May 09, 2008

Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Three books I’ve read in the last few weeks are Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch is Dai Sijie’s second novel. I wrote about his first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a couple of weeks ago. Like the first book, this book is translated from French and reads very well in English. In the previous review, I noted what aspects of the first novel marked it as French despite the story being entirely centered in China. Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch, on the other hand, is a truly French-Chinese novel. Mr. Muo is a disciple of Freud, returned to China from France. He seeks to procure a virgin to bribe a judge (Judge Di) to acquit his love. Based on this description, Mr. Muo sounds like an unsavory character, but his ineptness and neurotic ways make him a comic hero. Muo compares himself to Don Quixote, which is the most concise description.

The French title of the book is Le Complexe de Di, which alludes to the Oedipus Complex and the character Judge Di in the novel, who is an allusion to the character Judge Dee from Robert van Gulik’s novels (as mentioned in the story). The English title refers to Muo’s traveling Freudian dream interpretation business.

I finally got around to reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in the Potter series. The book is short, only about 200 pages, which was not enough for me to develop a full blown case of Potter fever, but it is easy to see what is appealing about the book. As for story matter, spells, magic, and potions are all fun things. As for writing, Rowling does a great job of constantly creating anticipation. Near the beginning of the book, Harry finds a letter addressed to him but it is intercepted and confiscated by his uncle. The next day the mail addressed to Harry is again confiscated. The next day he receives twelve pieces of mail, then twenty-four, then the next day the residence is deluged with mail, which, once again, Harry does not receive. You want to know what happens next, don't you? This is just a simple example of what is happening throughout the book. Just about everything is foreshadowed or hinted at such that the reader has to know what happens next.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe should come with a warning label. It is difficult to enjoy this book if you don’t like tripped out poetry. Using poetry or “experimental” prose to describe a drug experience seems natural enough, but the psychedelic writing isn’t confined to acid trips. There is an author’s note that explains that this is needed to understand the experience, but it felt like it was necessary to allow the author to show off. Furthermore, if prose isn’t in fact sufficient to describe the experience, video would be a better choice.

This is the story of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. It is the also the story about acid-related culture. A lot of notable figures from the sixties are mentioned, such as The Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsburg, the Hell’s Angels, and the Beatles. It’s interesting stuff, but the author’s voice got in the way of the story.



Post a Comment

<< Home