Sunday, May 13, 2007

John Barth - Goodbye to the fruits

A colleague in Boot Camp gave a link to a wonderful site, Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast. This has dozens of short stories for downloading, including some top class stuff - James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Kerouac, Nabokov, Spark and others. Absolutely perfect for sticking on the i-Pod to listen to on the 20 minute walk into work in the mornings.

So I started with Goodbye to the fruits by John Barth. An odd story, I have to say. I think you have to understand the context of the story. It's part of a collection in which the woman has a terminal illness and the man is, in a twist on Sheherezade, telling her stories in order to try to prolong their time together.

If you know that, it's quite poignant. It's funny too. There are some lovely touches, such as the long section about marshes and the geology of it and so on, followed by "and that of course leads me on the Marsh Arabs" and a long section on their hideous treatment by Saddam Hussein. The way it is thrown in, almost as an afterthought, but he gets so passionate about it, is very good.

He then goes on, in a wonderfully artless comment: "No marsh, to paraphrase John Donne, is an island." That made me laugh out loud.

And there's an equally good "As Aldous Huxley said somewhere." These give a great impression of this character, racking his brain for something to talk about, just to keep the conversation flowing. The story starts with lists - lists of fruit, fish, meats etc. Ordinarily, I hate lists in stories - they're just verbiage as far as I'm concerned, but here it works very well because of the context of this man talking and talking and talking because he's frightened to stop.

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