Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Sand Archive - Goodreads Review

A Sand ArchiveA Sand Archive by Gregory Day

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The narrator works in a second-hand bookstore in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Gregory Day works in a second-hand bookstore in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Or worked: it closed its doors at the end of last year (2018). The narrator has issues with pretentious or nervous customers. I have anxiety when confronted with pretentious book-sellers. Gregory Day is a nice person, doesn't seem to have trouble with customers. He carried a box of books to my car for me, smiled and we chatted briefly about the store's closure. I didn't get anxious.

I read a piece in a local newspaper about the passing of a singular character in Geelong, the man who worked to save the sand-dunes from destroying the work of those who built the Great Ocean Road from Anglesea to Apollo Bay, and on other beaches on the Surf Coast of Victoria. That's around Bell's Beach, for those who remember the first Point Break movie. The article said a novel had been written about this man (whose name escapes me). The novel was written by Gregory Day, an award winning writer, who works at arguably the best second-hand bookstore in the region. (I'd mark the old Daylesford one as tops. Or was it Hepburn Springs?)

So, I had to buy the novel.

Unfortunately, the heavy burden of being in the proximity of so many books has worn Gregory down. The names of authors and musicians and biographers of writers from his bookshelves just keep spilling out. At first I thought he was being ironical with a pretence of the snobbery that had always set me on edge in bookshops (was my choice of books sneer-worthy, or intellectually impressive?). Eduardo Galeano (I had to look him up too), Proust (in Lydia Davis's translation, mais oui), Flaubert, Tolstoy, Enid Blyton (which made me think he was havin' a laugh), Sartre, Louise Cruppi, Faure, Cesar Franck, Debussy... all mentioned in the first few pages. After doggedly continuing, I was not sure about the author's intention to be ironical. Helene Cixous, really? But I pushed on further.

FB Herschell is the character who resembles that local man whose obituary I had read. He is a mysterious, dare I say phlegmatic, man who has been taking notes on his work on the sand-dunes of the coast and written them in a published book. He was a frequent, quiet visitor to the books-store. The narrator, Gregory's alter-ego, has Herchell's notebook and as he reads it, he places between the lines the story of Herchell's visit to Paris in 1968, ostensibly to study the management of sand-dunes in the south of France. In the city of love, Herschell has become obsessed with the daughter of the man he has come to study with (I hope I am getting this right, I refuse to go back and check), then gets caught up in the Paris riots, finds out about an Algerian massacre on a bridge there, gets to visit the lady's phlegmatic father's farm, stays in their moulin, I mean old mill-house...

And then I gave up.

I was halfway through the novel (it had taken over a month to get that far) and three times had Day used the word "phlegmatic". Thrice, as Day would himself say, no doubt. He insisted on calling the mill-house a "moulin", and many other words that could easily be written in English without any loss were italicised and in Francais. But it was when he spoke of an "indelible heap" that I closed the book for the last time. Heaps can't be indelible. Memories can be indelible, impressions (caused by heaps?), ink stains. Sigh. It is a molehill of an issue: a poorly chosen metaphor, I've written hundreds of them myself, but it became a mountain range (an impassable heap) I could not cross.

I really wanted to like this book, about a fascinating local character, written by a well-liked, award winning, local author, a nice man who carried my box of books for me.

Unfortunately Gregory Day carries his own box of book learning too heavily on his sleeve, and his novel has so many marks of non-ironic pretentiousness that I, a normally phlegmatic person, must whinge, and give it only 2 stars.

Mine is the lowest rating on Goodreads, so obviously other readers have really enjoyed the book. Perhaps I am being harsh. Perhaps if I had finished I would realise he WAS being ironic, perhaps a French moulin is a completely different thing from an old English mill, perhaps there are more phlegmatic people around than I have previously noticed, perhaps heaps are indeed indelible in some mysterious way, but, at the moment...

As Miss Piggy would say: "Pretentious? Moi?"

E@L? Je suis E@L!

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