martes, 2 de agosto de 2011

Saxophone Dreams by Nicholas Royle

Saxophone Dreams by Nicholas Royle is a remarkably ambitious project. It also presents an immense challenge for the reader. At the end of the process, and from all points of view, I am not convinced that the journey is worth the effort.

A list of themes alone is of epic length. We have jazz throughout. There’s Hašek and Ankers, both sax players. They are based in different countries, but manage to collaborate musically via an exchange of tapes. At least the postal system seems to be something less than surreal. As ever with jazz buffs, there seems to be much name dropping and a lot less musical idea.

Then there’s the surrealism of Paul Delvaux. The characters find themselves appearing involuntarily or via dreams in the artist’s paintings, the descriptions of which never really offer any stylistic devices that might convey their content, let alone extend their scenes. The images themselves often involve naked ladies wandering wide-eyed through the night. And it is this image of sleep-walking that underpins much of the book. Apparently in dreams - or perhaps not – these jazz types wander through Europe and witness the fall of Communism whilst encountering one another along the way.

And so we visit Albania, a disintegrating Yugoslavia, a changing Czechoslovakia and a rumbling Rumania. We seem to have hot-lines direct to national leaders who themselves wander in and out of the narrative, some dead, some alive. The book’s narrative becomes unnecessarily didactic rather than dream-like as the text lists strings of facts, Wikipedia-like.

Ian, a black hospital worker from Brighton who always carries drumsticks in his jeans is more of a character than most of the others. He sets off across Europe with a theme of his own to identify the source of illegally trafficked human organs that are feeding business into the pocket of his surgeon boss back home. Ian traces the source of the organs to Kosovo, where ethnic tensions between Albanians and Serbs become part of the story. Yet another theme…

Still with me?

Overall, Saxophone Dreams is a well-written and often engaging novel. These people drink a lot, travel quite a bit, perhaps without ever leaving their beds, and seem to enjoy unwittingly acting out stills from paintings. They are into jazz, but play little between the name dropping. They are into politics, but apparently cannot do without a couple of paragraphs with historical background to justify what they think. And they seem surprisingly unaware of the world around them. They are all too busy dreaming, perhaps. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Saxophone Dreams is a pot pourri of ideas, locations, themes and characters that occasionally, just occasionally, delights. But it can be something of a long trip…

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