Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Back in harness

Afternoon all. I'm back after a very debilitating bout of chapter-writing, followed by an equally unpleasant but less depressing bout of flu. Not man-flu but the real thing. Dizziness, sweating, aching, weakness, massive headaches, the lot. It's the first time I've had a day off since I had an operation ten years ago, and I wasted it wallowing in my own filth doing nothing more than uttering the occasional depressed groan and wondering where the decorator was.

The only time I felt worse – and more at the mercy of humanity – was about 15 years ago when I caught something really, really nasty while living at home with the folks. They'd gone away on holiday so there was nobody about. After a couple of days' shivering and delirium, I decided I needed a doctor. Rather than phone one, I thought I'd get down to the surgery under my own steam. So I got up, put a coat on over my pyjamas and staggered a mile and a half along a main road to a bus stop, with occasional cars helpfully beeping when I wandered into the wrong lane. I got to the surgery and received a big bag of very impressive drugs (steroids: my medic parents weren't very keen on those when they found out later) and staggered back to the bus stop. I remember seeing a chap with a dog a few hundred yards away walking towards me. A while later, I woke up, face down on the road. The chap with the dog was now a few hundred yards past me, having decided that an unconscious person outside a doctor's surgery was none of his concern. Clearly he'd taken to heart Mrs Thatcher's maxim that 'There is no such thing as society'. Thankfully he wasn't representative of local humanity: when the bus arrived the driver was so concerned that he insisted on departing from the normal route to take me all the way home and my faith in humanity was restored.

So anyway, I'm back now. I got my half of the chapter written and sent off to my co-writer to fix. I thought it was awful, but I'm sure she can fix it. 3000 words for all of Welsh working-class fiction in English is just not enough - so much had to be missed out or summarised that I'll get letters from those excluded and those included… argh. Now it's on with the marking. And outrage. I'm well enough now to get my outrage back and there are so many tempting target. Saudi Arabia (obviously). Chris Broad for telling those on the minimum wage to 'stay humble'. The education colleague who suggested that English Lit students who don't read the texts should be given 'the film' or 'a synopsis' (death's too good for him).

But chiefly on my mind today is George RR Martin. I'm supervising an undergraduate dissertation on Game of Thrones, which means I've had to read them all (I know, feel my dedication) and I'm not happy about it. I read literally thousands on fantasy novels when I was a lonely and charmless teen. They're what made me a lonely and charmless adult. Martin's work was amongst those I didn't stick with even as a tasteless, undiscriminating youth. Being 39 and better read hasn't improved my feelings towards him. Admittedly, I quite liked Tyrion (greedy lecherous bookish dwarf nobody likes) but that's just because it's nice seeing someone like you in the pages. As to the rest: Tolkien-esque 'what fresh devilry is this' dialogue with the occasional 'fuck' thrown in to make it look modern. Yes, he bumps off a major character now and then, but there's way too much rape, gender and race essentialism and tedious sub-plotting for my taste. That, and the fact that the series adheres to absolutely every word of Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland, particularly the bit that says all meals in fantasy novels are 'stew'. Martin likes stew, swords, 'boiled leather' clothes and rape. Lots and lots of rape. People talking about rape. People threatening rape. People raping. People being raped. Rape, we understand from Game of Thrones, is a bad thing. However, it's also a standard means of punishment, revenge, introduction: people relate to women virtually entirely via their bodies in these novels and it goes beyond, I think, the story of this particular faux-medieval society. It's so pervasive that it has to be Martin's world-view. He's not a rape-supporter. He might well see himself as a feminist: there are many prominent and strong women in these novels. But at a deeper level, their stories are about their bodies: what they do with them, what is done to them.

After a while, it gets a bit repetitive. And by 'a while', I mean one volume of the seven (so far).

No comments: