Thursday, January 24, 2008

a handful of murmurs

The other day I mentioned how hard it is to resist the lure of the newest books on my to-be-read shelf. There are exceptions to this rule. Those books that I let gather a welcome coating of dust, because I don’t want to read them too soon, to savour the pleasure of looking forward to them.

The Haiku Year is such a book. A personal pledge between seven friends that made it into the public sphere. I waited about 5 years after its publication before I bought a copy, and as long again before I read it. But I began it early this year, and it’s proved to be well worth the wait.

Every new year I make a repeated resolution to read more poetry. Deep down I feel sure it will open my eyes wider to the world around me and in turn enrich my own writing. The introduction of this book makes a similar call to arms. It also gently disclaims -

‘We never intended for these to be published, they were just little gifts to one another across space.’

Haiku is about saying a lot in a few words. As such I don’t want to overburden the little green book with a wordy review. Suffice instead to share a few of my personal highlights. And a little picture - there are many like this throughout the book - those little scraps, tickets, packets that we pass over mostly without noticing.

While I can’t necessarily relate to the circumstances of some of these haiku as many are strongly of their moment and place which is far from mine, I can relate to the desire to hold onto those moments as they pass, and to share them with select friends.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

the time machine

I claim to prefer contemporary novels. But perhaps I got more than I bargained for with Graffiti My Soul. In a settled but largely soulless Surrey town it tells the story of Veerapen and his friends, who resemble the kids from Black Swan Green grown up and a few years before they turn into the cast of Trainspotting.

‘Like fruit pickers, we’re seasonal. Summer is no good for our fun. We work better in the darkness of winter. One kid’s terrifying gloom is another kid’s safety net.’

Niven Govinden uses chapters of varying length and subtle shifts in time to build a picture of teenage life. We see Veerapen with his dad before his parents separation, supporting his mum through the lonely days that follow, we see him with various girlfriends, various male friends, with teachers and his running coach. The pieces fall both before and after the pivotal moment of the death of Moon Suzuki, the main object of his affection.

Govinden skilfully portrays both the inner and outer selves that Veerapen battles daily to unify. His struggle to settle into a singular version of himself was one of the most engaging and memorable elements of the novel. He makes a believable teenager - obsessed with girls, boys, sport, music and clothes - family bonds in the process of stretching but not quite breaking.

‘Flower-print normality papered over giant worry cracks; nothing fooling no one.’

This is a sharply British novel, acutely of the moment, liberally peppered with references to popular culture - myspace, i-pods, txting, happy slapping, pro-ana and even a passing reference to ‘insania’! And perhaps here lies its inherent weakness. Will these references mean anything to a reader who comes to this novel in 10 or 15 years time, or will the majority of the text be as incomprehensible as most small town graffiti?