Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The First Law of Motion - a Review

Spoiler Alert! Do not read this until you have read the book. Available from her website.

I may be the wrong person to recommend this book. I don’t read a lot of novels – maybe half a dozen a year and they tend to have more spaceships and aliens in them than K.R. Moorhead’s debut. I also don’t know any literary theory after Aristotle, so I’ll have to assume that nothing much has changed in that field since those days. Anyhow, I can’t find my copy of The Poetics anywhere (and, annoyingly, have nobody to blame but myself unless – as I secretly hope – one of my flatmates has developed an overnight interest in post-Socratic philosophy and scurried it away) so I’ll have to wing it. In my favour, I do read a lot of reviews, so I know how this is supposed to work: You start off on a seemingly unrelated note and then effortlessly segue into a discussion of plot, character, style and morality in your chosen book.

There is a moment of cogent reflection in Yeats’ hallucinatory poem The Second Coming, in which he observes that ‘...the best lack all conviction, while the worst / are full of passionate intensity...’ These lines could be read as dividing Humanity into two categories (the best and the worst) and inscribing each with a quality one would wish for the other, but my preferred reading is the psychological interpretation: A human being at her best lacks all conviction and at her worst is full of passionate intensity. The unnamed protagonist of ‘The First Law of Motion’ certainly exhibits both these qualities. At times, she allows her passions to be her guide, as when she breaks into the Stranger’s house. At others she specifically chooses to abandon conviction, as when she ruminates on Newton’s first law:

...I’m not charmed, I’m not fooled, I’m just here. Which law of motion is that? A stationary object will remain stationary until a force is acted upon it... or something like that. That’s me. The stationary object. I’m sick of trying to be the force, because apparently the object doesn’t necessarily move in the direction you want it to. From now on I’m passive. I’ll let life act upon me. All my actions will be reactions.

The protagonist comes to this decision late in the book and as a result is raped and robbed in an Atlantic City casino – a clear indication from the author that the ‘stationary object’ philosophy does not lead to desirable ends. However, it is when the protagonist follows her passions that she commits her most immoral acts: the stalking of CP Shorter and the delivery of her neglected cat’s putrid corpse to his friend’s apartment. At first glance, it seems that in the universe of TFLofM, action leads to immorality and inaction to punishment.

That said, the question arises of whether the anti-heroine of TFLofM’s actions can be considered immoral at all. A moral agent must be capable of making rational decisions. When faced with choices, the protagonist frequently chooses an option that is not in her best interests. She doesn’t take her prescription meds because they make her “cloudy”, but she describes the panic attacks as “lurking in my head and my gut. Like worms waiting to devour me.” On two occasions, the worms succeed.

The characters the protagonist encounters, she sees as surfaces defined by their environment: “Train Station Boy”, “Fire Escape Boy”, “Couch Boy” and of course “The Stranger on a Train” with whom she becomes obsessed. He becomes the object of her fantasies – by turns erotic and prosaic. The actions most suggestive of her encroaching insanity grow out of her refusal to allow herself to talk to the object of her fantasies; preferring instead to watch him from the bench opposite his house and then break in when he is out:

Imposing myself on his space. Leaving traces of my DNA to mingle with traces of his. Attempting to forge a connection? Or just avoiding what I really should be doing? Which is to say, waiting to bump into him again and then starting a conversation. A normal, everyday, chit-chat kind of conversation. Like a normal everyday person might do.

Whilst in the Stranger’s house, the protagonist makes a telling non sequitur in her poetic analysis of the morphology of ‘Shorter’:

Shorter. Not the superlative. That would be “shortest.” The most short.
No. It’s the comparative. More short.
You can’t expect anyone to be the most. But they can be more.
I can be more.

Morphologically, ‘Shorter’ is indeed a comparative adjective but, semantically, it means to have less height. That she looks at a word and derives a personal ambition from its grammatical structure not its meaning is perhaps symptomatic of a deeper malaise: Her analysis of the world around her is flawed by her own interpretation. She has friends and relations who care for her (especially, Jay and her mother) but seen through the prism of her own self-absorption this love becomes distorted, mixed up (like the metaphors in this sentence) with the false comforts of drugs and unfulfilling (and disturbingly violent) sex.

Moorhead presents in prose the dichotomy of action versus inaction. A confrontation that I feel derives more naturally from Yeats than Newton, although I love the metaphor of human experience as force or stationary object. The character that best represents the ‘stationary object’ philosophy is also the novel’s moral centre: Daniel. Until the novel’s final sequence, the reader encounters him only in flashbacks where his imperfect sanity serves as a counterpoint to the heroine’s self-loathing. Their ceremony of innocence is drowned in the blood-dimmed tide of the protagonist’s madness.

There’s plenty more to be said about Moorhead’s engaging style. The beautiful duality of thought and speech and the mutually destructive relationship between the protagonist and her friend Kat deserve essays of their own. I’ll leave that to those more qualified.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Swine Flu

I've been laid up in bed all day, so I've decided to take up my blog again. Apologies to my four loyal followers who have no doubt been checking every day for five months to see if a new post has appeared. No real progress on... well, on anything really. I've been writing a few haiku this week commemorating (commiserating?)the end of my relationship with Katy. She doesn't know its over yet because she has been on a bender for the last week and I figure it better to tell her when she is sober and to her face. I don't think she will be too sad: I don't seem to mean much to her anymore. I guess we stretched things out longer than would have been natural. Anyway, here are some of my break-up haiku (my spellcheck informs me that this is the correct plural - who knew?)

Sleep evades me now.
Will Autumn sunshine suffice
to warm my mattress?

I'm sorry I was
angostura bitterness
in your sweet pink gin.

Hats and jewelery
and your rain-proof anorak
await collection.

Your Mercurial
landscape covers the damp patch
on my party wall.

Ignoring our past,
I crossed a road to see a
spider's frosted web.

Must learn not to love
a lie or a liar's way
of living her life.

Perhaps now I can
grow that massive trucker 'tache
I've always dreamed of.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Word Count: 143

Started from scratch for the third time this year with an idea that's been nagging at me for a fortnight or so. Wrote a few notes then decided to bake some gingerbread instead. Also found this poem I wrote for Katy when she was in America and wasted some time polishing it. Here it is (Don't worry its only short.)

Who would want someone to miss?
I wish that you were here with me
So we could misbehave -
Go raving drinking dancing. Do all
The small things: Play Slippery Ann;
Compare the spans of hands, the length
And strength of nails. Devote a morning
To yawning down cups of tea
(green and white respectively).

It doesn't have a title yet, so suggestions are more than welcome blog followers.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The World's Best Yorkies

The Yorkshire puddings Katy, Chris and I made for our roast yesterday were the best I've ever seen. So we have photographed them and posted them on Facebook and also here on my blog. The secret's in the batter mix but will we ever hit that perfect ratio again?

Regular followers will know that this is the first photograph I have posted. I thought it would be difficult but actually it was dead easy so I might do it more in future.

No Excuses.

No excuses for not writing some more of my novel this week. I have two days off in a row. I've finished my epic bee poem (see below) and I'm completely brassic so I can't go out on the piss/top up my online poker account. Clearly the perfect time to write. (Though the procrastinator in me notices that the world championship snooker tournament is on...)

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Word Count Unchanged

Alright, I have finally moved into the new house and sorted out the internet. The word count on the novel is as ever unchanged, but I have made lots of progress on my epic poem of war and suffering: The Bee's Sneeze. Just a few more stanzas to go. Read it here first.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Word Count: Unchanged

I was reading about the mystical experiences of Plotinus in Leszek Kolakowski's rubbish popular philosophy book: 'Why is there something rather than nothing.' This has been my toilet reading book for the last month or so. Now I am on the last chapter I may leave it in there and put it to a decent use. Anyway, the mystical experience stuff gave me an idea that may reinvigorate my abandoned time-travelling schoolgirl novel, 'The dial's shady stealth.' If my word count suddenly jumps to about twelve thousand it is probably because I have returned to working on that.

Word Count: Unchanged

I woke up at four o'clock today. That's late even by my standards. I slept through my eleven and one o'clock alarms. Must be time for a new ringtone. Still the hour went forward at the weekend so it was three o'clock really. I give myself a fortnight before that excuse wears thin. Anyway no time to work on the novel today as I have to have my dinner (cottage pie) for breakfast and go straight to work an evening shift at the Temple. I hand over the money for the new house tomorrow and move in on Sunday. Packing is so boring that I may actually write something this week just to avoid doing it. I do intend to start putting in some serious hours writing once installed in the new abode. Mind you, I said that six months ago when I moved in here... but this time I mean it.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Word Count: Unchanged

With all the house-hunting partying online pokering and sleeping in til two every day, a month has slipped by without me even opening Word. So much for a thousand words a day. A thousand words a month seems to be my average. Guess my feeling of guilt lasted about two days. It does seem to be the best motivator I have experienced. If only I wasn't so good at ignoring it, I'm certain I'd get a lot more done.

Glad to see I've picked up a new follower (despite not publishing any posts) Hello Hanski - whoever you might be - any chance that you and the mysteriously photographless 'Chris' could make me feel guiltier?

Much appreciated.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Word Count: 2307

Finally an afternoon's work I am satisfied with. The day didn't start well. I slept until one (which isn't that unusual) but felt strangely motivated after breakfast. Also, I haven't got any money and writing, if nothing else, is a cheap way to entertain yourself.

I think the new found motivation comes from the feeling of guilt that auntie Andree's recent visit instilled. She has always been really supportive of my hobby. Reading my work and offering criticism. But I had to tell her I had not really written anything (except ugly poems about infidelity) since Katy left me.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Word Count: Unchanged

It occurs to me that maybe I should do more than one thing a day.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Word Count: Unchanged

Excuses for not writing this week have included: Working at the pub Friday and Saturday; pub quiz Sunday; Uncle Alan and Auntie Andree visiting Norwich today. Excuses for not writing next week are likely to include: House hunting tomorrow; Chris's birthday Wednesday; back to work Thursday.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Word Count: Unchanged

I have decided, after three days of no progress and two late nights at Havana Bar, that maybe I don't know how to write a novel. Maybe my early failures are due to my method of starting at the beginning and ploughing on through until either the plot makes no sense or I become bored with the idea. Maybe. Still, here is where I have an advantage over other failed prospective writers. I live with two successful writers. Chris and Kate both have MAs in creative writing from UEA. Chris makes a living as a writer, translator and teacher of English and Kate's first novel is due to be published in November. I'll ask them them how they battle through these early stages. Sage advice awaits, I'm certain.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Word Count: 60

This really isn't going well. I hated what I wrote two days ago. Tore it to shreds for a bit then abandoned it in favour of a new idea. I normally find this the easiest part of trying to write a story. A few thousand words of enthusiasm in the first couple of weeks and then the law of diminishing returns is my usual pattern.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Word Count: 122

Probably not the most successful debut writing day in the history of literature. I've got a hangover and I lost a lot of money in a poker game last night. Not real money of course. Nobody at the 'big-boys table' (as Little Hannah christened it when I began to play there three years ago) can afford the stakes we play for, so we all chuck a cursory ten or twenty quid in and then rebuy with ious. I lost sixty six quid in ious last night. Fortunately, Kieron owed me forty five quid from an earlier game. Our game hasn't had a credit crunch yet. We all assume everybody is good for their debts. But I suspect that if we all called them in at the same time, our game would go the way of the economy.

I have a folder of Word documents dating back 10 years containing paragraphs like the one I wrote today. Opening lines of abandoned stories. Seeds of ideas that never take root. It can make for depressing reading. At the time of writing each one, I genuinely thought that they would grow into a publishable novel or story. But, to date, though some have become large. None have been completed. But that's about to change... (althogh probably very slowly)