Sunday 14 April 2013

See Now Then

Finished April 12
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid, read by the author

This is one of the oddest books I've ever read. I'm having some difficulty describing it. Since this is the first book I have read by the author, I'm not sure whether this work is her usual style or a departure.
We have the characters Mr. Sweet, Mrs. Sweet, and their children: the young Hercules and Persephone. Mrs. Sweet loves her garden, her children, cooking and her husband. She has gained weight over the course of the marriage, and spends most of her time looking after her home and garden and knitting and mending. Mr. Sweet's life is his music, specifically music for the lyre. He has a retreat above the garage where he can remove himself from daily life and immerse himself in his interests. He hates his wife, and questions arise as to whether he ever loved her. He doesn't like his son either, but does like his daughter, trying to remove her from her mother's influence. Hercules is a boy interested in athletics and other physical endeavours. He plays with his toy soldiers, is somewhat embarrassed by his mother, and finds little in common with his father. Persephone is a character we only see from other viewpoints, never from her own, so she is peripheral in that sense.
This story is told in bits and pieces, not in a straightforward time narrative. The voice jumps around between three of the characters in third person, and sometimes a removed narrator. This is a story of things changing over time, of things staying the same over time, of now becoming then, of thinking of then now, of the future becoming now and then then. There is a lot of repetitiveness here, of the same words used over and over, sometimes right after each other, sometimes farther apart. Sometimes the same things is said over and over several times, either using the same words or paraphrased. To me this made the book about language and how it is used, the meaning of words, the sound of words, and the feelings that words engender.
There is also an element of fantastical here, especially with relation to body parts. With heads being removed and replaced, bodies bursting open and being sewn closed, body parts being thrown impossible distances, giving a surreal feeling to those parts of the story.
Having the author read the book herself made me pay attention to her inflections, her pauses, her lack of emotion in emotional scenes, and definitely added a great deal to the experience. However, this is also a book where I think I would have enjoyed the print version in a different way, moving back and forth over the book, taking more time over certain passages. I would see these two formats giving very different experiences of the book.
Definitely a book that would engender discussion.

1 comment:

  1. Jamaica Kincaid has a very interesting and strong writing voice. Annie John is one of her works that is a little more accessible. She does gorgeous things with language! How lovely to have heard her actual voice with her words.