After all the posts about my book and activities, it’s time to write about something else – namely books that are in a traditional form but walk in other territories.
Recently, acclaimed New York based Nigerian writer Teju Cole came to Wellington. I didn’t make it to his session at Unity Books, but I did read his novel Open City. Given that Teju Cole is listed as writer, art historian and photographer, it’s perhaps not surprising that his innovative, and deeply satisfying novel, is a fluid blend of novel, essay and meditation.
Much has been written about the book – so just a quick summary from me. The main character in the book is the introverted Julius a psychiatrist in training, who is part German and part Nigerian. As readers we dwell in his mind through as he journeys around New York, and in one section of the book, Brussels. Through his extremely well stocked mind, and his conversations, we hear reflections and debates on history, both personal and civic, paintings, migrant experience, politics and different cultural experience.
Unlike most novels, firmly in the grip of the narrative arc, reading about Julius is like following ‘a life as it happens’ series of encounters that gives us the illusion of reality. (In his interview with theNZ Listener Cole points out that these encounters and events are in fact carefully curated). This illusion reminded me strongly of the work of US-based British photographer Paul Graham, particular his terrific A Shimmer of Possibility where seemingly raw sequences of photographs have a poetic depth of storytelling and come close to the feeling of film. Of course, the work is again the product of masterful sequencing and layout. Closer to home, a similar feeling is found in the narrative sequences of New Zealand photographer Peter Black in works like Moving Pictures or his book I loved you the moment I saw you.
And what is the excitement of these expansive, multiple narrative works? The traditional forms of novels and photographs are still satisfying and tradition is needed in order to assess the success of a move away from it. But in a fractured global world, that exists as much digitally and as it does physically, and where lives adapt to unpredictable circumstance, perhaps more open, dynamic forms of representation seem more accurate to our experience.
More to come….