A Lie about My Father

A Lie about My Father - John Burnside This is a review. This is my opinion. I don't mean to provoke, and I don't mean to offend any Burnside fans. Just to make that abundantly clear.

I'm actually too lazy to translate my review into English right now. The gist of it is that this is one of this cases where I wonder what - in the minds of critics, in the minds of readers - constitutes great literature and "good writing". Burnside is an award-winning poet, a highly praised author, and a lot of people seem to love his style (maybe not so many here on GR. But definitely in German literary circles).
And I can't see why.
What I see is how much effort Burnside puts into poetic phrasings. So much effort that, for me, it became painful to read. I also see clumsily used literary devices like foreshadowing (oh so much foreshadowing), random slips into present tense, and similes which seem not poetic, but unintentionally funny to me. And don't get me started on the obnoxious use of comas. Which may be supposed to be poetical, idk. I've quoted a few particularly outrageous examples in my review; I could have quoted a lot more. But a lot of readers seem to dig that shit. I'm baffled.

Some people tell me "someone like me" simply can't get Burnside's genius. "Someone like me" meaning people who mostly read erotica and pulp, which for some readers apparently equals trash. Which leads me back to my initial question: Why are many things I like considered trash - smoothly written erotica, ass kicking hard-boiled, space operas, fantasy = entertainment, in one word - and this here is supposed to be great literature? Also: Don't those people know a lot of today's classics started as pulp? Which is a matter of publishing, not a matter of quality.

Some might also remark I started this book with a negative attitude, that I've been critical from the beginning.
Yes, it's true. I sometimes read books although I suspect I won't like them very much. Partly because I believe I have to leave my comfort zone once in a while, partly because I would miss a lot of gems if I'd stick to my particular likes and dislikes (erm... that might actually be just one reason.).
And sometimes it works. [b:Gravity's Rainbow|415|Gravity's Rainbow|Thomas Pynchon|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1414969925s/415.jpg|866393], Delany's Neveryona series ([b:Tales of Nevèrÿon|85866|Tales of Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon, #1)|Samuel R. Delany|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1376845643s/85866.jpg|82862]), Jo Walton's [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1442714837s/183740.jpg|1884104], to name just a few resent ones - all books I was convinced I wouldn't like. And I did like them very much indeed, in the end. Books and authors who can do that, who can sway my opinion that much, have a good chance to become instant favorites.
However, sometimes it doesn't work. Here, it didn't work.
(And as far as books about the sad life of drug addicts in Scotland go, [a:Irvine Welsh|5687|Irvine Welsh|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/authors/1461084249p2/5687.jpg] is a much better read.)

Sorry, that was a lot of ranting, but I had to get that off my chest.

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Vorhang auf für ein kleines bisschen Nabelschau...

Burnside ist sichtlich bemüht, seiner Kindheit eine Atmosphäre irgendwo zwischen Magie und düsterem Schrecken zu verleihen. Leider gelingt ihm das nicht wirklich – nicht so, wie es zum Beispiel Neil Gaiman mit [b:The Ocean at the End of the Lane|15783514|The Ocean at the End of the Lane|Neil Gaiman|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1351914778s/15783514.jpg|21500681] gelungen ist, einem meiner Lieblingsbücher des vergangenen Jahres. Oder wie es King immer wieder mal gelang.
Der Vergleich ist natürlich nicht ganz fair; Gaiman und King schreiben Fiktion, darüber hinaus im fantastischen Bereich, Burnside hier eine Art Memoiren, oder zumindest seine Version der Wahrheit. Aber Gaiman und King schaffen in ihren Erzählungen eine Unmittelbarkeit, die Burnsides Bemühungen fehlt. Seine Geschichte liest sich angestrengt: zu angestrengt um wohlklingende Formulierungen ringend, zu offensichtlich mit literarischen Kinkerlitzchen beschäftigt, wie dem Vorgreifen auf kommende Ereignisse, das hier immer wieder auftaucht, auf sehr aufdringliche und geradezu plump erscheinende Weise. Ich konnte hier immer den Schriftsteller bei der Arbeit sehen, manchmal auch den Dichter, und das möchte ich nicht, wenn ich lese (wenige Ausnahmen bestätigen die Regel).

Insbesondere im Prolog sowie gegen Ende hin liest sich das zudem recht pathetisch und verkünstelt.
Beispiele:
My childhood dream of a father had been just that conservative seeming type: a man who willingly accepted his self-imposed silence, his easy invisibility, and lived inside himself, in a self-validating world that had gradually become richer and quieter, like a pond in the woods that goes undisturbed for years, filling with leaves and spores, becoming a dark continuum of frog life and the slow chemistry of generation and decay.

Manche nennen's poetisch, ich finde derartige Vergleiche unfreiwillig komisch. Ebenso wie folgende Konstruktion
Forty years later I remember it all and dream the same dreams. Night after night I populate the dark.

Leider ist sich Burnside auch nicht zu schade für Klischees auf Frauenzeitschriften-Niveau:
you learn to love yourself by loving the world around you. Because what we love in ourselves is ourselves loving.

Nein, so eine Sprache zu lesen macht mir keinen Spaß.

Dabei nehme ich es Burnside durchaus ab, dass er ehrlich an einer Auseinandersetzung mit seinem verstorbenen Vater interessiert ist, dass er durch seine Spurensuche in seiner Kindheit der eigenen Geschichte näher kommen will. Das Buch ist keine billige Abrechnung, keine Schuldzuweisung. Sondern vielmehr ein authentischer, persönlicher Versuch, diese Figur des Vaters zu greifen, zu begreifen.
Der Autor hat mir nur bis zum Schluss nicht erklären können, warum das mich als Leser eigentlich interessieren soll. Und das liegt zum großen Teil daran, dass mir der Schriftsteller Burnside im Weg stand und den Blick auf den Sohn Burnside versperrt hat.