Monday, March 23, 2009

Not Really A Book Review : Rubicon Beach - Steve Erikson***

Okay, I am completely baffled by this novel, or is it three novels ? Section one is a strange sci-fi ish story about a man released from prison where he has accidentally grassed up one of his fellow conspirators to the guards. He is sent to a weird Los Angeles where the buildings sink into an underground river and houses sing. The middle section tells the story of the most beautiful girl in the world, born to a jungle tribe, and her journey across borders both physical and of the mind. In the final section we meet the man again, I think, and he meets an older version of himself living on the moors above Penzance and counting lighthouses and searching for a number he believes lies between nine and ten.

I understand that at some level Erickson is exploring boundaries and dreams, but mostly the book just left me confused, the author's prose style is clever and his insights into emotion are well sculpted, but still, what is the book all about, I really don't know.

Here's what reviewer Lawrence Toms said about it...."Of all of Erickson's novels Rubicon Beach is the timeless classic. In the disobedience of narrative structure he sculpts language and character into the most evocative series of images possible; he dares the ramparts of existential literature, makes Sartre look too constructed, Nietzsche too cold and Kafka too pessimistic. What is perhaps truly remarkable (and you can see him attempt the same effect in his subsequent works) is how the gestalt of images manages to cohere around the central, yet entirely ephemeral character of Catherine, who appears, disguised (by her own 'presence') to all others as the "woman with the knife in the folds of her skirt".
I read Rubicon Beach and heard the music. I entered the cold river and began to swim, already knowing that a promise of further shores was another of the many conventions I had left behind me on the receding bank. This is a book for the brave -it cannot be un-read."

Did that make it any clearer to me, not without the benefit of a degree in literature it didn't, also, perhaps Lawrence should stay away from the funny coloured pills when he's doing book reviews.

Another reviewer, L V Wilson, may have been closer to the mark when she wrote...."For me this just didn't work. Whole pages go by when you've no idea what he's on about. There's a great story somewhere in there trying to get out, but it's suffocated by Erickson's use of language. A definite case of over egging the pudding."

Oh well, it's another book I can cross off this year's TBR Challenge list.

1 comment:

  1. That's fair enough on the degree in literature point - my first degree was in philosophy and my masters in intellectual property law which both involved analysing abstruse textual materias, so I'm not put off by complex prose for sure :-)
    Erickson is a genius, and like many literary geniusses he may not be broadly accessible - I can't claim to understand high end physics either, but I don't denigrate it . . . what's worth saying about this book is that I believe that if you release your insistence on understanding it in a formal sense it has the remarkable effect of suffusing your imagination with images that create the author's intention without the need for a formulaic understanding. I think perhaps the comment about funny coloured pills is a bit rude, libellous even - maybe you'd like to consider altering it? The review on Amazon has a 5 star rating from others who found it useful after all . . .
    You can hear a song I wrote about Rubicon Beach here
    You might try The Sea Came In At Midnight by the same author, its a little easier to follow, and some say even better, though that's entirely subjective. Lawrence Toms