Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Stretched tragedy in Marias

Someday I would like to write an essay on the title above. Someday soon I hope. It's just that I do not have the mindset of a literary student, and have not written essays since high School. But there is something so characteristic about Marias' writing and his penchant for elongating a tragic/unpleasant situation which begs writing about. He wrings out the misery, repetitively and pulls it out on the pages in the most discomforting manner.
In Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, one of the spins is about an affair that Gogol's wife is having. While reading through the affair, I was constantly anticipating an explosive, uncomfortable moment when Gogol would find out about it and feel cheated/humiliated. So I was pleasantly surprised when the author cut through that moment and skipped into the future. From there, Gogol only looked back upon the moment when he had found out about the affair - you can feel that time has already softened the hurt, it is merely to keep the records straight is why the reader is being told about it. You are not expected to sympathize or feel involved. It has happened, done with. As a reader, it is a relief to be spared the emotional turmoil.
But not so with Marias - he does not let you escape. At the outset, he will tell you that the tragic event has happened. But that distance of past never comes as as escape. He then begins to describe the moments immediately before and after the tragic event. In excruciating details. At the beginning of Tomorrow in Battle Think on Me, (which I am reading now), he tells you that a woman dies in the arms of a man she had just recently met. You instinctively want to escape the horror of this man, who finds himself in another man's house, his amorous interlude with this man's wife suddenly thwarted by her unexpected death. He is left alone in the house with a child of two years, torn between the horror of staying with the child in the house and explaining his presence to the husband in the morning, or the coldness of leaving the child alone with his dead mother. And Marias, unrelenting, makes you live that horror yourself - for 100 pages or so. You find yourself worrying about the sick woman whom you already know will die. Upon her death, you worry about the child, and worry about how you will explain the affair. It is curious however, that through those unpleasant pages, you suddenly begin to get comfortable, no longer as afraid or tensed as the first few pages, just treating it as a practical problem. The possibility of confronting the husband no longer seems as intimidating as at the beginning.

Perhaps this mulling over tragedy is what makes him a master. That and his ability to conjure up the most unpleasant situations (have you read A Heart So White where a newly wed wife shoots herself, or the mega-book your Face Tomorrow, where a multiple of such unpleasantaries unfold)

4 comments:

Jigar said...

I think you should start writing essays. You have a eye for observation. The way you put forth the 'Namesake' situation, only to contradict it with what happens in 'Tomorrow in the Battle...' helps the reader understand or feel the burden of going through an agonizing experience.

Your views on Marias, with his incessant breaking up of an event into mirco-events always in the presence of a witness - the reader, reminds me of a line by some author whose name has slipped my memory: "the reader becomes the book".

Do keep writing more on this line.

Madhuri said...

Thanks Jigar, for the vote of confidence. Perhaps this will enthuse me to write.
'the reader becomes the book' - seem like words from the last chapter of Calvino's 'If on a winter's night...', don't you think? At least thematically they gel.
The sunday was tad too busy, but I am reading the story amid work today and it is interesting. views soon.

Jigar said...

I'd have to check Calvino's book to make sure, but they gel thematically.

Take your time with the story. Would love to hear your views.

Rise said...

I'm on page 166 of this book, when the narrator says, "What a disgrace it is to me to remember your name, though I may not know your face tomorrow, names don't change and, when they become fixed in the memory, they are fixed for ever, and nothing and no one can remove them." Beautiful.

I'm still halfway, reading slowly, but relishing the tension and the prolongation of horror that you describe, savoring the lines. But by God, he's just as unrelenting as Deza!