Friday, January 20, 2012

The Thread: Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear by Javiar Marais

This will be the thread I continue to post on while reading Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javiar Marias. If any reader feels so inclined, you may of course post your thoughts about the book in the comments section below.

I'm not sure how I feel about Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear, the first book in Javiar Marias' trilogy about Jaime Deza, an agent in the British Intelligence Service with the uncanny gift of seeing "people...clearly and without qualms, with neither good intentions nor bad." On the one hand, this is a mostly philosophical text, heavy with profound insights into "seeing and not seeing," various kinds of relationships, literary and historical fogginess...On the other hand, the prose is, at times, awkwardly worded and punctuated - something that Jose Saramago used to great effect but which, here, feels contrived - and unnecessarily repetitive. There is no plot per se that I've been able to discern - I have 100 pages left of the novel - but that, for me anyway, is almost never a bad thing; some of my favorite works are "mood" pieces or, at least, don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end (see: Michal Ajvaz's The Golden Age, Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps, Eric Basso's The Beak Doctor or, even, Cormac McCarthy's Suttree). What Fever & Spear lacks, however, is an interesting narrator. That's not entirely true. Jaime is interesting or, rather, his thoughts on other people aren't interesting, but seems as if Jaime (or Jacques or Jacobo or Jack or Yago, as he often goes by) doesn't really know himself. Marias is himself aware of this, even writing about it: "He doesn't think much about himself, although he believes that he does (albeit without great conviction)." Obviously, it's an author trick, but I'm still not sure of it's purpose.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Update: Reading Schedule

There is a slight change of plans in the reading schedule I detailed in late December. My friend Rachel has lent her copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (replete with her notes scrawled in the margins!) and I have promised to read the book after I've finished Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear by Javiar Marias. Thus, Germline has been pushed back two weeks and likewise all other books.

The new schedule, should you want to join, looks something like this:

01/29/12 through 02/11/12 The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

02/12/12 through 02/18/12 Germline by T.C. McCarthy

02/19/12 through 03/03/12 After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

03/04/12 through 03/10/12 Spaceman Blues by Brian J. Slattery

03/11/12 through 03/24/12 God's War by Kameron Hurley (replacing The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker)

03/25/12 through 03/31/12 The Alchemists of Kush by Minister Faust (replacing Alliance Space by CJ Cherryh)

We'll read the Cherryh, Baker, and Locke (Up Against It) in April or May, depending.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Thread: Blood Work by Holly Tucker

This will be the thread I continue to post on while reading Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker. If any reader feels so inclined, you may of course post your thoughts about the book in the comments section below.

I'm about 135 pages in and absolutely loving this. It's nonfiction, of course, about the first blood transfusions in the 17th century. What starts as dog-to-dog transfusions (usually from a larger canine to a smaller) quickly progresses - as both English and French transfusionists compete - into transfusing blood from one animal species to another (horse-to-goat, for instance) and, eventually, the first ever animal-to-human blood transfusions. At the center of these experiments is Jean-Baptiste Denis, a Frenchman rising to popularity who, after a botched transfusion kills a man, is accused of murder.

But Blood Work is more than blood. It is also an account of how we got to those first transfusions, the steps and missteps, and how blood transfusions were banned for two hundred years thereafter. The chapter on the Great Plague of London in 1665-6 and of the London Fire were particularly horrifying and captivating.

In part, Blood Work is fascinating because Tucker's prose doesn't read like a stuffy historical narrative; instead, I am reminded of magical realists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She doesn't shy away from writing grotesquely vivid descriptions of the transfusions and, accompanied by the illustrations of the experiment tables and tools used, Blood Work may not be for the faint of heart. There is much cruelty in scientific discovery.

But so far it is a fascinating exploration of a dark and somewhat obscure moment in the history of science, and one I hope you'll continue to read with me.

UPDATE 01/14/2012

Blood Work was mesmerizing; Tucker made the 17th century come alive through her extensive research and her sparse, but elegant prose. Indeed, she was even able to correlate those early transfusions with the ongoing debates concerning hESC today. Imagine if, as Tucker posits, transfusionists had been allowed to continue their work even after the Denis debacle: how many more people might we have saved throughout history and, given the possibility of even greater benefits through hESC research, how many more could we save in the future?