Saturday, 4 April 2009


J.M.G. Le Clézio: Terra Amata
This was completely different from Onitsha, the first Le Clezio novel I read.

I think Le Clezio became less experimental and more of a storyteller as the years went by.

I couldn't read every word, or even every page of this incredibly dense little novel. It has all of life in it, as does the protagonist, Chancelade and, Le Clezio would have us realise, all of us. There is an immense sense of the beauty of the living universe and the worth of every individual life that is certainly mirrored in the more conventionally narrated and overtly socially and politically engaged Onitsha.

It's interesting to compare how Le Clezio's very considerable lyrical skills are used all over the place, are the mode of expression here, and are interespersed more subtly in the latter novel. There is a similar episode with a boy and insects in both books, it would be worth comparing the two to see how he has grown as a writer.

I've always believed that experimental writing is alright for testing the waters and diving in to bring back unique experiences and techniques, but a good novelist will eventually find a way to incorporate well-rounded accesible narratives with his stylistic and philosophical bent; Le Clezio seems to have done over time. (I still sometimes resent Burroughs, the most self-critical and mature, arguably the most talented and humane of the beats, for never returning to a more straightforward narrative after Junky and Queer - I am convinced that, informed by all his stylistic explorations, it would have really been something).

I did like this book, although I may have devoured it more thoroughly had I read it in my early 20s. I'd just like to add that the chapter devoted to Chancelade's dreams is pure gold throughout. Try reading it aloud, with drums in the background if you can, or just the sound of your own heartbeat ringing in your ears.

[I have to say I really dislike the Penguin Modern Classics covers for Le Clezio's novels. The whole new Penguin Modern Classics look is the very epitome of blandly contemporary cover design that will look dated as fuck in 10 years' time. ]

2 comments:

Beth said...

Yes, sir, I agree with you about those covers. I like your insistence here that the finest innovation should also be able to swerve itself back into a followable story.

JP said...

Those are ghastly covers, aren't they? I thought the three Le CLezio covers looked like covers for a series of vaguely soft-pornish exploitation novels about chavs.