More than occasionally guilty of judging a book by its cover, when I quickly ordered my copy of Moo Pak for our non-structured book group, all I could idiotically think was that the chimp cover and unusual title did not bode well for me in my present reading mood. Grumpily commented to myself that if this was some forced attempt to render simple truth from exotic locale or to prise open the traditional limits of the novel, this was not objectionable but not the time for me. But I do trust Emily's bookish wonderfulness and as this was her pick, I attempted to banish the stress-induced pissiness and just get reading. Only to reveal the irony of my first impressions.
Moo Pak is a 151 page paragraph that streams through the peripatetic conversations between two friends, Anderson and Toledano, the former being the vessel and the latter the stream. While the narrator is Anderson, we hear very little from him as he recounts the monologue of his friend on every imaginable topic from word processing to who owns the Holocaust as critical fodder to the value of both family and solitary existence to the writer's or artist's life. The words "he says" and "he said" repeat again and again as Anderson faithfully details the wide-ranging and sometimes contradictory opinions of his friend all the while creating some of the most memorable passages I have read in a while, the mining of a man's mind in unedited form it sometimes seems, in all it's capriciousness. As Emily astutely pointed out in her review today, "Because if there's one word to describe Gabriel Josipovici's critical-essay-cum-novella, it's 'quotable'."
On writing (and self-reflexively foreshadowing the conclusion of this work):
"If I stayed with the first paragraph, he said, it wouldn't get better and I would never discover how it could get better. Only the last paragraph can tell you whether you've got the first paragraph right, he said, only the last word can make sense of the first. There is no mot juste, he said, at least not till the whole book is more or less juste. The search for the mot juste, he said, leads to overwriting and dullness and the dreadful proliferation of adjectives."
"Those who are best at friendship, he says, are these whose deepest needs are satisfied elsewhere, by their sexual partners or their work or their children. On the other hand those that try to satisfy their deepest needs through friendship inevitably end up without any friends at all. This is my one area of disagreement with Proust, he says, that in his anxiety to give due weight to solitude, to sexual desire and to art, he feels compelled to play down completely the importance of friendship and of the conversation of friends."
On writers turned media whores:
"And when he was asked to read an extract from that book, in the course of a television interview, he chose precisely this section to read from, thus turning something deeply private into a form of rhetoric and implicitly asking the viewer to witness how moved he was and how terrible his misfortune. I have no doubt that Naipaul is an admirable man, he said, and I have no doubt that he suffered greatly at is tragic double loss. But his reading out the passages which deal with this on television, as though asking us both to sympathise with his plight and admire his writing, I found deeply distasteful and symptomatic of our modern culture."
They walk through London together over the course of many years and yet this stream of thoughts presents in a timeless and formless way in which we could easily be uncertain as to the time that has passed without direct reference to it. There is irony in the fact that Toledano's great novel defies fruition, and remains as unorganized as the thoughts presented here. His opinions are forceful and informed by an excellent knowledge but contradictory. He possesses a great intellect but is emotionally poor, deserted by his wife and left alone to his unfinished morphing thoughts. Even in this state though, he refuses to indulge the "stain of sentimentality" that he believes mars English literature.
There is another conversation to have here, of modernism and post-modernism and creativity. A conversation that starts where the books ends. But that would be an intolerable spoiler for those who have yet to wallow in this one. Suffice it to say, "only the last word can make sense of the first." While caught in what seemed an unwelcome slowing in the middle of the text, I would not have said that this book was perfect. But after reading the conclusion I changed my mind. Now to read it again informed by that last word.