This is my third Alan Burns novel of the week, and this one is Alan Burns’ third novel. It’s called Celebrations and was published in 1967, a year which seems to be notable for its absence of any novels published by the more prominent member of the loosely-grouped experimentalists (I double-checked Johnson, Quin & Brooke-Rose fyi).
While Celebrations is a clear continuation of the style Burns used in Europe After the Rain (1965), with the subject matter and setting being – this time – much more concrete, knowable and recognisable, there was – for me – a real underwhelming quality to this text.
The vagueness, repetition, cut-ups, back and forth, circuitous prose style – imo – suited a narrative about a nameless person wandering through the damaged towns and cities devastated by recent warfare, but applying the same techniques to a narrative about internal managerial struggles of a family-owned factory somewhere in England is much less resonant.
Here, everyone has names. They have peccadillos and they have plans and they have motivations and schemes, they also have deaths, almost all of them. Think Succession in the style of Naked Lunch, so if that sounds like something you’d be into, then it might be for you?
For me, I felt that the absence of clarity, of detail, failed to provide a clear sense of purpose: this is, perhaps, a satire of bourgeois hypocrisy and selfishness, and with experimental fiction of this period trying its hardest (and mostly failing) to distance itself from literary tinkling’s post-Bloomsbury bourgeois associations, is not this setting a step backwards???
It is not bitter or biting or clear enough to be effective satire of a class, and the ways in which women feature here is rather dully chauvinistic (although Jacqueline, the wife of two (and possible lover of more?) of the factory owning family is the only protagonist who survives the narrative), Burns’ last line sums up the way in which this survival is not necessarily a symbolic victory for the ideologies of the writer:
“nor was she asked to peel off her clothes and show her white skin.”
Of the three Burns novels I’ve read so far this week, this is the one I’ve enjoyed the least, however I didn’t hate it to the point where I think it should be destroyed.
As I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog before, the link between form and content is paramount for me, and the perfect collaboration that made Europe After the Rain so shattering is the reason why this novel doesn’t quite… ah… work?
I will, tho, slide straight into reading the final Burns novel I have (the publisher had a bundle offer on!), as if I don’t read it now I don’t know when I ever would.
Ok, bye-bye, I need to go and peel a bourgeois butternut squash. Yum yum!
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