Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

December Books 12) Dhalgren

12) Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany

I tried this famously impenetrable novel at the start of last year, and bounced off it; but was spurred into giving it another go partly by reviewing my reading resolutions for this year, partly by Bob Shaw's remark about reading it being one of the new year's resolutions he had made every year but never managed to keep. Second time around, I found it much easier going, I think because in the interim I have read four volumes of Proust, and the narrative style is not dissimilar - quite a lot of stream-of-consciousness reflection on the central character's state of mind, and Dhalgren even has a long sequence set at a party reminiscent of one of Proust's soirées, though with more swearing, and various other social gatherings are set-pieces of the narrative.

Also, of course, while Proust is very naturalistically creating a recognisable picture of urban and rural France, Delany's city of Bellona is as much as anything a state of mind, detached from the rest of the USA, where strange things happen in the sky and the central character knows that his own sense of time is as badly skewed as the local newspaper's chronology. Where Proust's narrator doesn't have a name, Delany's central character has two, though neither is complete. Delany's other characters are more archetypal than Proust's - the strait-laced Richards family, Newboy the poet, Kamp the astronaut, Calkins the editor, Denny and Lanya the central character's lovers. I was not always entirely comfortable with the racial or gender stereotypes I thought I detected.

Sex, of course, is a little more frequent and a lot more explicit in Delany's book; he is unembarrassed about polyamory and bisexuality where Proust is horrified by "inversion" - although Proust too has a lot of sex, the most explicit scene so far is one the narrator overhears rather than one he participates in. The other major difference is that Delany's central character is a writer, and spends a lot of time thinking about the relationship between his own art and life, compared to Proust who is always observing: watching other people's plays, listening to other people's music, reading other people's books.

Dhalgren is a bit self-indulgent now and then - I think I understand why the last section of the book is presented as a working draft, but the point could have been made without demanding as much of the reader. But I was relieved that the story of the central character's poetry was told without actually blocking out the text with his poems, a practice I wish other authors (eg A.S. Byatt) would follow.

Anyhow, it was tough going in places, but worth it in the end.
Tags: bookblog 2007, poc, reading resolutions 2007, writer: proust, writer: samuel r delany
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