What is it: A struggling writer who desperately writes to various publications in order to fend off his own physical hunger. But the money he earns goes to bills and even charity. Not enough is left for food. He wants to write, but he can’t. Who could write with an empty stomach?
When: February 20, 2011
Where: Book Sale – SM Clark
Why: This should be a harrowing psychological tale. I already made up my mind to read this next. I can’t wait!
Back in my college freshman years, I brought my copy of this book to one of my classes. Our instructor arrived earlier than usual. We had a little chitchat, and he made a little comment on the book that was on my armchair. He said that the movie was great. I looked at him with utter confusion. Then he mentioned Will Smith.
So he was talking about a different movie. I explained that they were different. The animation in his face flushed out. And my seatmate at that class, who became one of closest friends as far as books are concerned, turned out in the future, which is now, to have poignant feelings for this book. And why is that?
This novel is part of a series. I think it’s the second of the Bascombe Trilogy. I haven’t read the first installment because I had no idea of this series when I bought it.
Frank Bascombe may be one of the most popular figures in contemporary literature, but I only have vague images of him. I imagine that he is, or used to be, a writer. And I am only drawing that conclusion because of the title of one of his books, The Sportswriter, which is the first installment of the trilogy.
But I am sure that he has a son. His relationship with his son was detailed in Independence Day, where Bascombe was trying to make some time with him at the height of his divorce with his son’s mom. That sounded a little complicated, but you know how relationships can get muddled once divorce sets in.
And the day out with his son. That’s what I mostly remember. Going to museums, to baseball games, to whatever place that Bascombe thought his son would like. And during these travels, he realized how far his assumptions were from his real, in-the-flesh son. He was, after all, trying to patch the distance that he has with his son, and along that process, Bascombe realized that the rift between them was bigger than he expected.
And there’s the ending, which is memorable because I share this memory with that friend whom I was seatmates with back in college. I sometimes wonder whether we really share the same feelings about the ending or I am just borrowing his memory. Memories are indeed mysterious. You can never say that you have your memories, that you own them alone, just like this memory I have with the book.
Anyway, so there was this celebration. And ta-da! It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day. Everyone was out on the streets, waiting for the fireworks or just plain kibitzing and joining in the general gaiety of the day. It was crowded, a little too crowded for everyone placed at the risk of bludgeoning each other with your limbs. Frank Bascombe was smacked at the middle of this crowd, just drifting to where the movement of the crowd would take him. He was literally and figuratively lost.
Then his mobile phone rang. He answered it. Hello? Hello? No answer. But someone was there. He could faintly hear the breathing. He could feel the force restrained at the other end of the line. He listened on. Then he said he’s alright. He hanged up. The fireworks began. The crowd went wild. It’s Independence Day.
And this is my friend’s recollection. Deep inside, I know I have the memory of having read through this, but I just can’t shake off the feeling that it’s not really my own. It’s like a dream that is slowly slipping away upon waking up and being engulfed with conscious thoughts regarding the day’s activities.
So yes, my friend found the ending utterly beautiful despite the impending solitude and loneliness that it presented for Frank Bascombe. My friend would say that he was left hanging, that he was slapped from cheek to other cheek with the beauty of Ford’s prose. He even argued that the person who called was his ex-wife. There was no reference to it, so it was more of a wishful thinking on my friend’s part.
My cynical side would tell him that it was just a prank caller or a collections agent. It could be anyone, really, given that Bascombe was in a crowded area during the time of that call. Bad reception is possible even if you are in the US. I know that for certain because I used to work for the largest telecommunications company in that part of the world.
But yes, it would be nice and romantic to think that it was his ex-wife. It’s his Independence Day; she might be trying to reach out to him and know how things were going on in the new chapter of his life without her.
But would she really be out of his life? Why divorce your husband when you cannot get him out of your mind? Does divorce end everything in a relationship? Do all the tender feelings that a husband and wife have for each other fade as soon as they sign various papers and the court approves of their wish to part ways, to break their vows, to put each other behind?
Is Independence, with that capital letter, supposed to be a cause for merry-making?
It is almost natural for Pierre to get all the attention after inheriting everything from his father. All of a sudden, every father from the high society wants to marry him to his daughter, Prince Vassily being one of them. Remember, he did not get anything from the late Count Bezukhov, but he manages to make Pierre his son-in-law at the price of her beautiful daughter. I’m annoyed at Pierre. He just accepts this as his predestination, that this should be it, and that he must be in love with this brazen beauty. And by the way, Anna Pavlona is suddenly in good terms with him.
Then there is Princess Marya in the country. I could never imagine this girl because I could not picture her as someone ugly. I always get a vision of a doe-eyed woman, although this does not mean that all women with such eyes are beautiful. Anyway, she is supposed to marry Prince Vassily’s handsome son, Anatole, had she not found him and that Bourienne flirting. That whore! But it’s a good thing though. She doesn’t deserve that man despite his good looks.
There is also Nikolai boasting about his frontline experiences. Lying about them is more like it. He meets with Boris, who is with Berg and who is waiting for Prince Andrei. The latter and Nikolai have a little tiff, and the nerve of Nikolai! How dare him to insult the adjutants when all he did was stumble on the mud and fall off a horse.
This is so beautiful. Each character has his own motives and conflicts which makes the interaction with other characters very interesting. Never mind that I get pissed at some of them and change my feelings for them every now and then. I actually think that’s a good thing for a novel, especially a monster-sized novel.
Day 6: 252 – 297
Now we’re back to the battle scenes. The council of war is split as far as military strategy is concerned. The approved battle plan did not appeal to Kutuzov and Prince Andrei. Kutuzov sleeps through the discussion and Prince Andrei did not have the chance to lay out his thoughts. He couldn’t have changed the plan anyway, because this Weyrother cannot be bent. According to him, his battle plan is already approved, so there is really no room for changes.
Nikolai is head over heels with Emperor Alexander. It’s not a man crush, it’s not even the hero thing that Prince Andrei has for Napoleon, which is really interesting to note. There he is, Prince Andrei, on his hero’s enemy side, which quite an internal conflict. He is rooting both for Russia and for Napoleon, and he also wants glory for himself.
But the Russian forces lost that battle. At the claws of death, all the things that Prince Andrei deemed important lost their significance. Death is really something then. Before, he was so curious about matters on Napoleon and he was so set on making himself known to every powerful man, but when he gets face to face with him, he could not even react. Glory is already nothing to him. He is then left to the care of the townspeople, thinking that he is going to die anyway.
Of course he wouldn’t. I would stop reading if he does. End of Volume One. Off to Volume Two.
Day 7: 297 – 347
What happens after the Battle of Austerlitz? Dolokhov gets a little intimate with Countess Bezukhov. Pierre gets jealous. Pierre gets paranoid. Pierre challenges Dolokhov to a duel. And he wins. But he gets confused. What was he thinking? Was it even worth it, almost killing an old friend? What would their acquaintances think of this? With such thoughts, Pierre leaves everything behind.
And Prince Andrei is alive. He comes home while his wife is giving birth. During the labor, Prince Andrei sees Lise’s pained face. And that’s the last image that he’ll ever see of her, which will forever haunt him and give him some guilt. She bores him a son.
And romance is in the air. Dolokhov gets intimate, again, with Sonya. He doesn’t know when to stop, not even considering that Nikolai is his best friend by now. But Nikolai didn’t mind. He has confused feelings for Sonya. The war has changed him. He asks Sonya to accept Dolokhov’s proposal. But she didn’t, which wasn’t really surprising, given that Sonya has always been loyal to Nikolai, even if this would be unrequited.
Tension builds up between Nikolai and Dolokhov. The two plays cards. Nikolai ends up broke. Not only broke, but indebted to Dolokhov for around ten years. We are talking of huge amounts of money here. Nikolai borrows money from his father, who is able to somehow produce it. And we see Nikolai at one of his weakest moments here. He asks for forgiveness. At this point, I changed my mind about Nikolai. I like him as well. He is really complicated, like a real human being.
Day 8: 347 – 418
Now we are at Volume Two, Part Two. Things change considerably here. It actually felt like a different novel. This part is very spiritual and existential, which begins with Pierre joining the Freemasons. He wants to forget his past and make good use of his life. It is worth rereading this part because there are a lot of things that are worth considering, especially matters about existence. Pierre learns of abandoning his vices and helping others to achieve transcendence. He sets forth with such principles to make his life more useful.
Prince Andrei also goes through a similar transformation, although on an extremely different note. After the war and after the death of his wife, he starts living in gregarious loneliness, focusing on managing his country estate and immersing himself in a lot of reading so as not to be left behind. He finds that he is better off alone because he is only able to achieve peace and happiness in solitude.
And this brings us to a point: selflessness versus selfishness. Pierre and Prince Andrei meet after a long time. They find themselves at polar opposites, trying to convince each other of the virtues of their chosen paths. Both have good points, and again, I would make it a point to reread this part because their thoughts and conversations are so refreshing. How could these two remain friends despite their conflicting convictions? Will they be able to hold on to their newfound ways of lives?
I am going to read on. The truth is, I have been behind in keeping up this diary because I am so engrossed with the novel. By the way, this is the end of Part Two. The last scene tells us of Nikolai trying to get a petition for his friend Denisov, who compromised his position just to keep his company well-fed. Nikolai sees Boris, and during this time, he realized how far they have become from each other. He no longer knows him. What will happen to them? Is this the end for Denisov, who by the way was rejected by Natasha? The plot gets better with each turn of the page.
What is it: A novel about an asexual molecular biologist and a his lusty yet unreciprocated half-brother.
When: February 19, 2011
Where: Fully Booked – Bonifacio High Street
Why: The molecular biologist thing got me going. And I always feel like buying a book whenever I visit this Fully Booked branch. I remember buying my copies of Never Let Me Go and 2666 there. And oh, I was supposed to buy Anna Karenina instead of this since it is cheaper. But I am still reading War And Peace, so I decided to stick with Atomised. My copy is entitled as such, but they are supposed to be the same.