Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Reality of Magic

A still from Pan's Labyrinth, directed Guillermo del Toro.
One of my favourite movies for the genre -- recommended
for those who dislike its use in books.

It's easy to imagine worlds from scratch. It's easier still to see what will be, judging by how things are now. But to blend into a setting and imagine things for what they could be, but don't reveal, is what brings magic realism to life.

Our book club is reading The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafaq this month. It was picked from a coffee cup that also held Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Swimming by Nicola Keegan. Two excellent titles recommended by members who have read, loved and wouldn't mind picking them up again. That's the new rule... eliminates disasters such as the last one when none of us could get beyond four pages of the first chapter. Thanks for Cloud Atlas Mr Mitchell... not really...

Admittedly, I am partial to the genre of magic realism. I don't know how to justify this affliction except to say it's because "what exists isn't, and what isn't, is". Know what I mean?

I started my affair with the genre when I read and loved Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. There was something so eerie about Lain Coubert's introduction in the novel that I found it hard to put down thereon. He stands in the shadows under our protagonist's house, not a a distinctive feature to be put into words, except the smell of burning books that engulf his wake. I don't think the author put it in there, but in my mind' eye, the minute it is revealed that Courbert is a character from the author, Julian Carax's book, and a sinister one no less -- the devil -- I could just picture a little red tail creeping out of his overcoat, warning you to get out of his way, or provoking you to come just a little closer.

I discovered Murakami's Kafka on the Shore a few months after The Shadow of the Wind. It wasn't an easy read at first. The multiple story-lines, parallel only if you are patient enough to get through the initial confusion, didn't appeal to me at first. But I head on the minute Nakata waltzed into conversation with a lost cat. I also found Johnny Walker quite interesting. Another character, much like Coubert, who has a sinister air about him. Do all magic realists stun their audience to attention with characters such as these? They're so psychotic you hope they aren't real. But to get into this genre you have to make a choice to believe or disbelieve, go by face value -- something that isn't easy since their faces, being of no consequence, are rarely given much character. I also think that's what defines how badly they can infest your dreams.

Lucky then, there isn't an antagonist in The Bastard of Istanbul. But there is a djinn -- the dark one, one enjoys his role as the bearer of bad news: He's called Mr Bitter. He isn't evil, nor does he have a hidden agenda. But he does have the power to tear away a layer of skin (metaphorically) to reveal that which is buried, and painful as it is, needs to be unearthed. I won't ruin this book for my fellow Caterpillars. All I can say is I hope, sincerely, that they enjoy the book as much as I did. Magic realism is for everyone. The only trick is to decide whether you're up for looking at the real world with a hint of magic.

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1 comment:

  1. pan's labyrinth - the best use of magic i have seen in movies.. breathtakingly and painfully beautiful



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