Thursday, November 04, 2004

How the US election drove me to read about sex. Oh, yesterday was a sad day at work! I managed to get my story written - god, what was it about again? oh yeah, Fidel Castro fucking over Cuba - with great difficulty because we had a TV tuned to US election coverage, plus the internet, plus Lucy and Sophie obsessively ticking off states on a diagram prepared by Malcolm MacKerras, in whose Kerry Landslide Prediction Sophie had increasingly desperate faith as the day wore relentlessly on.

God, that was all one sentence.

Anyway, after work I couldn't bear to come across any more media coverage of the US election, so I got a couple of books from the 'library' at work and settled down at Bourgie to read them with a glass of red wine. I ended up devouring Geography by Sophie Cunningham in one sitting. Now, I'd wanted to set this as my book for - well, the first rule is that you can't read about it - and so is the second rule - but I picked My Name Is Red instead, which I loved but everyone else hated.

I was quite conflicted about Geography. I was uncomfortable with its overt autobiographical qualities, and yet I wondered whether this was deliberate - whether Cunningham wanted people to believe it was all about her own life. If it's the latter, then I congratulate her on her success - in creating a character so real and yet so fictional, like a Sophie Cunningham from a parallel universe. Because Catherine is a work of fiction, even self-reflexively within the text: she imagines herself as a movie star; debates who'd play her in the movie of her life (ironically, Cunningham is now developing the novel as a screenplay); lends drama to key moments in her life by associating them with mediatised disasters from the JFK assassination to 9/11. She wallows in television, bonding with characters as if they're her friends, while ignoring the sensible advice from her real friends.

This metaphor, along with the one about maps, is hammered home with offputting bluntness at points. And the character is sometimes irritating: melodramatic and irrational; but no more so than people I know in real life.

But perhaps the real reason why I was uncomfortable with the autobiographical tendencies of this novel is because of its excellent writing about sex. I hadn't read any reviews, but had heard from workmates that the critical consensus was "Cunningham writes good sex". This is very true. Cunningham writes so erotically about mere rooting as if to explain how it could blind someone to all their intelligence and that of everyone around them. And remember, I was also reading this book with red wine, which gets me drunker than just about anything else in a very languorous way.

Now, I didn't have the proverbial orgasm-on-a-plane reading the book, but there was a slight tinge of voyeurism that made me uncomfortable. And it also made me feel sad about my own non-existent sex life. I'm the age now that Catherine, the protagonist, was when she began to fritter away her salad days on this dufus Michael. And I can understand why someone might confuse sex for affection or love.

Stupid goddamn George W Bush!!

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