Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In the Spirit of Alasdair Gray

Not Very:

In fact, Vellum is empty, pretentious twaddle. It's another naked emperor for the cheering throng that mistakes obscurantism for brilliance. I cannot even call Duncan's novel an exercise in style over substance, because that term implies a substance beneath the style. Duncan, having exhaustively researched ancient myths, is just playing around with them here without shining the light of understanding upon them — either as stories in and of themselves, or upon the role of myth as a necessary defining ingredient of civilization.


I confess that I am in the target audience for this book. Those who read a lot tend to become inured to the simple linear plot - the typical novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. We seek the new and the daring. Romans à clef. Allegories. Stream of consciousness. We search for the hidden meanings. We speculate on the influences and the psychological state of the author.

Worse if we are English majors or professors who tire of mining the Biblical or Shakespearean allusions in T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland; we start craving the hard stuff. James Joyce. And not The Dubliners or Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. No. We start popping Ulysses. And soon our appetite can only be satiated by the sine qua non of post-modern literature; the crack cocaine of chronicles: Finnegan’s Wake. A novel that is not so much read as deciphered.

No. Despite the fact that Vellum is a self-consciously literary work, it is not in the same league as Finnegan’s Wake. Granted, it is built on allusions that are as carefully layered as Rembrandt’s brushstrokes. Nevertheless the book can be understood by a layman. No Ph.D. is required to decode it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah--I LOVE Gray's use of Very/Not Very!


3:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:39 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Jeff: Yep, me too.



I'm assuming ye don't mean that as a random insult at Jeff (or meself) but as a comment on the "Not Very" review... so cheers. :)

1:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I read the 'not very' one myself. That's the one where the reviewer thinks that the university is in England, isn't it? Sloppy, but I think that he only bothered to read to page 175. To paraphrase, "John Clute slagged it off, so I can say that I didn't understand it without looking dumb." He also ranted on about Bruce Sterling quoting Czech critics that he had never heard of (as if that wasn't fair, somehow) but it never seems to have occurred to him to actually go and look these guys up. Ach, he's young. He'll learn.

8:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim Steel, can you be more specific about the Czech critics? Or post a link, please?

11:23 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

"[Bruce Sterling] was in fine form this day, casually dropping the names of obscure Czech literary critics and other smart folks you and I have never heard of but Bruce has, almost as if they and Bruce were drinking buddies..."

Link above.

12:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto what Hal's put above, surveyor. That's all I know, I'm afraid - the review didn't name names.

10:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reviewer's mention of "cognitive estrangement" suggested to me that he meant Darko Suvin. Who was born in Zagreb...

12:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, what do you expect. The guy thought that "Ilium" was good. He's obviously mentally deficient and we shouldn't mock the afflicted.

12:39 pm  

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