Sunday, 22 March 2015

Outcasts from a book review

Patrick M. Bray, for reasons rhetorical says, ‘could there be anything more mediocre than a madeleine?’ 
I have to answer (angrily) ‘Yes!’

In defence of the madeleine I offer this list.

 1.     1. they come in silver lined bags or see-through bags. they come in bags!
 2.     2. they are soft and smooth and damp to the touch
 3.     3. they are French!
 4.     4. they have a girl’s name but are suspiciously bloomingly womanly
 5.     5. they are yellow and buttery
 6.     6. they taste of fake fruit or alcohol
 7.     7. they taste of other people’s houses
 8.     8. you are permitted to eat more than one at a time
 9.     9. they come apart from themselves (when torn) very prettily
 10.  10. think of the many tins that made them

Would I feel this way if it weren’t for Proust? I most certainly would. And it’s no good asking me to replace his childhood breakfast aunt snack with my own to locate an undetected mediocrity, for the macaroon (dense with sugar), the crumpet (glossy as legs) and the farl (cosy as tea) would send me similarly loquacious. And as for toast, shredded, dipped into eggs, or damp with butter and burn, don’t get me started. These are not and never were mediocre things. The writer did not seize upon an insignificant object and elevate it topsy turvilly, he copied out the plain song that everyone had long been singing but had never thought to write down. That is why we like it so much. It makes old sense not new.

I am reviewing The Novel Map (Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 2013) for Literary Geographies. It is making me think about categories. And the pleasure of the word (when spoken) 'categorically!'