Reading Journal: Wednesday 5th May 2010

Would it shock you to know that it’s been almost eight months since I last read an Edgar Allan Poe story for my iPoe reading challenge? Well, desperate to make amends for this shortfall, I set about reserving Wednesday as my Poe day, when I tick off at least one story from the master of the macabre. Today’s Poe story however, wasn’t even close to horrifying. Although The Devil the Belfry may sound as though it has terror written all over it, it turned out to be more ‘Munchkin’ than ‘macabre’. I’ll let my official iPoe review post for the story tell you more.

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My journey through Bloomsbury’s anthology of Arab writing, Beirut39, continued today as I found myself on the threshold of contribution #3, a short story by Abdellah Taia called The Wounded Man. You may recall when I declared that I was reading this story by Abdellah Taia in my reading plans yesterday, I commented on the fact that Taia was the first Moroccan Arab writer to publicly declare his homosexuality. Well, it seems that that was a prudent point to make, and the reason why becomes wholly clear once one has read this story. Let me explain.

In The Wounded Man we join the narrator during Ramadan, as his hidden feelings of homosexuality rise to the fore while watching the banned (in Morocco) French homosexual movie of the same name. He’s in the presence of his sleeping mother, in their Sale home near the Rabat Beach. And with emotions switching between overbearing lust and fear of discovery, the narrator cautiously yet compellingly keeps his eyes firmly affixed to the TV screen.

What this story offers I think with its wrestle of fear vs. lust, is not only a powerful insight into one man’s struggle with something considered incredibly taboo in such a closed, religious society, but also a glimpse into the author’s life itself, at one of its most traumatic times, when he was close to deciding whether he should publicly announce his homosexuality. I may be wrong about that of course, but the intense power and intense emotion that comes from this story would suggest I’m not. Regardless, it’s a hugely powerful story; one that will stick with me for a long time. Story Rating: ★★★★☆

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Today I moved on to the third story in Stories, Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio’s upcoming anthology, and a story called Wildfire in Manhattan by Joanne Harris. With the first two stories in this anthology pretty much blowing my socks off, my expectations for this one were high; even more so given that it comes from the same hand that penned that bestselling novel, Chocolat. So did Wildfire in Manhattan meet my expectations? Didn’t it just. And then some!

If you didn’t know by now already, the primary aim of the Stories anthology is to showcase exemplary examples of imaginative fiction. So far Roddy’s Doyle’s Blood and Joyce Carol Oates’ Fossil-Figures have measured up magnificently, and I’m happy to declare that Wildfire in Manhattan has made the mark too, by bringing godly combat to the streets of New York. The main character is Lukas Wilde, a flashy and debonair lead singer of a rock band who is actually a god in human form (referred to as Aspects in the story). Lukas is a semiretired god of wildfire, now preoccupied with rock music, but he’s not the only god wandering around New York City. There’s his twin brother Brendan, an aspect of hearth fire; Arthur Pluviose, aspect of thunder; Old man Mooney, a drunkard aspect of the Moon; and living out in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights is Sunny, aspect of.. you got it, the Sun.

All would seem happy and content then for gods living out their retirement in New York City, but all is not. Lurking in the streets and alleyways are Skol and Haiti, servants of Shadow aka Chaos, and they only have one occupation on their mind – hunting!

So that’s about all I can tell you about Wildfire in Manhattan without going into spoiler territory, but I can tell you that I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s not often that New York becomes a battleground for the gods, but in this story it does, although not quite on the epic scale that you may think it does. Humanised (to an extent), the gods take on more earthly preoccupations and characteristics, and this all leads to a rather enjoyable and humorous reading affair. Story Rating: ★★★½☆

::Thursday’s reading plans::

  • If you know me then you’ll also know I’m not very good with poetry. The next contribution in Beirut39 is a poem by Moroccan poet Abderrahim Elkhassar. Would anybody possibly mind if I skipped it, and moved on to the next contribution, an extract from the novel Skin of Shadow by Abderrazak Boukebba? I’m sure Abderrahim’s poem is exquisite, but really these things are lost on me, and I don’t know why.
  • Day four of Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio’s Stories and it’s on to the main man himself, Neil Gaiman, with a story called The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. Am I excited? You bet I am!
  • Thursday for the time being is now getting set aside for my Trevor vs. Moore reading challenge. It’s a little reading project I’ve set up myself in order to try and discover who out of William Trevor and Lorrie Moore, is the most Chekhovian in their short story writing. It’s another one of my reading projects that seems to have slipped off the rails a bit lately, and I want to bring it back online. So that means I’m reading a short story from each author. The Lorrie Moore short that I’m working my way through is the wonderfully titled Escape from the Invasion of the Love-Killers, while the Trevor Moore tale is the equally majestically titled, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake.
  • You’ll notice I made no mention of my current Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist read, Julia Franck’s The Blind Side of the Heart, in my journal notes above. There’s a reason. It’s that old enemy called time Arrgghhh!!! I’ll hopefully rectify that tomorrow.
‘Reading Journal’ provides an unedited, on-the-fly record of the bookish highlights in Rob’s reading day.
About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)

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