Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Literary Corner


Sometimes Truth is Painful

Sebald
AJS writes: Of all the fiction published in the last fifty years I know personally of only three genuine masterpieces – works at the absolute summit of art. One is The Emigrants  by the German WG Sebald, killed all too young in a car crash in his adopted East Anglia. The second is Khatyn, by Ales Adamovich, a partisan on the Russian front in World War Two. If reading Sebald’s mesmerising and weirdly  rhythmical prose is akin to being hypnotised or drugged with curare,  reading the surprisingly avant-garde Khatyn is like being scourged with barbed wire, but then so was watching much Greek tragedy. Unfortunately the English translation remains a demeaning and comical disaster, despite my efforts to convince the Belarus ambassador  to sponsor a new one and put his country on the map. 
Adamovich
But now I have another, the Neapolitan Novel series in four fat volumes by Elena Ferrante, not much shorter than War and Peace - now showing as a kind of Downton Abbey-with-zakouski 'n' tits on worthless BBC screens somewhere near you.  
Ferrante has advantages that were denied to Tolstoy: she comes from the sprawling lunacy of Naples and not from the palazzi on the hilltops where Tolstoy might have been feted either,  but from the raw blood and dirt encrusted alleys of “the neighbourhood”, more violent, more deprived, more troubled, more horribly real,  than anything you’ve ever seen in the cinema: so her experience, and thus her knowledge,  of people is much  wider than Tolstoy’s, while her canvas is almost as broad.  And, of course – it lies at the heart of this remarkable book – she is a woman. To see both men and Italian society through her eyes is a deeply unsettling experience. No war, no battles? Oh yes there are, the battles that you and I fight all our lives. If you read fiction and have a strong stomach you should read Ferrante.
Ferrante? Who knows
Now for our more parochial concerns and The Affair.
In The Story of the Lost Child, volume four of the Neapolitan Novels, we read:
“Enzo listened to me at length, in silence, then, although I felt he had been angry with Lila for a long time, he began to make excuses for her. He didn’t speak about Rino, about the problems he caused his mother, but about [Lila’s young daughter who disappeared off the Naples streets] Tina. He said: If a being a few years old dies, she’s dead, it’s over, sooner or later you resign yourself. But if she disappears, if you no longer know anything about her, there’s not a thing that remains in her place, in your life. Will Tina never return or will she return? And when she returns, will she be alive or dead? Every moment – he murmured – you’re asking where she is. Is she a gypsy on the street? Is she at home with rich people who have no children? Are people making her do terrible things and selling the photographs and films? Did they cut her up and sell her heart for a high price so it could be transplanted to another child’s chest? Are the other pieces underground, or were they burned? Or is she under the ground intact, because she dies accidentally after she was abducted? And if earth and fire didn’t take her and she is growing up who knows where, what does she look like now, what will she become later, if we meet her on the street will we still recognise her? And if we recognise her who will give us back everything we lost of her, everything that happened when we weren’t there and little Tina felt abandoned?
          At a certain point, while Enzo spoke in his laborious but dense sentences, I saw his tears in the glow of the headlights, I knew he wasn’t talking only about Lila but was trying to express his own suffering as well…so life has dragged you along, he said,  and Tina, for you, is just an atrocious episode, thinking about it makes you sad, but it’s also, by now, a distant fact. For Lila, on the other hand, in all these years, the world collapsed as if it were hearsay, and slid into the void left by her daughter, like the rain that rushes down a drainpipe. She remains frozen at Tina, and feels bitter towards everything that continues to be alive, that grows and prospers. Of course, he said, she is strong, she treats me terribly, she gets angry with you, she says ugly things. But you don’t know how many times she has fainted just when she seemed tranquil, washing the dishes or staring out of the window at the stradone.
It is salutary to be reminded that if the McCanns are telling the truth about the disappearance – something which is just about possible – then this hell-on-earth is what Kate McCann might be experiencing every day of her life. But, between the ignorant and psychopathic attacks from the cesspit and the hysterical (MSM) or more or less illiterate (internet) counter-attacks from her grunting supporters, possible realities or possible suffering have long been lost sight of – as anyone who looks at the truly squalid shreds (I exempt Cristobel) that remain in both places can see for themselves.

Words, words, words!  

Not everyone is a poet like Ferrante, with words equal to such a colossal tragedy. But there is something strange, almost stunning, in the way that not a single person from the McCanns’ extended family has ever expressed themselves with convincing and moving words about their sufferings, indeed with anything other than vulgar banality. It’s not that, like a footballer being asked about his latest goal on Match of the Day, they lack the language or education to describe – Gel put in the cross and I stuck it in – for the family, at least on the father’s side, includes a number of people with known ability for self-expression; it’s not that Kate McCann is the suffering stoic of MSM yore, preferring to say nothing, as her book clearly proves. So why does everything they’ve ever said, except, possibly, the stumbling words of Patricia McCann in the Lisbon witness box,  absolutely shriek of soap-opera falsity?
 
Soap-opera cliché scripts are tired, banal, third rate because they are false, not fictional but false, speedy generations from a guide-book of plots and a guide-book of characters, none of which have ever existed. But isn’t that exactly how the McCanns, all of them, speak of the affair? It's not that the words of those beyond the inner family circle display a desire to deceive - far from it, except in cesspit world - it's the detectable inner uncertainty about what actually happened that, like the radio keystrokes of a spy, they can never disguise. The belief in the parents by their relatives is solidly genuine - but of belief that they’ve been told the full facts there is not the slightest trace.

More disturbingly, there is the gulf between the parents’ words about the disappearance and what they said in their libel writ. I have written before about the creepy inability of Kate McCann in Madeleine to, as it were, face her daughter when writing about events in Praia da Luz. Unlike in the earlier pages the child is nearly always described there at a remove, via memories or via photographs. 

Almost exactly the same process is at work in her public descriptions of the abduction and its aftermath: this time, instead of searching for a photograph as a distancing object, she invariably falls back on a lexicon of tabloid clichés rather than truly seeking words to describe what she felt at the time, a process which is red-flagged by another "radio key-stroke" betrayal – shifting from the words of first person experience to impersonal generalizations of what others say, slipping, for instance, into "the bounds of responsible parenting". Time and again - it is completely compulsive - she turns away and does this. It is not that she is incapable of telling the truth: it is that the closer she gets to the disappearance, the more she treats the truth like a vampire treats dawn. Why do you think that is? Have a look for yourself. 
 

Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle. She died young.” (The Duchess of Malfi)

These words, spoken by the killer Bolsoni in Webster’s play, are the definitive expression of guilt-ridden inability to look upon someone except at a remove and they are akin, perhaps, to a woman’s inability to blame her sufferings on something that never happened, as if doing so would be a sin against Madeleine’s memory. But in the libel writ, part of an attempt to destroy an adversary,  Kate McCann is freed from these horrific psychological tangles and launches her attack on the hapless Amaral in words that scream of intolerable, horrible and detailed suffering, that sound like Ferrante’s Tina, like the real Kate McCann, like both should sound and with with every justification, but that Catholic Kate McCann remains completely unable to express elsewhere  about the disappearance of her daughter. It is distancing, displacement, an evasion of what actually happened that night,  on the largest scale.

It wasn't the business of the Lisbon court to plumb these depths of analysis but neither defence lawyers nor judge could miss that something was weird or wrong, as the transcript demonstrates: why was she claiming that Amaral had harmed her more with his book than the prosecutors had when they made her arguida? Why did she blame Amaral  for  sufferings that had "destroyed her life", that had "plunged her into a black hole of despair" etc. etc. - with their inescapable inference that the abduction itself  hadn't done such harm, otherwise there would have been nothing left for Amaral to destroy, would there?  There is no way round it: if what she said in the writ and claimed to the court was true then the loss of her daughter had caused her less suffering than a Portuguese policeman's nasty book. So which is the truth?

Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle. She died young.

Anyway, remember Elena Ferrante.