Thursday, September 01, 2005

I have often heard it said that comedy can be a much more honest avenue for exploring serious issues than drama. Just as an aside, one example of this case being made is in Paul Cantor's exploration of the changing face of american thoughts about globalization in his Gilligan Unbound, a book I highly recommend.

Anyhow, what I meant to write about was Nick Hornby. Hornby has developed a reputation, due to the successful screen adaptations of his novels, as a modern comedic writer of a very high caliber. His characterizations of modern urban English life play on banality in a way not entirely dissimilar to Wodehouse in the previous century. His last two novels, though, have moved into some fairly serious realms. In 2001, his novel How to be Good focussed on a character who asked herself whether working in a helping profession was enough to qualify her as a good person. Hornby seems to take seriously the question of how we can find goodness in a time and place which has left the christian religion behind. I hate to put it this way, but I did feel pity for the author as he tried so hard to find a new definition of the good life but seemed to come up empty.

Hornby's newest novel, A Long Way Down seems to have gone a step further. If the quest for the good life is unsuccessful, what remains? The novel begins with four people all finding each other on a rooftop, each seriously contemplating suicide. After some conversation they make a pact with each other to watch out for each other for 6 weeks, to stay alive for at least that long. Each of the characters has very different reasons for wanting to end life, and each comes from a very different perspective. The chapters rotate sequentially through the viewpoints of each of these characters.

I haven't quite finished it yet, so I won't comment too much more tonight. I'll add that it made an interesting contrast to my other reading for the week, Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Eco's work also deals with the question of meaning and how to go on living, but from a very different perspective. The main character, Yambo, begins the book with a case of amnesia. This is not a total amnesia, but one which blocks out all of his autobiographical memories. He can still remember virtually every book or poem he read or any song he heard.

When Yambo's wife asks him what he wants to do after he leaves the hospital, he realizes that without any sense of where he has been, he has no idea at all where he should go next. The majority of the book which follows has Yambo trying to learn his own history. Who were his past loves? What happened to Italy in his lifetime?

I though the chllenge to understand where we have been to know where we should be going to be a very powerful one, though, with all of Eco's writing, I feel like I probably missed about half of what he included.

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