Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Review: Manual of Painting and Calligraphy
3 Stars - Recommended to hard-core Saramago fans / Not recommended as an intro to this author
Publisher: Mariner / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Letter to an Author I Thought I Knew Better:
Jose. You horn dog, you! I didn't know you had it in you, man. And here I thought, after having read you for so many years, that you were this compassionate, emotional, political, yet purposefully sexless author. Well, your Manual of Painting and Calligraphy certainly showed me differently, didn't it?!
I mean, ok, I'm not completely blind to the fact that you liked sex, and had sex, but seeing it written out on a white page in all of its stark and egotistical glory was a bit jarring. Almost like walking in on your parents doing the horizontal mambo. You KNEW they did it, you just never wanted to PICTURE them doing it, and now here you are, standing in the doorway SEEING them do it, in total shock and feeling slightly sick to your stomach.
To be honest, I think I prefer the older, wiser, 'sex-as-a-form-of-power' version of you over the first time novelist, 'I'm-a-sexual-being' version of you. As you matured as a writer, your take on sexuality matured as well. I feel as though sex is at its most powerful when it's hiding beneath the surface of your stories and not displayed as an intimate part of the story.
I wonder what your influences were here. I mean, sure, painting and writing and the pains of trying to define your character as one or the other were the catalyst behind the story, since it appears your character - who refuses to allow himself to be named - is unable to carry the burden of being both a painter and a writer. I am also certain that the sexuality of your character is bred from the school of thought that painters are hyper sexual creatures. Perhaps that has something to do with the texture and slippy-ness of the paints, the slathering of oils against canvas, the passion the artist exudes over the object of his attention, the fact that painting aligns itself more in the physical world vs. writing which is incredibly more cerebral?
I see this internal struggle in your character - the definition of himself in relation to his choice of medium. As a writer he focuses more internally; he can express his demons smartly, exorcise them more precisely through the words that drip from the tip of his pen. As a painter he emits an arrogance, a pettiness, and displays this pent up aggression at his inability to paint perfectly - hence the two paintings of the same sitting at the start of the novel - in a more physically degrading way. It seems the painter in him is more about 'marking his territory' and 'sexual conquests' than the writer in him, which is about emotional connectivity. And so there is this almost imperceptible shift that begins to take place within him as he moves from painter to writer to painter again...
Dueling personalities. MoPaC certainly delivers those.
Your writing style managed to shock me as well. The Saramago I've loved all this time, the man who creates those uniquely beautiful run-on sentences that deliberately distracts his readers with parallel trains of thought, that Saramago isn't here yet. This Saramago, the Saramago of MoPaC, hasn't found his flow yet. He's still feeling it out, experimenting with it. I can see him in there, like the caterpillar that's about to emerge from its cocoon as a butterfly, flexing his wings and stretching against the paper-thin boundaries that currently constrain him. I can appreciate what I'm reading, but it's missing that something special that finds its way into your writing later on. You're still developing your "you-ness".
I'm writing to tell you to keep pushing, Jose. Move out of the sexual predator phase quickly, it's not becoming of you. It's not who you really are. I'll be waiting over here... don't rush on my account. Perfection takes time, and you'll get there. I promise.
Love, your biggest fan.