I hope you will excuse my nuance of immodesty but readers need to blow their own horns when they are applying for a job. Otherwise, I might wind up like one of those wallflower book club members. You know, the kind that bring the snack when it’s their turn but never make a comment.
I recently passed on reviewing a poetry collection. It’s difficult to write about verse. I’ve only tried it once or twice. But what really stopped me was that I hadn’t read the last four or five seminal works by the author. So I felt I lacked the background. I prefer to adopt a writer.
In the 19th century, the writing of historical novels was a big deal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Tale of Two Cities… They were eagerly gobbled up by the rising middle class, who longed for literature that would expand their horizons.
The students have their own digs off-campus, an old Victorian house that the Bellwether family owns. So even within the Cambridge campus they are a hothouse group held apart. The 20-something group has a shared identity like a vaporous social envelope. They see the world through collective eyes. It’s as if Benjamin Wood has created this group of friends as a proto-character in itself.
But one evening (this sounds like a fairy tale or an improbable upsurge of romanticism in the story), Oscar passes Kings College Chapel on the way home from work. There is an open-to-the-public performance of evensong taking place. Entranced by the singing and the extraordinary eloquence of the organ, Oscar goes in to listen. Oscar is an atheist but he is drawn in by the experience.
What we’re up against is Alphaville, the deconstruction of the human which can’t be accomplished unless our everyday literary culture is dismantled first. That’s a world where no one can ask why only because. Where there can be no rebellion and words are systematically banned from the dictionary because they would encourage independent ideas.