Written: April 11, 2015
Winner of the Booker Prize. This is the second Booker Prize winner I’ve read. As a writer, the Booker Prize is like the Pulitzer for journalists and the Oscar for actors, but as with all craft awards, it’s really a popularity contest where the judges are basically circle jerking off their own culture and tastes. Both Booker Prize winning books were written by middle-to-upper class English twits using a dying language full of rich vocabulary and literary flourishes. One was a story about a boy’s grammar school days while this one is about a middle-aged woman who retreats to a hotel full of other rich English twits with apparently nothing to do but go traveling and shopping and mingle in obscure upscale hotels. I don’t think this book is a criticism of middle-to-upper class entitled English twits with meaningless lives, but it actually is. It’s like Tropic of Cancer which doesn’t really celebrate this amoral, sexual, pointless lifestyle as much as it seems to criticize it indirectly simply by exposing it.
The author makes an excellent point comparing writing market to the hare and the tortoise. “’Hares have no time to read. They are too busy winning the game. The propaganda goes all the other way, but only because it is the tortoise who is in need of consolation. Like the meek who are going to inherit the earth,’” The author is definitely a timid, mousy tortoise, and this book is as slow and boring as watching a tortoise. But what does the tortoise think about and observe if not a quickly changing landscape full of diversity and greater threats and opportunities? Well, the tortoise obsessively drools on about a particular mushroom in its path, whatever happens to be right in front of its nose, the dirt, the air, the small details of life, the intricacies, the subtleties, the nuances. And that is exactly what the Booker Prize rewards, this celebration of minutiae, of feelings, senses, objects, people, etc. Yes, there is merit in the minutiae and subtle, the old saying, stop to smell the roses, but just like Buddhism and meditation, it’s a break from life not life itself. Yet, the tortoises live a life full of minutiae that doesn’t go very far and achieves little. Working for a bureaucracy, I know this lifestyle all too well. In my mind, it is a life of oppression, which is sort of ironic in that the middle-to-upper class English twits are supposedly the oppressors, but in that odd twist, those who oppress often are oppressed themselves. The English upper class often send their kids to oppressive boarding schools to toughen them up so that when they graduate, they are well prepared to be oppressors. And above all, amorality and immorality are closely linked to both being oppressed and oppressing as the idiot character Neville represents. “Without a huge emotional investment, one can do whatever one pleases… One can be as pleasant or as ruthless as one wants.” Notice how the English like to distance themselves from reality and themselves with the overuse of the ‘one’ pronoun. If I were oppressed, the only pleasures I might find are in the minutiae, the way an Indian peasant goes scavenging for sellable items in a landfill. I’d rather be a hare thank you very much. Bigger risks, bigger rewards. And to beat the metaphor to death, the tortoise can be slow, because it has a hard shell while the hare’s defense is its speed. The main character Edith is totally a tortoise with a thick, hard shell. In fact, most all the middle-to-upper class English are tortoises who use sarcasm and mockery to justify their boring, introspective, risk-averse lives. In fact, the Hotel Du Lac is one big tortoise shell and a celebration of the tortoise shell, an insular, exclusive, unknown, hidden, discreet, slow-moving, backwards, boring, dull, dusty, old shithole where tortoises can venture a little outside their shells with other tortoises. In fact, England is one big tortoise shell. The Booker Prize is the big tortoise prize for the slowest, most subtle writing around. My writing style is more hare, and as such, besides of course lacking great literary skill, I would never win that silly prize, and that is not sour grapes. Funny to note, at a writing conference, the writers were telling us to slow down while the agents and publishers were telling us to speed up with more dialogue.
“’I was simply thinking how little vice there is around these days. One is led to believe that one can pick and choose, but in fact there seems to be no choice at all.’” Oh pissity, pomposity, oppressive hogwash. I skimmed a lot of the book. It was mostly about Edith observing and briefly interacting with an old woman and her middle-aged daughter and then a flirtation with Neville, a sleazy guy who wanted to marry Edith as an arrangement, since he thought she would be domestic and loyal and not embarrass and hurt him like his previous wife who cheated on him. Edith, the idiot, actually seriously considers it, and in the end, not to give away the ending, she realizes that she’s a tortoise, and without her shell, she’ll get hurt. Interestingly, Edith is also a romance novel writer, but understandably, she writes about the hare’s life from the safe distance of fiction. In the case of the real author, she writes about a fictitious person who writes fiction. How’s that for a shell.