Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Paris Review 187
While the mercury here in Melbourne reached a hard-to-breath 45 degrees, I was greeted by the latest edition of the Paris Review in my mailbox. Any day this publication reaches my hands is a perfect day, at least for a few hours, and yesterday was no different. A tall glass of homemade lemonade, a fan, the journal and I was was set to beat the heat.
For those not familiar with this publication, hop over to the website www.theparisreview.org to find out how to subscribe and treat yourself to a hearty meal of literature. Those of you short of funds (who isn't these days?) can spend hours sifting through the substantial archives, consisting of award-winning fiction, poetry and interviews.
With an Issue number of 187 (famous for being associated with homicide) who could expect what lay inside its covers to be normal?
The first short story was The Lover by Damon Galgut, a South African writer whose novel The Good Doctor was short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize. The Lover was the best crafted story I have read in a long time. It is a story where it could be argued nothing much happens, except it does. The main character, Damon, a perpetual traveller, travels through Africa crossing borders that lay inside himself as well as on a geographical map, as he puts it. Familiar themes of political unrest and racism are evident but take a backseat to a less didactic story of falling in love.
Without knowing Gulgat's personal history, he does leave you wondering if this story is one in a growing trend of autobiographical fiction, especially since the author and protagonist share the same first name. Those of you familiar with Nam Le's short story collection, The Boat, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize, will recall the story Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice. Or Helen Garner's latest novel The Spare Room. Who can argue with this trend when what is produced is intimate and moving and somewhat brave on the writer's behalf. Gulgut's writing is clear and concise, giving it a beautiful rhythm. Not one word seems superfluous.
Among poetry, the interview with Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, the Northern fishing photographs by Corey Arnold, and other fiction in this issue, was another gem. Document contained a series of letters written in verse from Ezra Pound to Marcella Spann, a young woman who visited Pound in St Elizabeth's Hospital for the insane. It also includes one of his unpublished poems.