Most of us – well, all of us really, as far as I am aware – like to be right. Not only in the sense that we like to know things, but also in the sense that we like our more qualititaive preconceptions to be proven correct.
For me, this project has turned this ‘normal’ response on its head. I find being proven right a little dissapointing. The whole point of this reading adventure is to prove me wrong; to teach me that it is worth reading outside my normal boundaries and that often the books I have chosen not to read, may, in fact, be more enjoyable than those I would normally have selected.
Unfortunatelty, The Yips proved me right.
Though I would like to caveat this with two things. (a) The Yips was my ‘hump book’. It fell in the middle of the project, it was long, and I have been busy. It took me ten days to read it – far longer than any other book so far – and I undoubtedly lost my flow at points so am a little concerned it didn’t get the most fair reading. (b) When thinking about reviewing this novel I find my feelings are really mixed. Overall, I didn’t really enjoy it and I struggled to push on with reading it. However, it did a couple of important things really well – better than any of the novels so far. Which makes you think, which of the ‘important things’ is most important for a good novel? More ruminations on this to come, as the adventure progresses…
Why The Yips didn’t float my boat:
1. It didn’t have an obvious purpose
I have literally no idea what I was supposed to take away from this book. The whole book, including the ending were just a bit inconclusive. Things happened, and then other things happened – there were twists and turns, just no sense of purpose. Maybe this was some kind of deep commentary on the human condition. Maybe I just completely failed to understand a seminal, state of the nation work (as the c0ver would lead you to believe). But, itt all just seemed a bit facile, which is a particular problem, as….
2. It wasn’t funny, in fact it was really bitter
There were elements of dark humor from time to time, but it didn’t even nearly make me laugh. It is not implausible that what I took to be unremitting bitterness, others would see as funny. Maybe I am just a little Pollyanna for this book. But it just seemed to be down on everything: sex, relationships, work, religion (and so the list could go on…) For instance:
On sex: ” ‘ There’s the women who will have sex with you, and the women who won’t have sex with you because they think that if they do have sex with you then you won’t respect them afterwards. This second kind are the worst, because they actually think that by not having sex with you they actually represent more of “a challenge”, so when they do finally have sex with you (and – let’s face it – it’s only a matter of time), it will somehow be more “meaningful”‘… Ransom enunicaites the word ‘meaningful’ in much the same way as a normal person might enunicate the word ‘diarrhoea’.”
On marriage: ” ‘ How does it work? With endless amounts of compromise of course! And self-denial. And frustration. And confusion. And bitter recrimination. And constant resentment. And utter boredom…’ She pauses, briefly, to draw breath. ‘And bouts of incandescent rage,’ she continues, opening her eyes again.’
But, all was not lost.
A couple of things about this novel worked in its favour:
This was easily the most wonderfulyl executed characterisation of any of the novels so far. By the end, I really felt I knew who the characters were: how they would answer my questions if I had them around for tea. This comes back to my earlier point that, clearly, longer books allow for more well-rounded characters. But also the characters were interesting – they had interesting ideas and spoke of interesting things. An agrophobic, fourties-styled tattoo artist would be one example, of many.
Oh, how I love a good fact. And this novel is choc-a-bloc with factual anecdotes. I probably learned more random information from this novel than from any book for a very long time. Some examples:
- The word ‘ individual’ did not exist in Japan until 1884. It first came into use following an early translation of Rousseau’s Social Contract;
- Battenberg was created in honour of Queen Victoria’s Granddaughter’s marriage to Prince Louis of Battenberg – the squares represent the Prince’s four brothers; and
- When bears mate they go through a process of delayed implantation – the egg fertilized egg floats around in the uterus until the bear is in hibernation. The cubs are born eight weeks later whilst the bear is asleep.
c. Selfishness and guilt
These two subjects are addressed in quite an interesting (and intertwined) fashion in the book. At one point, one of the principal characters opines that guilt is a selfish emotion (as when it is social it becomes shame). As much of the second half of this novel centres on ideas of guilt and repentence (and whether public repentence is anything more than a publicity stunt), this statement sets the tone for the way the reader is supposed to view the narrative playing out. This really coloured my reading of the second half of the novel, which on the one hand made it more interesting, whilst on the other, made it more depressing, as characaters who you had previously liked, appear less likeable when viewed through this lens.
A last little aside. Obviously, the books I am reading are pretty different to each other. But weirdly, reading them back-to-back like this, you start to notice little conncections and similarities. For instance, this novel and The Garden of Evening Mists both focus heavily on the role of the tattoo in society and both even reference its association with the Japanese underworld – a location in which neither novel is set.