Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha

First thing to praise about this book, and the first thing that is truly striking about it, is the sheer depth of research that Golden partook in order to write this novel. The level of detail is staggering and totally immerses the reader in the world of the Geisha; the slightest details such as Sayuri’s make-up and hairstyle are described with such assuredness and skill.

A Geisha is an artist with expertise in music and dance, they would attend parties thrown by businessmen and pour drinks and generally entertain them. The closest Western equivalent would be Escorts, but they were not prostitutes. They are, fundamentally, a symbol of the old world in Imperial Japan. For the men, they were ostentatious displays of wealth.

The novel is written in the bildungsroman narrative structure, which follows the protagonist throughout their early life and development. Jayne Eyre being a classic example. Memoirs of a Geisha is another classic example as she starts of in poverty and ends in wealth. It is in the first person narrative and addresses the reader personally (“I am sure you understand” etc). This can lend a certain degree of informality to the narrative voice, which at all times is strong and engaging. There is no “and dear reader, I married him” style moments which is a, frankly, a relief. However, this form of narrative can only ever be from a singular perspective so does lack the depth of characterisation that using the third person narrative can sometimes deliver. This is over come by having a strong and interesting central protagonist.

One of the themes of the novel is the clash between the old and the new worlds. This is shown most brutally during the course of World War 2 – steel American bombers destroying towns made of wood. With this, there is the death of the old, traditional ways of doing things. The Geisha are shown as reluctant and resistant to change. Change is literally dropped on them at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. One gets the feeling that change, and the effects of the Great Depression, are happening to others in Japan and not the Geisha. This is a point that Golden makes frequently, the Geisha are closeted ornaments of men. The entire life is geared towards entertaining and pleasing them. They are taught traditional dances and instruments. Always with one goal in mind, to secure a wealthy “Danna” – that is to become a rich man’s mistress.

Another of the major themes is water. The sea and rivers are depicted in various ways, when she is a child it is depicted as violent, slate grey and restrictive. This symbolises how people in her small fishing village are trapped by this fundamental link to the natural world. This link is best shown through her father who is a fisherman. Her first idealised male is Mr Tanaka, who works for a fishing company and becomes her way out of poverty. Another recurring motif regarding water is that Sayuri’s personality is mainly made from the water element. This element means that she is adaptable and artistic – factors that help her in her life as a Geisha. During her time away from Gion during the War, she says that her personality turned to ice. This is symbolic of not only her own, but her nations struggle for survival. She has to become cold and hard in order to survive, it is only when she has the chance of return does she start to melt. Water is also embroidered on the Kimono that they wear and the jewels that adorn their hair. This is a visual link between nature and the women’s sexuality.

Another interesting theme to note is the relationships the Geisha, with Sayuri in particular, and the women in the novel have with the men. The men, her father aside, all have vested interests in the women. If the men in the novel are not making money from them – such as the dresser, the wig maker and the artist then they are professional men who are entertained by them or desire them for sexual gratification. The only non-professional man in the novel is Sayuri’s father. The men she entertains are either shown as idealised demi-God’s such as the Chairman, Mr Tanaka and to a lesser extent Nobu or as one-dimensional drunks and sexual predators, such as Dr Crab (who wins the bidding war for her mizuage, or virginity), the Baron, and the Minister of Finance. This is one criticism that one could level at the book; the men are sparsely drawn and at rather secondary. However, it can easily be argued that this is because the female narrative voice is surrounded by women so how would she know men to any real depth.
The women’s ambition, as previously mentioned, is to get a rich Danna. This role would give the men soul sexual access to the Geisha however, he would be expected to pay her Okiya and all her expenses. Throughout the novel Sayuri idealises the Chairman – the head of a powerful and successful electrics company – and he becomes her rason d’ĂȘtre. Everything action she takes through the majority of the book are geared towards having the Chairman as her Danna. One does ask would a woman really be obsessed with the same man for nearly twenty or so years. This does lead to one of the most disappointing aspects of the book, and that is the final two or three chapters. They are unsatisfying in the broader context of the book. If one thinks of “Great Expectations” by Dickens then this would explain why. These lead to a sense of anti-climax and a sense of Golden not so much rushing but desperately trying to tie up the loose ends. Maybe the ending is meant to in

However, this is still an engrossing and at times beautifully written book, some of the phrases are pure poetry. The pacing of the novel never really drags and that is some achievement for a work of fiction that runs to 420 odd pages. Any complaints about this book and the bildungsroman narrative structure are really rather secondary to a very good book.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The below post

For some reason the below post would not format properly. Now this could be a mixture of my own ineptitude or some other factor *cough, piece of shit, cough*. I am unsure. It is meant to be in five line stanzas and with a simple a-a-b-b-b scheme. So imagine it is and all will be well.

The poem was based on a friend's status update on Facebook. Her family are the bravest people possible and seem to take every set back with such grace. That is a rare quality and is so very admirable. I hope that I could take this one "weak" moment of looking at a healthy family and feeling envious to show that there is no such thing as perfect and the love that binds them is more real than any facade of the ideal.

The Perfect Family

I watch people, not in a crazy way,
That is to say – in the bushes, hiding away -
No, quietly, when I have a moment to spare
And I wonder about their worries and their care.
Most of the time, I think, they don't know I am there.

I wonder about them and keeps them going,
Whether they are hiding more than they're showing.
Things like that, nothing much, nothing much.
I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, so to keep touch
With the world, I do, this. Kinda like a rabbit in a hutch.
I remember one family, quite clearly,
In Wetherspoons sitting opposite me.
They looked so perfect, like an advert on the Telly
Beautiful kids with no wires, no tubes in their belly.
Both looking happy, both looking healthy.
They laughed, they joked and they said it was great
The way that little Timmy pushed peas around his plate.
Then they’d leave, get in their new car, new mobile phone,
And drive to their clean and expensive home,
As I still sit here alone.

I sit here thinking about the lot I was given,
The many miles that I have driven
To get to hospital wards, clean sanitised hands,
Yet everyone acts like they understand
But they’re just grateful their kids are grand.

While my girl lies awake in pain
As I clumsily fumble with another chest drain.
And I wait and weep as she goes under the knife
And think to myself: “so this is her life?”
I struggle to be a mother, woman and wife.

Some nights I feel so broken
I crumble before a word is spoken.
To me it seems so unfair,
A pained angel, lying prostrate there
Sometimes I wonder if God could care.

But I snap out of this self pity
To count the blessing bestowed on me.
There is no such thing as the perfect family
But I have this hope and love to surround me
In this realisation we are safe, and, we are happy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup 2010

So it has started, I missed the opening ceremony due to work but made most of the matches. And apart from an absolute stinker of the French-Uruguay game, most of them have been good so far. As I type Algeria v Slovenia are determined to bore me into a football based coma. But it did get me thinking.

Every four years I go into a state of near delirium because of the feast of football, the amazing players on display, the irrational and unbridled optimism of being English, the wall charts, the BBC and ITV opening credits, Eamon Dunphy hating a certain player for reasons that defy logical explanation, the controversy and the inevitable blunders (thanks a million Robert Green). For me, this is brilliant - if I could I would take four weeks of work and watch every minute of it. Plus the analysis and the highlights. Then in September the qualifying for the European Championships start and two years later the tournament itself. I am spoilt by all this football, it makes me forget the torrid season I have just endured and the worries I have over the managerial choices made by the board of my team.
However, for some. This is not a good time. For those that dislike football then every channel, every newspaper and every conversation is about the thing they dislike. Football saturates everything as they are easy ratings to be made, easy units to shift and easy money to be made. The average non-football fan must endure this, and they have my sympathies. Honestly, they do. I may not agree with your opinion but I'll fight to the death for you right to express (to paraphrase someone). I can find a similar case, well two at least.
These are the programmes that I dislike and do not understand but the whole god damn world seems to love. I am talking about 'The X Factor' and 'Britain's Got Talent' (and 'Glee' but more of that in a later post). These shows exist to make Simon Cowell richer than God and to make the music industry more tedious and to make stars of desperate nobodies. When they are on everything becomes about them, and I feel alienated and bored of it all. Just like, I imagine, the
non-football fan.
The problem I have with both these shows is that they are always the same. Every series, every episode. They sing the same songs, do the same key change three quarters through and have the same sob stories. The fact that the judges on these shows include totally ridiculous choices as Danni Minouge - she is only interesting as she has bigger breasts than her much more famous, talented and prettier sister. Plus Kylie is a trooper. She has not had a really good pop career so what the feck does she know? About anything? At all. Her best song was 'Put the Needle on it' and that's only because it is a rubbish innuendo.

In BGT as it is known in text speak or by the retarded they have that other one, Amanda Holden, I mean she, again, is a mind boggling choice. Her only talent was lying underneath Niel Morrissey enough times to send Les Dennis mental on Celebrity Big Brother.

Since I live near Lucan I cannot go too far without seeing something related to Jedward. I have never seen them sing, but they are almost everywhere. I resent the fact that I know who they are when I have tried my best to avoid anything X Factor related. I once said that they would be pretty high up on my list of people I would like to see pulled apart with Horses and Chains . And I stand by it, I would even volunteer to drive the horses.

So even though I do love the World Cup I understand if you do not and I can sympathise with your boredom. Now, if you don't like the World Cup or X Factor/ BGT then you are boned!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Updates ya ya ya

Hi, I know it's been a whole lotta time since we last spoke. That is due to me being consumed with exams, and then failing them. Meh.

With the World Cup fast approaching there will be some more posts, some football related but the most not. So, if you have missed these posts relax and fear ye not.

Alternatively, for shits and gigs, if you can think of anything you would like to see on here (up to and including a new author) then post a comment and I will do my best. Or bathe in the light of mediocrity that is life.