Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Tropic of Cancer - Rancid Ramblings...

I don't know!  Maybe I've been spoilt over the years by the purity and prosody of "real" English Literary classics, or maybe it's because I actually do like to have some kind of plot or storyline in the books I read - and there have been many thousands of those - along with at least one deserving character.  On the other hand, maybe it's because I don't like being taken for a fool by being served - or, in this case, sold - pathetic puerile rubbish!
Anyway, whichever it is, I have to say, having just read "one of the greatest American novels of all time", I am left distinctly unimpressed and dissatisfied by the rancid ramblings of a rabid mind that is Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
I find it hard to understand how this work is even considered to be a novel!  I, personally, would classify it as an incoherent collection of variously influenced journal entries, daubed all too frequently with sporadic obscenities purely for the self-gratification of the author, as they provide no gratification, or even entertainment value, to the reader. By "variously influenced", I mean, rantings that are influenced by whatever intoxicating mendicant Miller has been able to extract from his cadre of erstwhile enablers, most of who seem to be in pretty much the same predicament as himself.  Even when he does manage to break into a (short) period of cohesive sequence, it's built on the back of racist and sexist philosophies that both demean the author and, more importantly, provide ample illustration of the propensity for denigration of other cultures and countries that is inherent in humanity, no matter which country it originates in. Of course, one has to wade through almost 70 pages of the incoherent ramblings before one reaches the coherent ones, by which time anyone with a modicum of morality and decency would have given up long ago. In my own defence at having read thus far and further, I was reading with an eye on the overall impression and veracity of the book, so I really had to read it all the way through!

The interesting thing about the book, I find, is Miller's apparent delight in describing the juvenile attitudes and behaviours of himself and his cohort when writing about the various sexual and other nefarious activities they are partaking of. Whether this is an indication of a narrow focus - either deliberate or unintentional - by the author on those specific memes, or, more alarmingly, an indication of the decadence of the society Miller is immersed in at that time, is a matter of much discussion over the years. Of course, the overall and continuing effect of that style has been to incite the interest of notoriety in the book over the years, which, in its turn, has lead to significant sales and subsequent continued fame and infamy. This might have impressed me more if the author was an immature juvenile, but Miller was actually in his 40s when the book was published, so that excuse is, sadly, no excuse at all!

It is argued that the book is significantly surrealist, and I can agree to that. However, the danger with surrealism is - make it too obtuse, and it becomes confusing. Miller borders on that. And then breaking it up into pieces that do not follow a linear chronology, compounds the surrealist confusion until it becomes impossible to follow, and, eventually, actually annoying to the reader.
There is, really, no comparison between Tropic of Cancer and its Orwellian equivalent - Down and Out In Paris and London. While both authors have the desire to describe the impacts on their lives from their situations and experiences among the poorest denizens of these cities, Orwell's is a massive triumph of literary skill and genius, while Miller's is... 

Suffice to say, reading Tropic of Cancer has not inspired me to rush out and buy Tropic of Capricorn, its erstwhile sequel, in quite the same way I rush out to buy every new Tolkien book. On the other hand, I would recommend you read Tropic of Cancer for yourself, so that you can get the full impression and effect of what is, after all, one of the greatest American novels of all time!

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