength to be satisfied with truth when it was given him. Oh, he was a pretentious fool, making careers out of cocktails and meanwhile regretting, weakly and secretly, the collapse of an insufficient and wretched idealism (Location 593)

As a whole, I didn’t really care for The Beautiful and Damned, but there were some good parts. Primarily Anthony’s philosophical and sometimes poetic musings, many of which I didn’t always agree with. Fitzgerald consistently underlines the concept of a generation with displaced senses of entitlement and lack of direction.

Although Anthony Patch is basically a waste, he’s not totally unlikeable. He experiences bouts of depression, insecurity, nervousness, etc.  And then he meets Gloria Gilbert…Gloria is the quintessence of beauty and a society girl. If she’s “ugly” in any way, it’s her excessive selfishness and over-the-top vanity. In fact, Fitzgerald is heavy-handed with the theme of beauty. You’ll read this at the beginning of the novel:

The Voice: Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying “Do this!” and “Do that!” and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women…

Beauty: But this can’t be true! I can understand of course, their obedience to women of charm—but to fat women? To bony women? To women with scrawny cheeks? (Location 298)

Together Anthony and Gloria are almost always in a state of inebriation. Drunk off their egos and too proud to admit their faults. They’re that really annoying couple who argue all the time but never break up. They enable each other’s bad habits and pretend all is well in front of their friends. It gets to a point where it only makes sense they would marry.

They go on blowing money they don’t have, throwing parties, refusing to do anything to earn a living. And all this happens in anticipation of the death of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, a very rich man whose name carries weight in high society. There is a point in the novel where Anthony joins the military and is separated from Gloria for a time. The military experience seems to purge him of the idle poison…for a little while anyways. But eventually Anthony and Gloria reconnect and settle back into their old ways. And because of their silliness and laziness, they lose the weak identities they’ve established for themselves while waiting for the inheritance money. Although I would also argue they never had a true identity, just an ideal and beauty. Fittingly they aren’t left a dime in the will.

I guess the moral of the story is: find something to do, even when it seems like there’s nothing to do because there’s always something to do, and you’ll be a better person for doing it.

Especially since the alternative is getting piss drunk every day, having no money and arguing with your spouse all the time…yeah that sounds about right.

Let’s Discuss — The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

I was white. White in a country where this was to be implicated, complicated, and, whatever way I tried to square it, guilty. Genocide. Slavery. Indenture. Colonialism — big words which were linked to crimes so hideous no manner of punishment was adequate (355)

Roffey weaves the personal story of George and Sabine Hardwood with the historical and political story of Trinidad. Readers are introduced to two individuals in a loveless marriage, which according to Sabine is largely the fault of her husband, George. From the moment the couple arrives in Trinidad, George falls in love with the island; enjoying the ideal, the picturesque, the exotic women, and a potential legacy he could never establish in the United Kingdom. Sabine, on the other hand, can’t stand the island. She wanted to leave before she had even arrived. She realizes she can never compete with a beautiful island which offers more to her husband than she ever could.  For a while, Sabine is in denial about the reality of her situation–that her fate and happiness are tied to someone else’s “ideas.”

The narrative is loaded with vivid, sensory descriptions of the island colloquial language and Trinidadian accents. The colorful atmosphere contrasts with the conflict happening on the island. There are two forms of conflict, that of Sabine and George’s drama, and the echoes of revolution in Trinidad. It’s almost as if their marital strife mirrors the socio-political strife on the island or vice versa. Sometimes the injustice, corruption and political uprisings in Trinidad become background noise to Sabine and George’s problems.

“Eric Williams will destroy this country.” Bonny’s eyes hardened.

“Oh really? He’s a well-educated man. He’s been to Oxford. He’s an historian. How many people here can claim that? Do you think there’s one person in this garden with a university degree?”

Bonny quivered, a snarl on her lips. “Williams is obsessed with slavery. It’s all about the past. He can’t let it drop. He should forget about it. It’s boring.” (249)

I may be alone on this one but George’s wrongdoings as a husband do not outweigh Sabine’s self-righteousness. Her apathy and borderline ignorance about colonial legacy and race relations is…irksome. Yes, George should catch some hell for his post colonial ideas and self-serving ambition, but at least he cares—he feels. At least he sees Trinidadians as individuals, as people.  Sabine is the worst kind of post colonialist person. Why?  Because she has no real intention of righting any wrongs (socio-political or personal) Maybe having friendships with her two maids is her way of righting the wrongs.

But there is something off about Sabine. She develops an intense, almost creepy obsession with Dr. Eric Williams, the leader of the PNM. Why would a white woman determined to leave Trinidad be interested in the country’s new revolutionary leader? Well, I have a couple of theories. One–it’s a tactic of self-preservation, or know-your-enemy. Eric Williams wants what she represents (colonial chains) out of the country. Understanding his motives helps define her own. My second theory might be a reach, but still a possibility– she’s having an emotional affair with Dr. Williams. I say emotional because her fear and physical repulsion of black men is too great for the affair to ever be physical. Sabine writes hundreds of unsent letters to Eric Williams complaining about her husband George and life in Trinidad. She compiles newspaper clippings of his speeches and appearances.  And she hides them away in her home office. Why? Because Dr. Eric Williams represents something she could never do, possess or act upon—the courage to lead her own revolution, to put her foot down in her marriage, to say enough is enough!

I don’t know why Sabine didn’t leave George.