I’m not sure why I started reading for pleasure two separate novels on the eve of the new semester, but I did. Maybe I’m trying to squeeze a few more drops of summer out of the first week of classes, before my reading for work grows too heavy.
First up is Hari Kunzru’s Transmission. The book reminds me of early Neal Stephenson, with the way Kunzru adopts different styles of language to convey points of view. Here’s one of the first scenes with Guy Swift, whose vapidity becomes increasingly obvious as the novel progresses:
In a glittering career Guy had raised awareness, communicated vision, evoked tangible product experiences and taken managers on inspirational vision journeys. He had reinforced leading positions and project-managed the generation of innovative retail presences. His repositioning strategies reflected the breadth and prestige of large portfolios. His communication facilitiation stood out from the crowd. Engaging and impactful, for some years he had also been consistently cohesive, integreted and effective over a spread spectrum.
It’s clear that Kunzru is making fun of Guy, but what is so great about the passage is that Kunzru uses Guy’s own specialized language to do it. It’s what Bakhtin calls “double-voiced discourse”: using someone’s own mode of speaking — their word choice, structure, and tone — against them. The passage is an assemblage of buzz phrases from the management world and seen here, piled onto one another in a collision of corporatespeak, it is all revealed for the silliness that it is.
The second novel I picked up and tore halfway through at midnight last night, when I should have been sleeping, or at least prepping for class, is Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Amazon says the book is for 9-12 year olds, but I don’t know. It is creepy. Extremely creepy. Verging, at the halfway point, on downright scary. Dave McKean’s eerie illustrations aren’t helping.
I’ll have to dig around in the databases to make sure, but I can’t believe that nobody has looked at Coraline in the context of other children’s gothic novels. It’s a haunted house novel, and I don’t recommend reading it at night, when you’re all alone in your own house. Or, as I was, alone in a house that isn’t yours.