viernes, 13 de enero de 2012

Characters mutually fragmented - Trespasses by Paul Bailey

Trespasses by Paul Bailey presents the reader with an early challenge. The principal character, Ralph Hicks, or Ralphie to his mother, has suffered a breakdown and, during the book’s first fragmented section, we see the world from his disjointed, guilt-ridden, apparently random perspective. Perhaps a sense of confusion was intended by the author, who might have assumed as much skill in the average reader as he possesses as a writer. As an introduction, the opening seems to work less than well. When the form is revisited later on, it works poignantly and wholly effectively.

Eventually, Trespasses is a beautiful, engaging, but deeply sad tale. Ralph, an academically gifted working class lad, meets Ellie, a quintessential lower middle class lass, and they marry with apparent happiness. But Ralph, perhaps because of a childhood experience of his parents’ not unhappy but woefully incomplete relationship, simply cannot love. He always seems to need a motive, a clear reason for doing something that is not immediately physical. Ellie, not herself a victim, suffers the indignity of what she sees as a one-way trade in emotions. She takes her own way out. But perhaps Ralph did love. Perhaps that’s why he reacted as he did.

Trespasses is a short novel that must be read slowly. Many of the apparently mundane passages seem to contain clues about the characters, none of whom exhibit any of the expected clichés. There are neither heroes nor villains here, only people. But they are people portrayed almost in shorthand, in a way that any of us might meet them, incompletely, in real-life encounters. Thus some simple passages benefit from being read like poetry. There are multiple references to events that are described from different perspectives – a visit to the zoo, a sexual experience, a walk with a father and his lady-freind, a meal remembered.

Trespasses is in part an experimental novel, an attempt to blend innovative style and form with content to form a whole. It does not succeed completely, but it comes very close. Many readers will not cope with its initial demands first time of asking. But it is also a thought-provoking and deeply moving human story. The characters become thoroughly three dimensional but, like most people, they are likeable only in part. It takes real writing skill to bring such people to life, even via their deaths.

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